Thursday, July 18, 2019

RuPaul’s Drag Race has (in some sense) fucked up Drag

When Jasmine Masters published her video “Jasmine Masters RuPual’s Dragrace fucked up Drag” three years ago, she probably didn’t think it would become viral and then a meme. Jasmine Master’s critique of RuPaul’s Drag Race (RPDR) is somehow still a compelling critique of the show. In her video, she criticizes how Drag in general is being shaped by what people see on the show and describes the way ‘the Drag scene has gone downhill’ from the kind of Drag she grew up in. She asserts how Drag performers 8 years from the start of RPDR have started to wear corsets, leotards, ‘panties and bras’, how performers now have the same face and how this kind of Drag is far from the one she knew growing up. Jasmine provides meaningful insights on the homogeneity and normative effects that RPDR has had on the art of Drag.

This blogpost will explore the points highlighted by Jasmine Masters three years from her video and question whether RPDR has really fucked up Drag or not. I will first talk a bit about what beneficial effects the show has had and then discuss its negative consequences.

Before starting to criticize and highlight what’s wrong with RuPaul Charles’ TV show, we have to recognize quite a few merits to it. I don’t want this article to be the usual article that just criticizes the show without acknowledging what a positive force it is in the world for the Drag community and in the wider LGBT+ community.

Why RPDR has done good for the Drag and LGBT+ communities

RuPaul’s Drag Race is a reality TV series which has been exceptionally well put together. It has been awarded 9 Emmys by the academy since 2015 and has now been streaming with its Charisma, Uniqueness, Nerve and Talent – an irreverent acronym used in the show – throughout the world thanks to its partnership with streaming platform Netflix. However, some have criticized how the show has become a mainstream phenomenon which is now being appropriated by straight people.

RuPaul’s Drag Race has done so much for the LGBT+ community both in terms of visibility and cohesion. RPDR has brought to national and now international television both the art of Drag and the lives and struggles of gay people in general. RPDR has really helped normalize and advocate LGBT+ rights in a glamourous and easily comprehensible package. It has also increased the popularity and notoriety of the art of Drag itself to levels never seen before while bringing complex topics and subcultures to the surface. Viewing parties in gay clubs (and in private homes) bring the LGBT+ community together and the show has really started to play a central role in fostering some kind of gay belonging through Drag. It is also important to say how Drag has always occupied a key role in LGBT history and how Drag Queens are often the holders of gay history and culture.

It has also brought to people’s attention many problems within the LGBT+ community and in wider society. There is something almost therapeutic in seeing these amazing individuals talking about their personal struggles whilst doing their make up in the Werkroom which conveys a message: you’re not alone. These kinds of discussions about struggling with self-image, depression, discrimination, bullying and many other issues are really important for people who are enduring the same struggles themselves and also conveys another message: it gets better.

The show has also given a platform to so many Drag Queens to launch their careers and spread their messages. Some contestants have grown to be TV celebrities and personas such as Bianca del Rio or Courtney Act (who also produced a TV show in the UK about Bisexual dating); other Queens have used their platform to further their art like Sasha Velour with her amazing show Nightgowns. All these individuals are now shaping the entertainment industry to make it a little bit queerer.

RPDR done fucked up Drag

RuPaul’s Drag Race has fucked up Drag according to Jasmine Masters, but why is that? In what sense did it fuck up Drag?

As Jasmine Masters highlights, there has been an increase of Drag Queens copying styles and makeup done on the show. This copying extends to the type of Drag Queen that you are and how you think you’re supposed to act and so on, which highly influences the way you think about Drag and what Drag is for you. Drag is a form of art first and foremost, a performance, a liberation, something so intimate yet so empowering and it comes in so many different packages and forms that reducing Drag to only RPDR is not a good representation of this art. Drag is not only RPDR. In this sense, the show is portraying a singular way of looking at Drag, creating some kind of homogeneity in the Drag scene, as highlighted by Jasmine Masters, which some may say defies the point of Drag as an art.

The types of Drag Queens that are selected to take part in the show and be ‘Ru Girls’ season after season are often fish Queens – a Drag Queen that looks extremely feminine and woman-like – and that is not the only valid form of Drag. This brings us to the question of whether the hyper-femininity of RPDR’s Drag could actually be detrimental to the eradication of gender expectations and stereotypes. It could be argued that the show has created a level of expectation for how fishy a Drag Queen must be and has placed restrictions on what we might actually consider Drag. The judges of the show always pinpoint how this femme illusion should be total when they’re on the stage, which is detrimental to all the other types of Drag Queens.

RPDR has also created a club of around 150 Queens which clubs prefer to hire for nights, making the Drag scene even more sterile and less prone to experimenting with new forms of Drag. Some Queens have even encountered difficulties in getting gigs because they’re not Ru Girls. Another problematic topic is also trans MTF Drag Queens, who according to RuPaul are not doing Drag. This obviously has an impact on the transgender community which can result in further discrimination within the Drag scene and the wider LGBT community.

There is also the problem of sensationalism and celebration associated with the pain and struggle of the contestants, which could lead to people thinking that this is what being gay and a Drag Queen means.

RuPaul’s Drag Race has done so much for the community but has also damaged it. Making Drag and LGBT culture available to big audiences comes with a cost – in this case on the groups themselves.

Giovanni Schiazza

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