OPINION | TED TALLEY: Lawmakers wary of “drag” want to go back to the good ol’ days? Not to spoil the mood, but …

Republicans dig in heels against men wearing same

Athena Sinclair, left, sings on Jan. 19 on the steps of the Arkansas State Capitol during a protest against Senate Bill 43, which would classify drag performances as adult-oriented businesses.
(Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Stephen Swofford)
Athena Sinclair, left, sings on Jan. 19 on the steps of the Arkansas State Capitol during a protest against Senate Bill 43, which would classify drag performances as adult-oriented businesses. (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Stephen Swofford)

Give our new governor her due. She's carried through on at least one campaign promise Tuesday night, taking on the left-wing Biden agenda before a national TV audience. Anyone placing bets as to how much of her first-term Gov. Sarah Sanders will serve before D.C. politics will draft her? I'm thinking Lt. Gov. Leslie Rutledge has already begun an office pool.

Meanwhile, other Arkansas Republicans are poking at the same left-wing conspiracy windmills: bathroom assignments, critical race theory and drag shows, oh my.

For example, Rep. Mary Bentley, R-Perryville, has taken on kiddie drag shows on the House floor in support of Senate Bill 43. Her constituents raised concerns and protection is needed for children. From a news story in this paper: "This is about protecting kids and not sexualizing our children," she said.

After lawmakers asked during a committee meeting last week if Arkansas children were being exposed to "adult-oriented performances" in public, Bentley said she was "inundated with pictures of what is happening here in Arkansas."

She read aloud from a letter submitted by a man who claimed children were invited to participate in a drag show in Batesville involving performers whose "genital areas" were exposed.

Call me skeptical. If such were really to the point of "inundation" then where are law enforcers and prosecutors in her district? Certainly in the canon of current law such debauchery is covered. But we can't try that first. As Bob Seger suggests lyrically, they're "working on mysteries without any clues." For example: Can someone explain how "drag," which by definition involves faking one's real sex, is accomplished with "genital areas" exposed?

Drag show drama pales in comparison to the cries of conservatives with a microphone and a legislative stage.

The origin of current-day dramatics extends back to ancient Greece and Rome, where they were, essentially, performed in drag. Greeks started with tragic plays around 532 BCE. Their famous tragedy and comedy masks used as icons of performing arts had real purpose. They defined the characters moods in exaggeration that could be understood from the cheap seats at the back of the amphitheater. Secondly, the masks' oversized, grotesque mouths functioned as megaphones, again to reach the entire audience. Finally, because back in those days women were not allowed on stage as they were considered inferior to men, the masks allowed male cast members to play women. That is correct: males were on stage wearing extreme masks -- prosthetic devices -- to portray females.

Further along in theatrical history women were not allowed to be on the stage because it was considered "dangerous" though, like in current day politics, I couldn't find any specific iteration of such dangers.

Old Willie Shakespeare himself had to deal with these practices until the mid-1600s. In his day it was illegal for women to appear on stage. Rather than churn out repeated versions of his own all-male "12 Angry Men," "The Caine Mutiny" or "Waiting for Godot," Shakespeare dealt with men playing both sexes.

Repeatedly Republicans would send us to those mythical days of post-war idylls among white picket fences of small towns and the new suburbia when entertainment was un-woke, drag free and child-safe. Really?

From 1947 to 1960 Buffalo Bob's sidekick on the wildly popular Howdy Doody Show was a female Clarabell the Clown played by a man, initially no less, by future Captain Kangaroo Bob Keeshan.

Consider how many times "The Three Stooges" appeared in drag. Curly as a lip-synching opera singer sticks in the mind. Bugs Bunny in female costume appeared multiple times to deflect Elmer Fudd with his shotgun. And how can we Arkansans forget Max Baer Jr. hiding under Shirley Temple curls as Jethrine in "The Beverly Hillbillies?" Such knee-slapping fun!

Now who's gonna call the cops if an Arkansas drama teacher shall introduce students and the community to British pantomime? I reference not that silent, white-faced Marcel Marceau shtick but rather a valid format refined in the 19th century in which children's stories are portrayed for young and old as actors take gender opposites in good clean fun (except for the occasional double entendre whizzing over the kids' heads to the parents). I've seen "Cinderella" done like this. You want really ugly step-sisters? See them played uproariously by men.

Shall we worry that the right-wing agenda to return us to the mores and practices of long ago will not stop at 1950? Fine, let misguided do-gooders open the gate. Take us back further still to 1597 when Romeo and Juliet were played by -- gasp! -- a man and a boy.

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