Professor and drag historian Joe E. Jeffreys pitched a few ideas for classes to the drama department at The New School. The one the department chose was a class titled RuPaul’s Drag Race And Its Impact. When word got around about this class, it generated a lot of media buzz, with both the local news and LGBTI sites like NewNowNext covering the unique class.
Meet Joe E. Jeffreys
Jeffreys has documented drag culture for decades now, even befriending legendary queens like the late Marsha P. Johnson and Lady Bunny. With his class at The New School, he attempts a deep-dive into what RuPaul’s Drag Race means in terms of pop culture, gender identity, racial politics, and more.
‘I believe that studying popular culture can tell us a lot about the standards, tastes and mores of the period that produced it,’ Jeffreys tells GSN. ‘As a drag historian, RuPaul’s Drag Race fascinates me and I thought that a class on it would appeal to students, it would be a subject they could relate to, and they have brought an encyclopedic knowledge of the series to the course. Now we are examining the material through more critical lenses and locating it in larger histories of female impersonation and reality TV.’
RPDR Season 11 Cast
Jeffreys also looks to bring in interesting and relevant guest speakers to the class. And there was no group more interesting or relevant than the entire cast of RuPaul’s Drag Race season 11.
‘Through a remarkable series of events, with the generous help of folks at Viacom and The New School, the entire Season 11 cast of RuPaul’s Drag Race paid a surprise visit to the class,’ Jeffreys explains.
‘The students had no idea that this was going to happen, only that we were meeting in an alternate location that day. We handled general class business for the first 10 minutes or so then I announced that there were some people there who would like to meet them. And through a side door out walked the contestants. Pandemonium erupted. The students and contestants hugged, cried with excitement, and took selfies.’
‘After this settled down we sat the contestants on chairs and stools and the students on the floor in front of them. The contestants were so open and authentic talking to the students and answering their questions about drag and the show. The thing that stands out to me was when I looked at the students sitting on the floor and the contestants in chairs and I thought this looked like some advanced Drag Queen Story Hours. One of the students summed up the experience best when they said they were “gagged.”’
In terms of the layout of the class, Jeffreys designed it around the format of Drag Race itself with mini challenges and main challenges. In fact, the class’s final project will be in the form of a runway show.
‘I am most excited about the students’ final runway projects,’ Jeffreys says. ‘As the last part of the class they have to present a creative project based in some aspect of the show, female impersonation or reality TV. It can be anything from a written paper to a video, audio or image project. At this point in the semester I haven’t received their proposals yet for these projects but look forward to seeing what the students will come up with.’
‘Drag has always been a form of mainstream entertainment since the days of vaudeville, think Julian Eltinge, and early silent film,’ Jeffreys says. ‘Drag’s current popular moment seems to largely be positive as it is opening up ideas and discussions about gender to audiences who might not otherwise think about it.’
‘I hope the students take away an understanding that a historical period’s popular culture is often one of the most revealing things about it,’ Jeffreys says. ‘I also hope they will have a larger background in drag history and the development of reality TV and can place RuPaul’s Drag Race into those contexts.’
Learn more about Jeffreys’ class, RuPaul’s Drag Race And Its Impact, here.