Laying Down the Law

The drag artist wearing a policewoman's costume in the photograph deserves the uniform more than Police Major General Uri Bar-Lev.

This lovely policewoman was photographed by Ariel Schalit on October 15 at Wigstock in Tel Aviv, a fundraising event for AIDS awareness. Drag artists make wonderful photo subjects, and this policewoman, sipping a cool soft drink on a warm fall day − through a straw so as not to muss her lipstick − is no exception.

Schalit’s photo is very clear and very pretty, like its subject. The policewoman’s bright, smooth young face, her strong, pronounced nose, the endearing contrast between her pale makeup and her arched coal-black eyebrows, the perfectly sweet balance between her light-blue uniform and her pink mouth.

Drag artist, Tel Aviv police
Ariel Schalit

Her disposable gloves can be seen as a sign of protest at the shameful way police officers dispersed a similar event in 1998, wearing such gloves lest they somehow be infected with something. She is absentmindedly adjusting the fold of her shirt while watching another performance. The glamorous artificiality of her beauty is highlighted all the more in comparison to the dark face of the fellow on the left side of the picture, who is gazing toward the camera and laughing with bared teeth.

One thing Schalit captures here is the way in which the drag artist simultaneously “goes out of character” and inhabits it. When he stands in the crowd with his shirt tied below his chest, because he’s hot, the costume becomes secondary, invisible. Beyond it, an authentic expression is glimpsed, one that cannot be staged, one that is universal − an expression of rapt interest in what is happening. His thoughts run across his marble forehead as if on an electronic message board.

The policewoman costume is a clever joke, winking in particular at the common fetish of a woman in uniform. It is a good-spirited mocking of a ‏(male‏) fantasy, one that seeks pleasure by overturning a balance. But the cumulative irony of this photograph is not limited to the theatrical, intellectual and critical targets of drag. The irony of seeing a policewoman with disposable gloves also resonates with the viewer’s awareness of recent exploits within the police force. For what is a comment on the policewoman fantasy, along with criticism of ignorant police officers in disposable gloves, compared to the sexual aggression and sense of omnipotence, of being above the law, that was revealed in the case of Police Major General Uri Bar-Lev?

A police uniform is a kind of skin that cannot be worn without identifying with the symbolic role of the police. This uniform embodies a promise to protect the public from the aggression of others. Society grants this privilege, and in return asks that those who wear the uniform show restraint and control their impulses. There must not be different standards for the private individual and the public figure. When you look at this policewoman and think about the photos of Bar-Lev leaving the Police Investigations Department after questioning, you can see that she is a lot more worthy of her uniform than he is.