In the podcast ‘Reply All’ episode 69, the podcast untangles the use of queer code in popular setting. During the interview, the broadcaster touches on the word “yas” (which is an empathic “yes” as the broadcaster claims). However, what is important is how 21st century mainstream today significantly uses the word “yas” in TV shows, concerts and YouTube videos. I do recall one time the word “yas” was flaunted during my choir practice, where my fellow friends/acquaintances would shout “yas” whenever a singer would ‘flex’ their vocal talents. However, what is important is how the word “yas” has been used by diverse groups of the popular culture, more specifically cultures that are dominantly heterosexuals.
The interview clearly shows the ignorance behind who uses it (not to sound rude). The word is flaunted around because it sounds aesthetically pleasing in scripts and media, even to the point where a 22 years old man was hailed and popularized for using the word in a Lady Ga-Ga concert. But what is troubling is that, this word is a form of code for the queer. As it was claimed in the interview, the code is “for the queer, their code against society.” So how does the use of queer code in popular, which is heterosexually dominant) culture affect anyone?
Firstly, by creating a code for the queer group, the individual codes, words more specifically, becomes a product of disidentification. During the Paris is Burning (1990) documentary, the documentary reveals the act of queers creating a movement against the heteronormative, disidentifying themselves from heterotopia to help understand themselves and affirm their own identity. The word “yas” is a product of the movement, a code created for queers to reaffirm their identity by creating a language inaccessible to those who are not part of the movement.
YouTube video of the voguing scene in Paris is Burning (1990).
However, clearly, the queer code has been broken and hacked, redefined by the popular culture. Does this mean that the popular culture keeps the queer subculture oppressed? In a sense it does. By using the queer code in the heteronormative language, it undermines the construct of the queer. To put it in lighter terms, it ignores the importance of the queer movement. The popularization of the queer code undermines the political movement behind it and this is highly controversial. In Berlant and Warner’s, Sex in Public (1998), claims:
“Queer culture has found it necessary to develop this knowledge in mobile sites of drag, youth culture, music, dance, parades, flaunting, and cruising – site whose mobility helps them possible but also renders them hard to recognize as world making because they are so fragile and ephemeral. They are paradigmatically trivialised as a “lifestyle.”… Context of queer world making depend on parasitic and fugitive elaboration through gossip, dance clubs, soft-ball leagues, and phone-sex ads.”
As both Berlant and Warner argues, the subculture queer group is perceived as a “lifestyle” by the heteronormative. The idea of a lifestyle can be similar to picking up as a habit. What I mean is that, for example, if we look at food, Chinese and Indian food are both considered as British cultural dishes now although it has derived from both China and India respectively. Looking at the queer code, particularly in Paris is Burning, the clip above stresses the dismantling of the queer code. ‘Voguing’ is a type of dance popularised by the drag queens, to help emulate and empower the community. However, when Madonna found out about it, the drag queen in the clip was invited to tour with Madonna’s group to perform his voguing. Yes, it is exciting and remarkable for the drag. However, this becomes an act of dismantling queer code as Madonna has taken what’s queer into the heteronormative sphere, heterosexualizing the code for the popular heterocultural mass.
In Bakhtin’s The Dialogic Imagination, Bakhtin claims that language can be divided into sub-groups due to their cultural influences. Language can also be categorised by the setting it is in. For example, if we look at the English language, it can be divided by cultural professions (language of doctors, lawyers e.t.c). These languages cross over different groups, and that cross over may re-identify the meaning of the word behind it. This ideology is defined by the word heteroglossia. So why is this important? If we look back on the word “yas”, the word comes from the language of the queer, and Bakhtin claims that:
“we are taking language not as a system of grammatical categories, but rather language conceived as ideologically saturated, language as a concrete opinion, unsuring a maximum of mutual understanding in all spheres of ideological life. Thus a forces working toward concrete verbal and ideological unification and centralization, which develop in vital connection with the processes of sociopolitical and centralisation”
What Bakhtin argues is that language is formed by the blend of different categories, saturating the overall language ideology, causing it to unify and centralise. This means that the language of the queer and the language of the heteronormative have unified, blended, and that the use of “yas” in Popular Culture is evidence ideological unification and mutual understanding in all spheres of ideological life.
- Reply All podcast Episode 69, https://gimletmedia.com/episode/69-disappeared/
- Bahktain, The Dialogic Imagination (1981)
- Paris is Burning (1990)
- Berlant and Werner, Sex in Public, (1998)