I was cautiously optimistic when I first wrote about Burger Queen and now, having attended three out of the four events, I admit I was wrong to be so circumspect and can whole-heartedly say that it was absolutely brilliant in every way. Here are ten reasons why:
1. I've never seen anything like it in my life (and I've seen a lot)
Burger Queen went beyond any preconceptions I had about that stale irony-format, the beauty contest. Instead, it was like being immersed in a total environment where the focus was always shifting between performance, activism, weirdness, joy, anger, precious moments, and where real and fake were redundant terms. The Duckie performance influence is undeniable, I think, but it has its own distinct flavour (and smell, chips!), and I've never before seen performance of this kind applied to fat in such a skilful way.
2. Woah, activism
Looking at Burger Queen as a piece of fat activism, which it is but is also much more, makes me feel really excited about fat culture, especially that which is now happening right on my doorstep. There are so many ways in which it could develop, it doesn't have to follow the work I've seen, especially in the US, which is trad-burlesque heavy, or speaks to a lowest common denominator. Burger Queen is didactic but doesn't treat the audience like morons, offers a non-preachy pomposity-free polemic, is experimental and accessible, and it turns high concepts into a beautiful shared experience where rough and smooth all mix in together. This is what happens when people who get it use their talent and imagination to create something unique and wild.
3. The details that mattered
It's the little things that count, like the fact that you could buy a burger meal with your ticket, the Burger Queen staff uniforms, the fat-centric soundtrack, the being-on-TV jokes, the morbidly obese woman singing at the end of the night, the weekly diet, and the graphic design, to name but a few of them. It was a complete experience created by a team of enablers. It made me feel that I was in one of Scottee's demented fantasies, which is not a bad place to be.
I enjoyed all the Burger Queen performances but Timberlina's ukulele-assault on the cult of LighterLife was unforgettable.
5. It was messy
There were no tidy, nice, clean, respectable fat people at Burger Queen. No wannabe good productive citizens in sight. It was all about sweat, tears, being out of puff, having physical limitations, being in a strop, showers of chips and glitter, wobbling flesh, dirty cakeholes, genderfuckery, hairy bellies, sexuality, foul mouths, and low life (which of course is high life). Hallelujah for queered-up non-assimilationist fat people, there are few things more beautiful.
6. Fat is a politic
The idea that fat is a politic rather than a dress size was put forward in Burger Queen. I'll add the caveat that I think that fat is also about particular kinds of embodiment but luckily queer theory means that I don't have to reject one in favour of another, it can be both and more. Anyway, fat is a politic is a radical suggestion because it engages people of all sizes, it shows that everyone is implicated in fat and it incites people to do something about it. And this being uttered not at some exclusive academic conference, but at a pub in Vauxhall. I love that it supports multiple ways of being fat, and doesn’t offer these false binary divisions of fat/thin, or fat activist/fat ally. I have a similar thing with The Chubsters, which is a fat queer girl gang that you don’t have to be fat, queer, a girl, or remotely aggressive to be a part of. Hurray!
7. The people
The contestants, the judges, Jude Bean, the crowd. I wanted to be best friends with everyone and it gave me a bunch of new crushes to obsess over. Favourite contestant moment: being forced to wave my hands in the air by that out-of-control queen and dodging the sweets that she pulled from her face and hurled at people angrily.
8. Being a punter
If I want to be involved with fat activism usually what happens is that I have to either travel thousands of miles, or do it myself, or by myself. Burger Queen was the first time that I could just get on the tube and enjoy being in the audience. I could see that everyone was working like crazy, the stress of putting on something like this is major, but there was none of that on my part, just eye-popping fun and an event that felt as though it was made just for me. Bliss.
I did an MA in the early 90s and published a book in 1998 that applied disability theory to fat activism. I also wrote about queerness in that book but the feminist publishers believed that queer was the devil's work and wouldn't print that stuff. What delights me 13-20 years later is that Burger Queen comes along, crowns the gorgeous Nina Neon, and it's clear in the loveliest way that queer and disability and fat have a lot to say to each other and can interact with each other in fantastic ways. Burger Queen is theory that I helped develop reflected in reality, and done in a way that anyone can understand, with humour and style and humanity.
10. There's going to be another one next year
Yes, yes oh yes.