• Queering Blackpool: An Ethnographic Study

      Owens, Allan; Moran, Paul; Eadon-Sinkinson, Helen (University of ChesterUniversity of Chester, 2019-11)
      This research explores the notion of identity in relation to drag queens in the seaside town of Blackpool in the North West of England. What I describe is how this complex form of identity is composed not only from the appropriation and cultural manipulation of gendered tropes, in terms of behaviours, dress, and attitudes; but how identity is also composed from the socio-cultural place of Blackpool within the Northwest of England; and from specific genres of entertainment as they manifest in this sea-side town, which suffers from a high level of deprivation. The research employs qualitative data collection methods to build an understanding of how identity is created whilst exploring the ethnographic structure and representation of the town of Blackpool which is reflected in the analysis of the film through an autoethnographic lens. It becomes autoethnographic as it is my personal reaction to the research. I wanted to analyse my findings in terms of a qualitative visual ethnography and critical reportage, which takes the form of a short film which was an appropriate way to present the visual and socio-cultural representations of the data. Blackpool’s identity has been shaped by its raucous history. Early examples of dancing, drunken behaviour and prostitution at the Raikes Garden in the 1870s are documented by Walton (1998) as well as fairground style attractions and a rising number of cheap drinking establishments to cater for the influx of holidaymakers; all of which were difficult to police. Advertising the resort’s entertainment attracted more working-class visitors creating a more downmarket holiday resort which continues to this day. The working-class history of the town gives the resort a particular kind of focus. It also means that the town is vulnerable; it is vulnerable to economic market change, problems of poverty, and unemployment. Therefore, this thesis seeks to discuss the question: how is Blackpool’s social history reflected in both the town and drag performance spaces? This thesis uses the theory of Bakhtin’s Carnival (1984) to highlight certain aspects of the film in order to present the research through an appropriate theoretical lens as well as appropriate supporting literature throughout. I felt it appropriate to use Bakhtin, since even at the level of a superficial joke, Bakhtin’s work is located in celebration, freedom, holiday and the superficial preoccupations of historic and contemporary Blackpool. More significantly perhaps Bakhtin was interested in how the world, in these contexts, can be turned upside down, and what it means for order and identity to be essentially forms of performativity, a theme central to my own work around identity and place with respect to Blackpool. Due to the nature and disclosure of some participants I decided to present the data through the form of a film. Through the initial interview process, it became apparent that some identities needed to be hidden as a means of protecting both the participants and their families as sensitive details were 11 discussed, however their stories still needed to be told. To both explore and mitigate the problems that I have mentioned, visual ethnography seemed to offer both a solution and an interesting way to convey meaning that would otherwise be lost in text. By presenting the data in this way I am creating characters. This becomes unavoidable, rather like the drag queen performers who create characters, therefore I am paralleling that. By creating the characters that are heard and deliberately filming various aspects of Blackpool, I was able to join both person and place to create a visual means that represents the journey and exploration that I went through as a researcher and which further presents the data, as self and other, in the most appropriate way. When I use the word ‘trans,’ I am referring to transvestites, transsexuals and transgender people. Throughout this written part of this thesis, I will refer to the visual aspect as ‘the film.’