As the first New York Drag Con wrapped yesterday, a thought I’ve had over and over again came to mind: is RuPaul’s Drag Race capable of evolution? Can the show dodge the evolutionary slumps that America’s Next Top Model and Project Runway hit as they grew from niche to mainstream? We shall find out very, very soon.
But if this past season (Which I hated.) was indicative of anything, it’s that the show’s Doomsday Clock is quickly approaching midnight for it’s original, gay fanbase. Gone are the gratuitous sex talks and man oglings, gone are the ties to drag history and bottom heavy conversation. What lives in its place is a strange doppelgänger that strips a landmark gay show of its gayness for a preachy, annoying, lifeless after school special and makeup play. It’s boring – and it’s not representative of the people it claims to “be for.” In short, this is not the cultural export it once was.
Why is that? Because the gayness of drag has been removed, effectively applying an “all lives matter” approach to something that was (And is!) so specific, born and of a group of people projecting a version of themselves that they cannot be. The dwindling talent in the show is indicative of 2010s reality show casting wormholes as people like Hungry and the Boulet Brothers and Biblegirl666 rise above and beyond televised drag, illustrating that Drag Race isn’t the fame runway that it claims to be. Moreover, it’s too specific: if the show has neutered itself of its truly gay elements (The Pit Crew, challenges involving literal balls, anorexia baiting TicTac bits, etc.), then it isn’t really for – Or of! – gay male experiences anymore. It’s gone the way of marriage equality, in a way, by moving to VH1: it sold out. I’ve gotten over generations of struggles to become just like straight people.
My suggestion is that the show needs to expand its scope, widening in order to avoid talent traps (Like Project Runway and Top Chef: how many drag queens are out there and how many of them actually want to be on TV or are worthy of being on TV?) while dipping into a pond beyond them, diversifying and invigorating talent via the larger queer landscape. It’s a simple solution that Mama Ru is a bit thickheaded about: invite drag kings – Male impersonators. – and bio queens – cis females doing female impersonation – into the fold. That’s a very simple start of expanding out what the drag brand is! And the talent exists: someone like Victoria Sin and Bebe Huxley and Landon Cider are proof of their talent and ability while being such a simple, effect step in making drag more emblematic of not only who watches it but the queerness that it could capture since stepping out of Logo effectively gave the show to the world instead of “the gays.”
But will this happen? Probably not. Just look at the Season Ten theories: it’s going to be the same old bullshit. And very vocal critics are speaking up and getting major press to hopefully eclipse the show’s Emmy baiting and fashion thrusting. For example: a recent Associated Press story on how the show is neglecting to fully understand its impact on the greater drag community.
Yet for all the cultural fanfare, RuPaul said in a recent interview that “Drag Race” has never tried to effect change or impart knowledge.
“Our goal is first and foremost to do a show that celebrates drag,” he said.
Politics and history are inherent to telling drag artists’ stories, often ones of courage and learning how to shine in darkness, he said.
However, not everyone is on board with the stories being told. Drag performer Landon Cider doesn’t see her community of drag kings on screen. She said that’s problematic as the show champions LGBT “herstory.”
“When you tell people, ‘This is our ‘herstory,” how about you really talk about the biological her as well and not just the male version of her, which is another iteration of sexism,” Cider said.
Cider is “Drag Race”-adjacent, often performing alongside former contestants and occasionally appearing in online videos for the show’s production company World of Wonder. However, she’s never been on “Drag Race,” despite having applied three times. No drag king has ever been a contestant.
Cider is pretty spot on given how she notes that Ru doesn’t see drag queens as applicable to the show. (And, yes, she has been grinding her ax toward the show for years.)
Why, then, is Ru being so stubborn about this? You already know the answer: Ru has a history of transphobia and casual misogyny. It’s really bringing this house of cards down and I’m surprised more aren’t questioning Ru’s limits of inclusivity. (And, believe me, when the cards do start falling, the one’s pulling from the base are going to be those who the house was built upon: the gays.)
Perhaps World Of Wonder and Ru will listen to reason or perhaps they will keep chasing that cash: we shall see. For now, the show exists in a strange limbo of mediocrity that it doesn’t seem content on breaking as it has mainstream America’s eye. Good luck with that – but know you do no longer represent gay (Or queer!) culture by remaining boxed in by self-imposed stupid structures of what drag “should” be.