Who here loves Pokémon? (Trick questions. Everyone loves Pokémon.) And the best part of Pokémon (except for possibly Ash’s complete incompetence) is clearly Team Rocket. They have a catchy motto! A talking Pokémon! Lots of attitude and endless hope that maybe this time they’ll be able to steal Pikachu (though why they would want to is anyone’s guess. Pikachu is terrible).
They also have a lot of costumes.
(From http://rocketdisguise.tumblr.com, because of course that’s a thing.)
James “has a tendency to cross-dress“; a large portion of his disguises are stereotypically female. Jessie does it to a lesser degree, but it’s still not infrequent to see her pose as a man. As in the above picture, there is usually no particular reason for the cross-dressing; their faces could be hidden just as well if James was the groom and Jessie the bride. It could be all just “fun” from the creators’ side – or we can take more away from it than that.
I’m fascinated by the idea of drag as a subversion of gender roles; that a large part of gender is performance and that it can be challenged by performing as a gender others don’t necessarily view us as belonging to. It’s an interesting way to question and undermine the gender binary. So much of gender identity lies in clothes, but clothes are really just a way to cover up the body and keep warm. Why should it matter so much how we do that?
When Team Rocket dress up in disguise, they don’t care what they’re supposed to be wearing. They are not only happy to switch up gender roles, but even seem to prefer doing so. The problem, of course, is that Team Rocket are presented as always a bit ridiculous – their plans are terrible and they themselves are pompous cowards. It makes me worry that the drag is meant to be part of this ridiculousness, that the creators meant for us to laugh at the ludicrous idea of a man in a dress.
But I don’t remember that I ever did. Cross-dressing was just something Jessie and James did; a little unusual, perhaps, but not laughable. They already didn’t adhere completely to traditional gender roles – Jessie is (marginally) smarter than James and clearly the leader – and the drag underlines and brings out this break from what we have been taught to expect. It’s not perfect, but it’s something.
In conclusion: Team Rocket’s blasting off again!