Lecture

Review: On Being Fabulous

25 February 2019

The School of Life has hosted a variety of colourful speakers, but possibly none as bedazzled as Missouri-born cultural critic, academic and DJ, Madison Moore. Presenting his performance/lecture ‘On Being Fabulous’ at Melbourne’s NGV on the 18th of February, Moore’s lecture explored the deceptively complex concept of ‘fabulousness’. Beyond the sequins and sass, what exactly does it mean to be ‘fabulous’? In what ways does style intersect with identity? And more significantly, how can style be used as a means of revolting against social expectations, as a tool that can potentially liberate society’s marginalized? Drawing heavily upon his most recent book, Fabulous: The Rise of the Beautiful Eccentric, Moore’s lecture delved into all these questions and more- but by no means in any way similar to a standard university lecture.

Stepping up to the podium, Moore radiates warmth and charisma. He smiles widely, rocking excitedly on the edge of his toes, yet for a guest whose brand is based on the bold, the eccentric, the fabulous, his voice is surprisingly mellow, his confidence unexpectedly subdued. After politely asking the audience to sassily fingersnap each time the word ‘framework’ is mentioned, Moore prefaces his talk by stating that his talk will be distinctly, fabulously different. Indeed, it’s only a few minutes into Moore’s speech that he pauses dramatically. Taking a moment to grab an item atop the coffee table beside him, he begins leisurely rubbing cream on his limbs. “It’s cocoa butter,” he cheekily admits- much to the amusement of the crowd. As he finishes preening, he continues to expound upon the impact of queer icons such as Prince in popular culture. Not too long afterwards, though, there’s another break required for the application of blue liquid lipstick. Combined with Moore’s tendency to declaim certain sections of his speech repeatedly, the overall effect is highly theatrical. His style of presentation provides the audience with a live demonstration of the processes of self-creation he is discussing; not only do we hear him speak of how style permits one the freedom to craft an individual identity, but more emphatically, we can see it happen right there in action.  

Soon enough, Moore’s speech is again interrupted as he steps aside to remove his jacket. Tearing his shirt into a crop top, it’s clear that the esteemed academic standing behind the podium is in fact very ready for a poppin’ night at the club (his words, not mine). Cue a few more dance breaks, a variety of 80’s grooves and a final costume change into a full-length sequined jumpsuit, and it’s clear that Moore wholly embodies the notion of fabulousness he finds so fascinating. After traversing through the history of various eccentric icons in popular culture, his own experiences with experimenting with fashion and, most interestingly, the way in which these colourful, often wild modes of expression can be viewed as a politicized statement of individuality, it’s finally time for Moore to take questions from renowned journalist, critic, documentarian and broadcaster, Fiona Gruber, as well as from the notably enthusiastic crowd.  

Gruber navigates the interview skilfully, providing Moore with the perfect prompts for exploring the trickier, often more personal facets of his lecture whilst sustaining the performance’s energy. Even more compelling, however, was the discussion prompted by the questions of various audience members. At what point does this notion of ‘fabulousness’- this highly stylized, artificially constructed form of expression- simply become yet another as mask to hide behind? Is this concept of ‘fabulousness’ restricted to only those who are marginalized, for whom rebelling against aesthetic norms holds political intent? If that’s the case, then can really everyone be fabulous? And at its heart, is this concept of ‘fabulousness’ really about anything more than just clothes? Clearly, Moore’s presentation was delivered to a crowd who not only enjoyed the entertaining, performative nature of his lecture, but furthermore, who were deeply, critically engaged with the raw material. While at first glance the content of Moore’s speech may seem frivolous or trivial, it’s evident based on the ensuing discussion that Moore’s study of the relationship between style, politics and identity is a treasure-trove for critical analysis. Despite the fact that certain questions did reveal potential gaps or contradictions in Moore’s thesis, his lecture is still to be highly commended for its unquestionably creative and fun execution, in addition to its ability to provoke stimulating discussion. Plus, if we’re all being honest with ourselves, who doesn’t love a little glitter, some funky tunes and a speckle of sequins now and then?

On Being Fabulous was hosted by the School of Life.


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