EVIL NEEDS TO BE AFRAID with metallic thread, and glass stones of every shape, size, and hue have been used “to outline or accent the designs.” The effect has been dazzling. They are supposed to catch the focused beams of myriad spotlights, and are so effective in this regard that when the “women slowly climb to their pedestals, the undulations of the trains cause the reflecting lights to become animated.” Acting as prisms, the rhinestones train our eyes , on the dress, creating “an indexical relationship between the physical light and the … bright lights of the elite.” Did I say “our eyes”? That was a mistake, because to bear, witness to this reflective glory requires an invitation hoi polloi do not receive, and which thereby underscores our diminished stature. Come Coronation, we are left in the dark. There have been lighthearted moments, when elements of the community have struck back against elite pretension, using comedy as a weapon. Most durable is Cornyation, a burlesque that began in the 1950s. The mock king, queen, and court are dressed \(if rics and recycled material that often balloon out to form exaggerated body parts. Lewd repartee between the performers and audience is normal, and gender inversion, though not typical, is implied, affirming the degree to which this raucous event seeks to subvert the cherished traditions and decorous behavior of the debutante pageantry. Its subversion can also bend back on itself: like European charivari \(medieval rituals in cial safety valve, enabling the less powerful to poke fun at the most potent, a release that ends up confirming the status quo. Perhaps that’s why Haynes found herself taking this subject so seriously. As easy as it is to parody the Coronation, as absurd as its behaviors are, as unreal as the lengthy titles bestowed upon the daughters of wealth can be \(try this one, from 1982: the Duchess of Scythian Antiqtention. Probably no other event more thoroughly captures the social tensions and class consciousness that have shaped San Antonio’s civic arena over the twentieth century, a point that a former queen spoke to in an interview after Dressing Up Debutantes was in press \(which conseher ascension up the hierarchical ladder, and most of all about being queen. The Coronation’s emphasis on the fairy-tale life, its demand that the queen fulfill her monarchical oath “to bring mirth, melody and sweet music to the Kingdom” and to “banish sorrow,” clashed, she admitted, with the unsettling reality of living in one of the nation’s poorest cities. For her, there was no easy reconciliation: the year she was crowned sometime in the 1960s she had moved out of the closeknit neighborhood in which she had been raised so she could be closer to the school on the Hispanic west side in which she taught. Swathed in velvet and rhinestones, acting as her mother wanted her to act, she felt naked. Although her nagging sense of shame seems to bear little connection to the happy shamelessness of her flapper counterpart from the late twenties, in body and mind this woman’s divergent experiences testify to The Coronation’s symbolic power and cohesive force. “Nothing is so comforting,” Haynes concludes, “or so restrictive, as a family tradition.” 0 Contributing Writer Char Miller is a member of the history department of Trinity University. Dressing Up Debutantes is distributed by NYU Press. THE LEGENDARY IOURNEYS OCTOBER 9, 1998 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 25
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