Let’s make one thing clear: I like drag.
I’m knowledgeable on the subject but no expert. I’ve cried with laughter at shows in London, Montreal and New York City. I’ve never had the guts to do it myself, but I wouldn’t rule it out.
And while I’m not up on modern queens, Lily Savage is my spiritual auntie – as she is to many 90s kids growing up in Britain.
Back then, she was primetime TV’s most powerful queer figurehead; a riotous talent whose wit, confidence and, most importantly, warmth united the affection of my otherwise casually homophobic family. She was an inspiration.
So is RuPaul, of course. Before writing this, I re-watched a few old episodes of Drag Race (having occasionally dipped in and out in the past), and I can’t deny the sheer magnetism of the character; the style, the talent, the heart.
I don’t have a problem with RuPaul personally – I wouldn’t be that stupid.
My main problem is the unstoppable force Drag Race has become. What was once an edgy, cult hit has grown into an absurd, cartoon-like, mechanical monstrosity, exceeded only by 22 ‘cycles’ of that other reality show (‘Congratulations – you’re still in the running to becoming America’s Next Top Model’ should be used as a torture device).
How can people watch this rubbish over and over?
As for the inevitable argument that if I don’t like, I shouldn’t watch: well, the show’s inescapable.
I work for an LGBTI media organization, so I have to write about Drag Race on a near-daily basis. I also have a lot of LGBTI friends, so the show’s tired, cringe-inducing catchphrases haunt me like a fabulous case of tinnitus.
Meanwhile, the show’s alumni flood the gutters of pop culture like Big Brother contestants or TOWIE cast members: drag has had its McDonald’s moment. One side of me recognizes this as a cultural equality of sorts. The other asks: surely drag’s too cool for that? Where are the queens with something to say, rather than lip sync?
Furthermore, some have already highlighted the show’s feminist problems, such as the misogynistic use of the term ‘fishy’ to describe a queen with a naturally feminine appearance.
It’s also occurred to me that some queens are rewarded for achieving an unrealistic bodily ideal – the long legs, the tiny waists, the huge boobs – and arguably that reinforces an already-existing, unfair expectation on women that’s plagued society for years. But perhaps that’s a drag problem, rather than a Drag Race problem.
But the main reason I can’t watch the show is the glorification of arrogance, of vileness – it’s just too much. And don’t tell me it’s just knowing humor. A lot of it’s real. What really gets me is how the contestants are often even nastier to each other out of drag than in it. What are we left with? Gay men throwing shade at each other, served up as entertainment. In my view, it’s regressive.
And I get it: drama is their meal ticket. Ironically, the show’s over-saturated the drag industry to such an extent that now, by its eighth season, the competition is realer than ever. Perhaps for fans, that’s what makes such compelling viewing.
As for me? I’m sashaying away.