What a Drag

I was surprised to learn in yesterday’s morning paper that Madison East High School had to cancel its drag show. My surprise stems from not knowing that Madison East had a drag show.

But, sure enough, somebody at East thought this made sense. The response was what you’d expect. Conservative talk show hosts and commentators, like former Gov. Scott Walker, saw an opening to exploit the culture wars and exploited away. The Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty, as it always does, saw a chance for a press release and joined in on the feeding frenzy. These folks got the hard-right base all fired up and somebody apparently made unhinged threats. The school district thought the threats were credible enough that they cancelled and will reschedule the show.

All of that is on Walker, WILL and their pals on the hard-right. But I’m also not so sure that a drag show, apparently sponsored at a public high school. was such a hot idea in the first place.

While it’s not my thing, I don’t have a problem with drag shows. And even if I did, you shouldn’t care. It’s a free country. Girls will be boys and boys will be girls. It’s a mixed up world. And I even think I might understand the good motivations behind this. It has to do with acceptance of different identities. I’m down with that too. And attendance was not mandatory. If you’re not into it, don’t go.

Once on the fringes, for some reason, drag shows are a pop culture thing right now. Taco Bell has a drag brunch. Taco Bell! And one of my favorite Netflix shows, Emily in Paris, features a drag show as a recurring venue. That’s fine with me too.

Actress Ashley Park appears in drag in Emily in Paris. Fine by me.

But this is a public high school and at some point somebody’s got to ask the strategic political question: How is this going to play in the whole community? Are we getting too far out front? And, for a district that is all about cultural sensitivity, what about sensitivity to politically, culturally or religiously conservative families? Drag still offends and shocks some people. Why go out of your way to offend and shock some parents and taxpayers?

Moreover, why was this necessary? People can access drag shows in other places in the city. If a student group wanted to put one on they could have done that at a venue outside of the school. But as it is it comes off — and maybe it is — an officially sanctioned event.

Sometimes public schools get thrust onto the front lines of social change as they did in Little Rock in 1957. But that’s the exception to the rule. Far better to let social and cultural changes happen outside of the schools. Let schools focus on reading and writing. They should equip students with the tools to be life long learners and to think critically, so they can decide for themselves to be social activists, conservatives or — like most of us — something in between. But there is actually a school of thought in public education that it’s public schools’ role to create social activists. Maybe this was an example of that kind of philosophy.

In any event, blame hard-right screamers for the threats that resulted in rescheduling the show. But don’t discount the real concerns that socially conservative parents and taxpayers have about this.

Published by dave cieslewicz

Madison/Upper Peninsula based writer. Mayor of Madison, WI from 2003 to 2011.

14 thoughts on “What a Drag

  1. Again, spot on commentary. I especially appreciate your paraphrasing of the Kinks’ classic, “Lola,” one of my favorite songs of all time. “When she squeezed me tight, she nearly broke my spine.”


  2. I read in the Wisconsin State Journal that there were threats but I did see anything specific. You meant threats here as well. Do you know what threats were made and who made them?


      1. If the district is going to make allegations of violence they should be specific of what was threatened and (if they know) who made the threats. As it stands now, the district–and you–are allowed to “blame hard-right screamers for the threats” without any offer of proof. This allows both you and the district to dismiss any objections to the drag show. If threats of violence were made, they need to be condemned and possibly prosecuted.

        But too frequently the Left equates disagreement with violence much like the Right takes disagreement as a sign of persecution. Instead of fostering constructive discussion, one side simply dismisses the other as acting with malicious intentions.


      2. I don’t think the district is exaggerating the threat. There are often security or investigative reasons for withholding details. Speaking of details our policy here is to require commentators to provide last names.


  3. What other things should we censor from schools out of concern for the opinions for a small group of sexually repressed busybodies?

    Literature with gay characters? Sex Ed that teaches about contraception? Evolution?

    Your perception of the median American’s feelings about cultural issues is about 30 years behind. Nobody who isn’t a loyal Fox News viewer cares about drag shows. You’re advising Democrats to allow the extreme right set the terms of the debate by turning the clock back a generation. Why?


      1. “Sponsor”?

        It’s an event organized by a student group during after-school hours. Nobody was required to attend. If the Young Republicans want to hold an event after school should we also cancel that out of sensitivity to liberals?

        Seriously man…


      2. Let’s say you’re the principal. It is generally your policy to allow student groups to use school facilities for events. A group comes to you and tells you they want to hold a drag show.

        Would you tell them, no, I’m not going to allow that? On what grounds?

        This is the same bullshit “harmful” ideas reasoning that the woke left uses to advocate censorship. Why are you embracing the same reasoning from the right?


      3. I don’t think I’m embracing the same reasoning. School officials need to make a call about what’s appropriate in a high school setting. I just don’t think that a drag show is appropriate. You think that it is. I don’t see it as a free speech issue, but maybe it is.


  4. I consider myself a liberal, open-minded, moderately conservative parent of 2, grandmother of 2. When I saw that a drag show was being planned at East High, I didn’t like it anymore than I would have liked to hear a burlesque show was being planned there. For me, both have very adult connotations. If some kids wanted to plan a truly “family friendly” event and have some cross dressing talent, why didn’t the adults steer them towards a variety show and include other acts too. Wouldn’t that be the very definition of inclusion. I would love to see some magic tricks and good ballad or two. Maybe do up a written program that makes clear there will be cross dressers or something as part of the program. I did feel that this was not high school appropriate and that the adults in the room didn’t steer the kids in the best direction.

    Liked by 2 people

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