Animated documentary as documentary drag

I listened to a few lectures on Judith Butler’s Gender Trouble (1990) and it got me thinking about performativity and drag as a metaphor for animated documentary.  

If drag is a performance that subverts the idea of naturalised gender, i.e. it exposes the culturally constructed and actively performed properties of gender, could animated documentary be functioning as a metaphorical “drag” subversion of the conventions of live action documentary practice? 

My animated documentaries impersonate many of the tropes of live action documentary tradition to compensate for the absence of some if the indexical mechanisms that supposedly guarantee documentary value. For example, I draw in microphones in some of my participatory interviews. My animated documentaries also feature visual excesses, i.e. rapid scene changes that exaggerate and exceed the norms of documentary. Despite this ambivalence of authenticity in the animated scenes, the films build to form something that feels like it has documentary value. 

The trajectory of animated documentary discourse is defensive, featuring many variations on an argument that justifies the status of animation as capable of presenting documentary narratives. However in doing so it has contributed to many debates that erode the truth claims and objective nature of documentary practice, arguing instead that all documentary is a performance of subjectivity and manipulation masquerading as objectivity. 

From this perspective animated documentary is metaphorically functioning as a form of documentary drag that further illuminates the instability of documentary ontology. Like biological sex, indexicality does exists but, in regard to truth claims, it’s semiotic role is far more complicated and blurrier than documentary practitioners give it credit for. Likewise, the traditions and tropes of documentary practice could be viewed as fragile performances that must be defended fiercely to ensure the binary status of fiction and documentary. 

Butler, J. (1990). Gender trouble: feminism and the subversion of identity. New York, Routledge.

Theory & Philosophy (13 Jul 2019) ‘Judith Butler “Gender Trouble” (First Half)’ available online: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WtA1CpcNxhk

Theory & Philosophy (3 Aug 2019) ‘Judith Butler “Gender Trouble” (Second Half)’ available online: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1Idi0Fhx4WE

YaleCourses (1 Sept 2009) ’23. Queer Theory and Gender Performativity’ available online: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7bkFlJfxyF0

Author: Alex Widdowson

Animated Documentary Director and Researcher

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