Let The Dust Fly

In this week’s episode of Drag Race, most of the queens are dealing with the disappointment of not heeding Ru’s advice and “fucking up” the Snatch Game, the challenge everyone most looks forward to. (I still can’t get over Chad Michael’s wig-switching Cher impression in season 4’s Snatch Game.) Jinkx Monsoon won the challenge but feels she didn’t get the praise she deserves from her on point Little Edie impersonation, and asserts her position as a real threat for the crown. A lot of the criticism that she gets–especially from Michelle Visage–is that her look is a little too boring and pedestrian which in translation means that she doesn’t match the ideal of what a RuPaul Queen should be. Ironically enough, when Michelle was delivering her criticism at one point she was wearing a boring beige cardigan to film at the judge’s table.

Oops, was that a read?

The mini challenge in this episode is to apply a full face in the dark while Ru watches on with night vision goggles. Of course, he zeroes in on the pit crews’ bulges as just another reminder of the show’s campiness. Also, seriously those bulges are socks, right? Detox wins and is given the opportunity to decide teams for the next challenge, which is to write and record a group inspirational song called “Can I Get An Amen?” Detox obviously keeps the Rolaskatox team together and lets the rest of the groups fall by where the queens were standing. To everyone’s shock, Alyssa Edwards and Coco Montrese were right next to each other and visibly recoiled at the thought of having to work together in yet another challenge. To add fuel to the fire Detox decides to give Alyssa and Coco the first verse of the song, putting the two at a disadvantage and setting the tone for the rest of the episode.

Speaking of Rolaskatox, there seems to be the beginnings of a bit of dissidence in the group. Alaska feels like the other two are not taking the challenge seriously and are goofing off in both the songwriting and recording portions of the challenge. There is also high pressure for her when she has not won a challenge and the other two have. Now is her time to stand out from the crowd and make her own way, and Roxxy and Detox are not helping her do that. Also, Roxxy makes the comment against Jinkx that she’s the “weakest because all these girls with the gimmicks are getting by and it’s pissing me off.” There are a few things that are problematic about this statement: Jinkx, rightly, won the last challenge, and Roxxy’s best friend Alaska arguably gets by with gimmicks the most out of all the queens and does it fabulously. Michelle Visage even (correctly) points out during critiques that cliques “can be deadly.” Yet, the forming of groups on this show is a bit of a tradition–remember The Heathers in Season 3?

Let’s talk about the bulk of the juiciness in this episode: Coco and Alyssa’s team. It seems as if this feud will never die and no one will let it die. Detox kept it going by pairing them up knowing it would cause much tension. Strangely though, the challenge seems to bring the two together in a way, though that may be over their common enemy: Detox. After the challenge they complain about her and for once seem to be on the same wavelength and when Detox calls it out accusing Coco for throwing dust–a term I’ve never heard that will most likely be used in my everyday vernacular–Alyssa steps up to defend Coco. In Untucked, it was revealed that Alyssa criticized Coco on the runway, but at the same time Coco comforted Alyssa after her fathers emotional video message, urging her to forgive him because she may never get the chance one day. The two may hate each other but their relationship is a lot more complex than it seems. They may still have moments of tender best friendship feelings for one another, but their anger gets in the way of that.

In the end, Coco and Jade Jolie were made to lip synch for their lives, and Jade was sent to sashay away.

On a surface level, RuPaul’s Drag Race is doing important work for bringing queer culture into the cultural consciousness. Never before have drag queens been able to shine in the spotlight on such a visible and popular medium and for once, they are able to tell their stories. With this praise, however, there is a fair amount of criticism. Drag Race largely ignores and criticizes alternate styles and forms of drag, perpetuating an illusion of what the perfect drag queen should be. This has been subtly pointed to many times in past seasons, along with the current season; think Pandora Boxx, Milan, Jinkx Monsoon, Alaska, and even season 4’s winner Sharon Needles. These queens were/are criticized to death for not subscribing to the fishy glamazon image of what having “C.U.N.T” means, when they are all great in their own rights. According to the show, each queen must be able to maintain a certain look, have sharp wit, and all the while be able to sing/dance/sew dresses. This “truth” is certainly not the truth of the true variety of queens that are out there.

It can be said then that Drag Race is promoting an image of queens that is most marketable to the average TV watcher. This makes sense as it would create a recognizable queer culture that the average American can follow and enjoy. Along with this, the show is almost certainly influenced by politics behind the scenes, with advertisers and producers that decide who stays and goes. Absolut vodka needs a queen to headline their tour which can give them the most profit and producers decide the fate of the queens according to who is best for the ratings. (This is why Coco and Alyssa will most likely stay until the end, or close to it. The former best friends that are again vying for the same crown is the stuff of good television.) Thus, for all the visibility that Drag Race creates, it is very much tailored by people that are probably more concerned with profit than an accurate depiction of this area of queer culture.

This concept is covered in Katherine Sender‘s Business Not Politics which explores why advertisers explain that their decisions to pander to the gay market is entirely predicated by the drive for profit rather than a desire to make a political statement. Sender argues that the gay market is “an imagined community formed…through an increasingly sophisticated, commercially supported, national media.” She further explains that this niche market is “constructed narrowly as white, male, professional, urban, with an abundance of good taste and discretionary income.” (5,7) The same idea can be attributed to Drag Race which is imagining and creating a drag community that is not representative of the whole, which can do damaging work to the culture in the long run.

With this criticism, however, comes tender moments that are the most “real” than the realness the queens strut on stage. In this week’s episode, Jade Jolie shares her coming out experience and how her family’s reactions “destroyed” her. She shares some touching words on her experience: “I pride myself on where I’m at now and the person I’ve become. I’m much stronger and I love myself much more…If you don’t love yourself how in the hell are you gonna love somebody else?” Along with that, Alyssa gets a heartwarming and completely unexpected video message from her father in which he admits guilt for treating her cruelly when she was younger and apologizes for it. These moments are not the juice and flying dust that we expect from the show, but they give the real answer to “What’s the T?”

JG

*most gifs are found on http://fuckyeahrupaulsdragrace.tumblr.com/

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