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[whitespace] Drag for the Soul

By Jon Roemer

Do you ever get confused? Are you one of the legions of San Franciscans spending hundreds and hundreds of dollars every year on electro-shock therapy, marathon holistic body-work sessions, experimental psychotropic drugs and cutting-edge forms of prostitution--just to make yourself feel better? Is this how you spend your weekends? Ever feel like some vague, generalized social anxiety is the cause of all your troubles? Ever feel like the weight of the world is on your shoulders, and no dandruff shampoo is going to wash it all away?

Leave it to the good folks at Fisherman's Wharf to anticipate the needs of today's urban sophisticates. Pier 39 has just what the doctor ordered: a soothing escape from everything that's wrong with your life, a chance to get away ... from yourself.

To step out of your own skin. To transpose your life onto another. To transgress and transmogrify. To cross the line and step over to the wild side, assuming roles and identities you never dared to dream possible.

Slip under the arm of Leonardo DiCaprio. Hop onto the back of Burt Reynolds' Harley hog. Picture yourself on the cover of Jugs magazine. It's all possible at Pier 39. You better believe it's possible.

Step right up to Fantasy Photo (on the lower level, next to Trish's Mini Donuts), and for the low, low price of $14.95, you'll have your picture taken and your head cut-and-pasted onto any of the hundreds of different photographic scenarios. Now you and your family can actually see yourselves living in the World of Celebrity. Your face can actually replace Michael Jackson's. Or you can insert your beautiful wife's face in place of Bubbles'. And while you're at it, why not add your beautiful kids to the picture, under your/Michael's loving eye? Add several heads, as many heads as you want--all for the same low, low price.

It's a popular attraction, and there's usually a line at Fantasy Photo, but things move a lot faster if you're white. If you're black and would like your head on a black body, your options are almost exclusively limited to athletes. Asian, Latino and the rest of the world's bodies really don't register here. But this is the '90s. We're supposed to be way beyond this sort of stuff. Racial and gender hybridity is the name of the game. So why not play the race card and stick your Asian mug onto Michael Jordan's body? Why not see how your hairy goatee-ed chin looks on Loni Anderson's shoulders?

Sure, you can probably perform the same bit of magic on your home PC--and press the delete button as soon as you hear your beautiful wife approaching. But context is everything here. At Photo Fantasy Fun, your hidden desires are publicly broadcast to a hundred or so passing strangers: As the attendants pose and position you, your head on Rhea Perlman's body shows up on video monitors both inside and outside the storefront. There is no hiding the fact that your hand does indeed appear to be up Howdy Doody's backside--and that you visibly enjoy it that way.

Drag for the tourist set. Good, clean transgressive fun for nuclear-family types. Call it what you will. For the rest of us, it's restorative, palliative, a social salve, a very special ointment our troubled urban souls need. Watching a young German family in matching Adidas shell suits as they each assume the identity of a different Baywatch babe--ah, yes. Indeed. This may be all we have left.

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From the July 13-26, 1998 issue of the Metropolitan.

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