Artwork Courtesy: Jayy Dodd for Okayplayer
OkayMuva: The Devil + Joanne Prada
Artwork of 'OkayMuva' x Myles Johnson courtesy of Jayy Dodd for Okayplayer.
Allow us to introduce you to our series: OkayMuva. This is a fresh, bold and critical look at the week’s hottest topics by Myles E. Johnson aka @HausMuva.
Every generation has icons that for better or for worse, totally define a moment. “I’m a real messy bitch, a liar, a scammer; I’m a messy bitch that lives for drama,” a light skin gay black man speaks this in feminine drag, and in that moment, a viral video spoke for a generation. I observed the culture’s engagement with this declaration. Instead of the content transforming the culture, it exposed it. This is the generation that grew up in the recession, seen children be left behind, and remained numb even after stimulus packages. Joanne Prada engaged as a mirror of what it means to be a marginalized American deeply invested in individualism is telling. The most interesting question remains, what exactly is shock value and what is storytelling? The truth about Joanne Prada, like the devil, is in the details.
Thousands of people lift up their smartphones to record a video in sync with Joanne Prada’s words, “I love robbery and fraud.” The truth is what we are consuming isn’t just near us. It is living underneath our skin. It is leaving a package of water bottles underneath your cart purposefully during self-checkout. Maybe, it is lying about the likelihood of America having our own fascist crisis. We all scam and lie to survive. Joanne Prada seems to unmask this truth, and helps people find delight in these sins committed against capitalism that are often located as criminal, and never celebrated.
There is a Twitter user that I follow that I locate as the black Martha Stewart because of her homemaker aesthetic and family-oriented content. She amassed a generous following from cookbooks, recipe tips, and sharing images of her daughter. She is as domestic and motherly as a highly visible person on the internet can be. One sunny day between cooking tips and laughs about her daughter’s toddler behavior, she discloses how she has gone to self-checkout in a grocery line and instead of choosing the expensive grapes that she is purchasing; she chooses the much cheaper cilantro option. She accompanies the tweet with a picture of Joanne Prada. Prada lets this warm homemaker find confidence in the revealing of her transgressions against capitalism. I lie on my bed and feverishly download PDF files of books and essays for free by strategically using Google. I look at the vast digital library I’ve acquired on my smart phone, and what I might have before located as a cheap person’s way of still acquiring knowledge, I now locate publicly as a scam against the white publishing world. I think of Joanne Prada. Even in the Jezebel article, "'Bling Ring' Tumblr Shoplifting Community Gets Rocked by Outsider," it is revealed that young people are stealing and scamming for vanity and some for survival, but it can all be located as a transgression against capitalism. However, where the shoplifter community on Tumblr is mostly secretive, Joanne Prada is loud, extremely public and viral. How we all transgress capitalism and navigate this hegemonic domination in the dark, she does it in the light while wearing fur.
Joanne Prada elucidates that we all do, and have done, things that locate us as scammers. Celebrities like Black Chyna and Katy Perry upload content reciting Joanne Prada’s quotes about her delight in lying and stealing. Is this a parody or thousands of people reciting the true national anthem of surviving marginalization and capitalist domination in America? People record and submit these reenactments of mimicking Joanna Prada to their personal social media pages. It is participation with the newest internet craze; it is a confessional about just how inescapable corruption is in the imperialist white supremacist capitalist patriarchy. Joanne doesn’t locate shame in navigating capitalism through crime like black folks are traditionally taught to do in popular media like Everybody Hates Chris and Good Times. Joanne’s pride in her corruption is what we revel in. We escape in her lack of inhibition.
Joanne Prada lives in a performance art space that exists beyond the stage. The character feels alive and limitless. Nothing scares her. Expressing xenophobia or anti-Semitic sentiments seemed to merely be a hiccup in her stardom. “Being problematic is a talent,” Joanne tweets. Place a worse wig on her head and she is a contender for the presidency of the United States of America.
Knowing more about Branden Miller, the cis-gender gay man behind Joanne Prada, offers an interesting psychology behind the character. In the Fader interview detailing the history and rise of Joanne Prada, Miller reveals he had deep trauma around both his sexuality and race. Miller revealed he believed he was white for a portion of his life, and only later after discovering he was adopted, found out that he was both Latino and black. This gaining and taking away of whiteness, even if only psychologically, must wound somebody deeply. How does one reconcile their identity as a black Latino person, while surely still lamenting the time that white acceptance felt very real to them?
Miller wears heels, wigs, and talks freely about queer sex practices as Joanne Prada, but in the Fader interview, a level of discomfort with queerness is revealed. Not only did Branden Miller find social capital and safety in performing masculinity, but as a sex worker, Miller found profit from this masculine performance. It’s interesting that Miller then found profit and a sense of freedom in the performance of this hyper-feminine, queer character. Is this an act of self-hatred, or hatred of the feminine and the queer? Is this an act of self-reclamation and creating a self he wish he could be at all times? Is it some combination of all of these things?
“Get out my Caucasian home!” Prada says. “I am acting just like a Caucasian!” Our laughter does not disguise the truth. It is a black queer male tradition to worship whiteness. I think of bell hooks’ essay, Is Paris Burning? that interrogates the queer black and Latinx ballroom culture’s love and lust for capitalism and whiteness. “Ugly? I’ve never experienced that emotion, truly!” she says confidently wrapped in fur with a blonde wig. We retweet and perhaps reexamine how desirability and achieving white supremacist aesthetics informs each other. We think of the myth that if we invest in capitalism and whiteness we might gain access to resources and opportunity promised in the Constitution. We don’t exist in a decolonized utopia, we exist in a world where being “just like a Caucasian” could grant you riches, fame, or at the very least, stop you from getting shot or help you get that job. Joanne Prada’s comedic desire to locate whiteness as survival and a confidence building tool is the uncomfortable truth for the marginalized folks that have considered whiteness and capitalism when being proud and colored isn’t enough.
“If you think I live my life as a transsexual hooker with multiple STDs, you’re crazy!” says Branden Miller on Instagram. This comment was designed to address the confusion of what is made up for entertainment about Joanne Prada, and what is faithful to whom Miller really is. This is the most American part of the Joanne Prada experience. We wear what we need for profit, even if the costume you wear is the reality for some that causes brutalization and death. We dispose of what we don’t need in order to be desirable. We scam. We fraud ourselves into better situations, perhaps it is the Paper magazine offices or wherever a lie or ten on our resumé can land us. As soon as a costume, or a community, is no longer of service, we throw it away. It is how politicians threw away LGBTQ people once Pulse Orlando was yesterday’s headline. It is how Miley Cyrus threw away blackness. It is how America throws away the poor, the ill and undereducated daily with policy. The ability to dispose of what no longer serves and tickles and profits you is the ultimate luxury of someone invested in domination, and that is what makes Joanne Prada something to engage with critically because the character is a collection of hard truths underneath a crooked wig. Joanne Prada may slip in and out of vogue, but the devil she mirrors is an American staple piece.
Myles E. Johnson is an Atlanta, Georgia-based storyteller. He is also the creator of the literary project, Dear Giovanni. You can follow him on Twitter @HausMuva.