A look at how RuPaul’s Drag race has portrayed the world of drag to the public
Abstract: RuPaul’s drag race has brought the art of drag to the mainstream media and general public. While it has brought visibility and advocacy to the drag scene, it also brings a certain image to it as well. Not all drag artist are alike or as glamorous as the show makes them seem.
The lights brighten up as music starts to play as the camera pans to a beautiful woman strutting down the catwalk in a glamorous dress. She is tall, full of makeup, and her hair is reaching for the ceiling. Many queens have been in this position but the most famous of them all being RuPaul them self. RuPaul Charles has created an empire out of the art of drag as well as brought it to mainstream media. Viewers from all over flock to the TV to watch RuPaul’s Drag Race, the dragged up version of America’s Next top model. Queens from all over audition to be a contestant on the show for the prize money and the fame that comes with being on the show. The show has brought a positive image of drag to the general public, but with the dramatization of the show does it really send the right message?
First we must take a look at the portrayal of drag queens on the show versus real life. The drag queens on the show perform their acts on the set that Rupaul gives them. They are safe, they are taken care of, and they have access to resources such as clothing and wigs. In the real world, drag can be a dangerous and expensive profession. To cover these expenses, many drag queens need to book for shows just to cover their basic needs. While those who have been on the show have no problem getting gigs, small time drag queens have to fight for a spot in bars and venues. Many queens however believe the risk and money is worth it. In a journal article by Steven J. Hopkins titled Let the Drag Race Begin”: The Rewards of Becoming a Queen, Hopkins speaks about the non financial rewards involved. “According to Norman Jones, Miss Gay America makes about $32,000 for her yearlong reign, yet Jones insists, “you could take away the money and they’d still enter. All they really want is the prestige.”
Safety is a large concern for these small time queens as well, as many do not have the money to hire bodyguards or the fame that protects them. These things of course are not shown on the show, but are sometimes talked about by the queens in the dressing rooms. It was not until later seasons that queens have been coming out with their experiences in life on the show. Many of it is mentioned in the Untucked version of the show, which is not watched as much by the fan base. On season 9 of RuPaul’s drag race, a serious topic of eating disorders was addressed by contestants as they shared their experiences with their disorders. This clip however was taken out by many stations airing the season. By not addressing or covering up these issues, it portrays drag queens as being glamorous, rich, and safe before their rise to fame on the show. It erases the time, blood, sweat, and tears that went into forming their careers, as well as the history of drag culture.
A peaceful reading to children turned into a violent issue when drag queens were invited to read.
Besides the glamorous queens, challenges, and outfits, the show itself is most known for its drama. Like any competition, RuPaul’s Drag Race gets contestants riled up at each other and rivalries come out to play. Most famously was season 4’s contestants Phi Phi O’Hara and Sharon Needles, who after their time on the show made up as friends. Are drag artists this dramatic and feisty towards each other in real life? Or does the sisterhood of the traveling tuck maintain a good standing off the show? In the case of O’Hara and Needles, O’Hara explains in an interview that while they did not get along, they did play up the rivalry and fake some of the fights for the show.
Lastly one of the biggest issues of drag race is the high sexual themes in the show. The images, the language, the outfits, many of it oozes sexual appeal. RuPaul and the judges make many comments and jokes of the drag queens using male and female anatomy jokes. Many queens also have outfits that leave little to the imagination. This of course is not wrong but by having this be a constant theme as well as making queens come out of their comfort zones with their body, it sends a message to the audience. Many audience members may go to a drag show expecting it to be sexual. It can be both problematic for the audience and the drag queen herself.
However there is not just negative things that come from the show, but many positives as well. The show itself has been a monumental advocate for the drag and LGBTQ community. It has allowed the public to know about drag and drag culture by bringing it to mainstream media. It has also launched many contestants careers in fields that were not open before. Many contestants become singers and actors after their appearance on the show such as Detox, William, and Alaska. In A Way to Sell Your Records”: Pop Stardom and the Politics of Drag Professionalization on RuPaul’s Drag Race, Alyxandra Vesey discusses the way the show has made a shift towards pop music and singing challenges. These challenges help contestants who don’t make it to the end still succeed outside of the show by promoting their singing careers.
Overall the show has done more good for the drag community than good and deserves to keep its place as an advocate for the LGBTQ scene. The dramatization of its contestants as well as making a stereotypical drag queen image are still problematic and could serve to be fixed.