Monthly Archives: April 2013

RuPaul_s Drag Race_ Episode 10, Season 5 - Super Troopers | Video Clips, Watch Full Episodes Online

Drag Race’s “Super Troopers” episode was definitely one of my favorites all season. Besides the Snatch Game and the “Reading is Fundamental” segment, the episode where the queens take stereotypically straight men and put them in drag is always the one I most look forward to. It is always interesting to see these men play with notions of gender and camp and how a lot of them have a blast doing so. One thing I’ve always had a problem with, however, is how these episodes always teeter on the borderline of camp and plain ridicule of drag. At what point does it stop being endearing and start simply becoming a contrast between hetero-normative and queer representations of gender?

What I loved about this season was the political and cultural message behind bringing in a group of gay military men in a post-DADT world. That the men are gay and are able to share their stories of being a part of the military during DADT highlights an important and oft-ignored feature of RuPaul’s Drag Race: its ability to highlight and bring a different representation to the social and cultural issues of our time. DADT worked to suppress the voices and identity expression of gay men and women in the military based on the fear that homosexual people would “would create an unacceptable risk to the high standards of morale, good order and discipline, and unit cohesion that are the essence of military capability.” (source) This homophobic fear stems from historical and mainstream representations of homosexual men as “sissy” and feminine sexual predators. Really, the quote should read, “would create an unacceptable risk to the high standards of masculinity and heterosexuality that are the essence of military capability.”

What this episode of Drag Race does is twist these preconceived notions of gay men as largely feminine. In Connor’s post, “Varied Representations,” he points to Drag Race’s play on gender representations to be related to Jeffrey Bennett’s article “In Defense of Gaydar: Reality Television and the Politics of the Glance” which deconstructs reactions to reality dating shows that assign sexual orientations to contestants based on their degrees of masculinity and femininity. Of course, the men that were most feminine were stereotypically viewed as gay and vice versa, and yet the shows would break these stereotypes for shock value. Connor argues that this episode “has varying degrees of masculinity and femininity within each contestant and their pairs…These differences make it more difficult to stereotype the groups as a whole and blurs the lines of masculine versus feminine.” Rather than relying on contrasting poles to highlight transgressions in stereotypically assigned gender performances based on sexual practices–extremely feminine straight men, for instance–this episode shows the us that there are varying degrees on the spectrum of masculinity and femininity that have little to do with sexual identity.

It was a surprise to everyone that the partner Alaska chose, the pretty blonde one, had zero grace walking in heels while Detox’s masculine-looking partner walked like a seasoned queen in stilettos. This shattering of cultural stereotypes based on appearances also tells us that even drag queens can subscribe to these gender performance expectations, as Alaska was the one that assigned the partners based on these stereotypes. In his article, Bennett points out the importance of the “gaydar” in these dating reality shows and that “it is often unconcerned with truths and more interested in ideals of who might (and often does) exist in one’s midst. Gaydar is in part fascinating because of its inevitable inaccuracy. By smothering fluid identities with ontological expectations, gaydar eventually fails in its essentializing impulse.” (409) In a way, Alaska was subscribing to these notions of the gaydar, hoping that her blonde beauty would make a good drag queen yet these men were swiftly able to prove her wrong in her original assumptions.

These ideas that Connor and Bennett point to perfectly signify one of the most important takeaways in our QIPC class, that gender and sexuality identities are fluid social constructions and tend to be restricted by societal and cultural control.

JG

Tagged , , , , , ,

~*RuSponse Post*~

Well into its fifth season on the air, it is no longer arguable that RuPaul’s Drag Race is anything but a meticulously edited – and thus, authored and crafted – cultural text, with well-defined narratives and tensions. That’s why I love this episode, “The Final Three” – it serves as not only the denouement of the season’s various interweaving narratives, but also presents a metanarrative. In its “finale shocker” twist – that the audience, for the first time, will be deciding the fate of the Final Three – Drag Race ingeniously became irrevocably self-aware of its audience, which in turn became aware of itself, and with a wink and a series of links, deployed this audience savvy and admission of its producthood in a way that is decidedly campy.

 

RuPaul has always been a very “meta” show on the production level and in the premise of a drag reality show itself. It serves the task of mediating a form of art that is already a product of mediation, that is, a reproduction – drag is constituted of regurgitated and repurposed images. It is a “performance art” – performances consist of “performance” itself, in the Butlerian and original senses of the word. It creates “Realness” out of imitation, and makes the art of falsity the search for truth itself, (pardon me appropriating Lady Gaga appropriating Picasso, which actually in essence is actually sort of exactly what I’m talking about – misquotes of misquotes, a Telephone game of impersonation.)

 

In that sense, drag is in itself imitative, but on a wonky metameta level, the show about drag itself is also imitative. Other students (NP and QK, I’m sorry for referring to you by your intials it seems so rude) have already touched on this by noting its similarities to ANTM. The similarities are, in my opinion, 100% intentional, and it gets even more intense when you consider what RPDR imitates differently in the pieces of the show that break along gendered lines. “Female Ru as the host of RPDR” certainly makes reference to “Tyra Banks as the host of ANTM.” SheMail is a punned-up, campy play on Tyra Mail. “Lunch with Ru,” with the “personal conversations” and sob stories but sans Tic Tacs, is a parody of the ANTM final three’s usual sit down with Tyra. Even Ru’s delivery – her PERFORMANCE – of the elimination sequence, down to the repetitive sentence structures that become deliberate catchphrases, is an inversion of Tyra’s “Congratulations, you’re still in the running to become America’s Next Top Model.” But what my fellow students didn’t catch is that Ru is not just Mother Tyra to the girls throughout the duration of each episode – he is also Father Tim, as in Tim Gunn, the fatherly, benignly sassy “mentor” figure on Project Runway (at least the earlier seasons, I mean, it’s not 2008 anymore and that’s one of the shows that I left in the aughts.) The important thing to note here is the delineation along gender lines of the roles Ru plays. When he is imitating Tim, he doles out advice, wears a simple suit and glasses, and guides his underlings through the “workroom” process of producing work. When she is imitating Tyra, she is an example – a model, if you will — for the girls to follow, dolled up, a product for them to imitate.  Halberstam kind of gets at this, the subculture as simultaneous product/producer, in “What’s That Smell”: “mainstream culture within postmodernism should be defined as the process by which subcultures are both recognized and absorbed, mostly for the profit of large media conglomerates.” P 317 

 

RPDR the show has always been upfront about its status as a vessel for gay consumer culture, between its – again, very wink-wink, referential to shows past – montages of sponsored products and prizes to its challenges centered around selling gay products, most notably Absolut Vodka. It is probably more distinctively queer in this sense, for Sender, compared to Queer Eye, which “deploys gay men’s longstanding reputation as as affluent and as having great taste in order to court both gay consumers and heterosexuals who want to be associated with the positive attributes of the gay market” (137). Rather than display straight products that have a gay stamp of approval, RPDR sells gay products — queer products. 

The intriguing thing about THIS season of RPDR is that drag race has stopped selling products and started acknowledging, via its clear jacking up of episodes tacked on at the end as a “finale twist,” that it is, itself, the product now. From Wikipedia, on the show as Logo’s most marketable and financially viable product:

  • “The overnight ratings for the fifth-season premiere of Rupaul’s Drag Race reinforced the show’s position as LOGO’s juggernaut. “Monday night’s 9PM season five premiere of “RuPaul’s Drag Race” worked the ratings runway, averaging a .8 rating in the P18-49 demo. This number represents a 33% increase over Logo’s previous top-rated season premiere (fourth season premiere of “RuPaul’s Drag Race”) and clocks in as the highest-rated season premiere in Logo history.” 
    • “Furthermore, “Untucked: RuPaul’s Drag Race” was the most-watched premiere ever averaging 291,000 total viewers and a .5 rating P18-49. On social media platforms for premiere night, “RuPaul’s Drag Race” and “Untucked: RuPaul’s Drag Race” showed a 136% increase in social activity versus the fourth season premiere – this includes tweets, Facebook posts and Get Glue check-ins.”
    • It is here where any analysis of Drag Race as part of consumer culture needs to recognize that the show itself has begun to reconcile “performing as product” with its actual status as a marketable product. Only time will tell if this will doom the show’s authenticity or merely make it more complex. For Halberstam, I wonder how the mission of “archiving, celebrating, and analyzing queer subcultures before they are dismissed by mass culture or before they simply disappear from lack of exposure or …’fatigue’…the phenomenon of burn out among subcultural producers” applies with regard to RPDR, because for many it is its work in archiving and analyzing a subculture that burns it out — both itself and the subculture. I’m also curious as to the impact Drag Race will have on the future of those who choose to do drag, if they will arrive as individuals rather than borne from a scene, family, house, or lineage. In this sense, Drag Race, like many forms of capitalistic mass media dissemination, will have ended up individualizing and isolating those who intake its images of unity and continuity.

RESPONSE: “Snatch…Or Throw it Back?”

In response to the post “Snatch…Or Throw it Back?” the author claims that the Snatch Game challenge “is normalization at its best, not celebrity impersonation.” Although I can see why an audience might think so, I think back to Gross’s piece “The Mediated Society” and its discussion of camp. Camp being “the classic strategy of subversion” is taking an ironic stance towards the straight world. As I understand it, the imitation of pop culture mainstream celebrities and icons is exactly the irony that camp strives to expose. This challenge perfectly fits the drag culture because queer persons have a greater awareness of passing for normal and therefore are more equipped in taking these recognized, so-called “normal” superstars and exaggerating them.

 

While although the show is aiming to engage its audience with likeable or dramatic characters and narratives, I am not sure it is necessarily transforming “performers into tangible, assimilated products.” Rupaul’s questioning of Jinkx Monsoon’s choice to portray Edith Beale may just be a matter of wanting audiences—“the unwashed masses”—to be able to identify the characters in order to keep their attention to the show. For example, the “Who Wore it Best?” challenge is relatable to mainstream audiences, many of whom read US Weekly magazine or at least know of the “Who Wore it Best?” celebrity page. Yes, perhaps this is exploiting queer in the wrong fashion but what do you expect from a reality TV show? In regard’s to Sender’s quote “gay TV has become the spectacle of gay men acting out for the amusement of straight people,” I do believe this is often the case. The comical challenges and lavish runway shows are forms of pleasure for the average viewer, as the characters frequently dramatize femininity as a way of parody.  

 

RuPaul’s drag race is my closest encounter with a drag culture, and like Joyrich discusses in her “Epistemology of the Console,” television may be the only place you see a certain type of person or specific subculture.  The channel Logo and this show are a shaper of reality about the drag culture for my eyes. As Jinkx explains, “Snatch game challenges your improv skills, your wit, and your impersonation skills. Without these three things a drag queen might as well not call herself a drag queen,” thus “educating” viewers on what it means to be an exemplary drag queen. Alyssa Edwards helps interpellate the drag dorm as someone who needs to be both comedic and glamorous, not just one or the other. However, by learning and engaging with queer texts, I am able to understand that not all of drag culture is specifically over the top, funny, and hyper-feminine.

-Sam

In Response to THE SHADE OF IT ALL

https://qipc2013.wordpress.com/2013/04/22/the-shade-of-it-all/

Blogger JS mentions that perhaps it was the sisterhood formed between Roxxxy, Alaska and Detox that cost Detox her spot among the top three.  In the performative aspect of the show, I will agree with JS.  By the way, I also agree with Michelle Visage that “Ro-laska-tox” were simply throwing Jinkx under the bus in some form of sisterhood.  (Insert #RolodexShadeHunty)

HOWEVER …

POST TIRED SUGAR BALL:  What I find interesting is that within the drama of the season, and within the discursive space JS mentions, such as the work room, not one contestant bothered to mention that maybe it was Detox’s foray into gay pornography that cost her the crown?

Must I WERK this shade bettah than any of those bitches on RPDR5?

There was no way in hell that Detox aka Detox Icunt aka Sebastian Ford was going to be RuPaul’s Next Drag Superstar.  Not all the fierceness in the world, nor lips that wobbled more than Jiggly Caliente in 12 inch pumps, would prevent Viacom from looking in the other direction of Detox’s past.

Why didn’t anyone mention it?  The contestants dropped houses on everyone else  on the show!  Queens and producers were manipulating and constructing shade left and right … and its plausable to think that no one knew Detox’s past?  That show has more disclosures than Lady Bunny has wigs piled up on that head!  Perhaps Detox was a staged contestant …

Unlike Tortorici, Detox was unable to bring her pornographic past to the forefront and acknowledge it.  I doubt she’ll ever write about it and laugh it off as a fun thing to do while you’re young and in college.  If the show were truly attempting to enlighten the audience on the gay experience, then producers would talk about everything.  Talk about reality.  It is a semi-reality show after all, isn’t it?

Response: “Reading Is the Real Art Form of Insult”

I am choosing to respond to Ian’s post, titled: “Reading Is the Real Art Form of Insult.” The roast challenge, featured in episode 507,  is meant to reinforce the importance of a drag queen’s ability to “read” – Ian says he does not understand the importance because it’s only an activity among community members. He proposes that reading is important as a defense mechanism, but he does not have any support for that claim.

Perhaps the role of the show is to demonstrate the importance of subcultures and their evolution / growth. A subculture is non-mainstream culture that consists of shared taste in various realms like: politics, music, fashion, aesthetics, or experience. This classification includes community around specific characteristics, ideologies or goals, such as in Drag. A discursive space is a place where knowledge is produced and norms are set, which may be geographical or virtual. RuPaul’s Drag Race is an example of a virtual space and representation where the subcultural rules of drag are set. The ideologies and goals for the role of those dressing in Drag are set by the most knowledgeable and familiar with the subculture, which consists of the judges panel each week. So, the role of the show explaining the subculture and creating guidelines works to make Drag more concrete and more easily explainable to those in the mainstream. Though it may not be the most beneficial to characterize all people involved in Drag as the same, it creates a basic notion with which to understand the culture. Perhaps this is why is works as a defense mechanism because it is then not seen as something foreign, rather something more understandable by those outside the culture.

Further, Ian questions if it’s okay for friends and community members of Drag to bully one another. Though I agree the point of a show on television is to create hype through drama, it is seemingly unavoidable to escape bullying it seems – even within subcultures. This may seem like a morbid thought, however this week’s screening of “Fat. Hairy. Sexy: Contesting Standards of Beauty and Sexuality in the Gay Community” follow my claim. The documentary, which explains the Gay Bear subculture, shows not only chubby, hairy bears but also built, muscular bears. The muscular bears seem to deride the others, as they think that they are superior. Though the documentary does end on a positive note, in which every type of person is desired and finds love, it highlights the points of bullying. Within the subculture of Bears, there is discrimination between “types”. The same may be applicable to Drag. Though some of the drama may be produced or provoked for the sake of publicity of the show or of the Drag, much of it may be parallel to real-world discrimination towards though socially constructed as weaker. The gay male beauty myth, discussed in “Fat. Hairy. Sexy” by Pyle and Klein, is important to consider. This myth describes an the ideal gay body type, however this is not true, as there is not simply one type of gay or type of attractiveness (79). For the case of the bears, those less attractive are considered weaker by mainstream culture and from some within the subculture. For Drags, those who are not well-rounded and able to dance, lip-sync, and dress well are considered weak by other Drags and perhaps foolish overall by a hetero-normalist society.

-Qurat

 

PS: Bear Love

Drag Is Not For Sale (Response to “Drama Queens”)

In CP’s original blog post on Season 5, Episode 9 of RuPaul’s Drag Race, entitled “Drama Queens”, the author poses “Drama” as a manufactured element used to “heighten entertainment while also educating the audience about drag as a subculture.” CP uses the argument between Coco, Alyssa and Jinx about the merritts of “Pageant” drag versus “Comedy” drag to question the ethics of bifurcation within subculture. Ultimately, these queens are all societal others, and yet from their very inclusion in drag culture they are instantly “othered” from the pre-supposed binding agent of their gay male identity. I’ll admit my ignorance up front, as I haven’t seen past seasons of the show, but this sort of argument immediately got me thinking about the rejection of drag performance and culture in the gay male community. I think it’s both riveting and smart when the queens bring their love and sex lives into the show (more on that in a minute,) and I’d be super curious to see the narrative of a queen who was performing in spite of an unsupportive partner or gay life awaiting her on the other side.

A subculture, it seems, is necessarily formed on the notion of protecting the “others” who are members of said subculture from misunderstanding or even potentially harm from the larger community. Certainly, the mostly black and latino participants of Ball Culture as seen in the film Paris Is Burning are seen coming together in a space where they can enact and embody performance that they could not in their daily lives due to the rigidity of gender roles in their “home” spaces, as well as the basic un-viability of personal expression under the socioeconomic pressures that most of them withstood. To be the people that those queens really were was a fight for their lives, and the enemies were clear ones.

Who is “The Man” when thinking about the queens of RuPaul’s Drag Race? Is it the straight world? The one that rejects the entirety of Logo TV? Is it the gay world, that prizes either extreme masculinity or total femininity, but nothing in between? Is it the rest of gay television, with assimilationist tropes and narratives into which Drag only fits as a punchline? Or is it the very culture of Drag itself? Is Drag a subculture, or is it a club? The language and codes used by queens in the spaces seen in Paris Is Burning was brought into being not only as a stylistic choice, but as a strategic mode of performativity. Language, like gender, had failed these people and with a new approach to gender so too came a new approach to language. Many of these codes have been appropriated by the queens on Drag Race, as well as non-drag gays and some cognoscenti straights (not to mention the marketing team at Logo.) With this proliferation of a once rarified term comes a (literal) whitewashing that can potentially divorce the term so far not only from its original meaning but its original deployment so that it doesn’t really mean anything different from it’s straight term, and to use it either becomes a totally uninformed speech act, or one to simply demonstrate purchased or purchasable membership in a club. If you download enough media and pay close enough attention, you too can find your way to fabulousness and drag glory without doing any of the hard work. What was once rarefied due to the dire straights of the people who “made” the term will become rarefied again, as a way of demonstrating who is cool enough (and has the time/space/resources to be cool enough) to know how to say what when. This subculture, then, becomes a club, and not a club formed out of necessity.

You once could only join the club out of desperation. And sure, once you got there it was cut throat, but now you can only join the club by being cut throat, by being marketable. By making drag mediated, it is made marketable, and that marketability gives these queens visibility, which is great, but that visibility also turns them into products, which shifts who it is we see, what they do to get there and, ultimately, how the stories of an incredibly complicated and wide-ranging subculture are told. This last bit is something that should be thought of long and hard and all the time. It is the most important question in the world. Unfortunately, television’s impulse (and this is changing, but change is slow) is to tell stories in the most digestible way possible. If drag is to remain imperfect, allow for the possibility of Queer Failure, as discussed by Jose Muñoz in his book Cruising Utopia (a mode of making art/telling stories that doesn’t subscribe to normative/capitalistic values of success,) then it is essential for it to not be boiled down, for Drag Race to continue to diversify and queer the bodies it shows and rewards. Aesthetic wars can be sexy, but only if we get heated up by the knowledge that whichever side we’re on is not actually more valuable or more right than the other, that all ways of approaching drag are just that, approaches. The comedy queen and the pageant queen are both strategies, and ultimately the strategies are less important than the results. The winner of RuPaul’s drag race, simply put, should be the one who does the best job of fucking gender. Maybe in that fucking of gender comes the fucking of what it means to be any kind of queen or any kind of woman or a woman or a queen or a queer at all.

-Ken

IN RESPONSE: “READING IS THE REAL ART FORM OF INSULT”

When I watched the seventh episode of RuPaul’s Drag Race: RuPaul Roast, and much like my own experience watching the show so far, I did not know about codes and activities done in the culture of RuPaul’s Drag Race. I was surprised that Ian Xtravaganza’s initial reflection post mentioned that this was the first example seen where drag race culture appropriates pop culture. I assumed it was another part of the drag race culture, but it fits in well with the idea of “T” “shade” and “reading.” Although Ian did not mention any specific readings in the original post, the argument that the roast is new to the drag subculture and to the show was notable. This reminded me of our discussion in class about subcultures. Drag as a subculture, enters mainstream through show, along with that comes the appropriation of other mainstream cultures.

How would this insertion of a roast look to those not part of the mainstream culture it comes from? Would this be a part of a new code for viewers of RuPauls Drag Race and be easily identifiable as part of a subculture code for comedy? I would argue that there is an element of gaydar involved in being able to detect the codes of the drag race subculture, some of which I myself cannot outright identify. Also relating to the reading “In Defense of Gaydar” there seems to be an appropriation of mainstream pop culture event to drag race. RuPaul’s Drag Race make’s roasts queer because it is like “reading” and throwing “shade.” It connects the codes of the drag race and of pop culture.

Clearly this is an episode where Jinkx is going to shine for her comedic qualities and surprisingly also gets complemented on her glamourous look, while those that are more on the glamourous side like Roxxxy and Alyssa did not end up being able to balance any comedic side in them.  Again, the challenges in RuPaul Drag Race’s and the judge’s comments say that the grad race is partial to a queen that is able to be comedic, throw shade and look glamourous while doing it.

I agree with Ian in that Roxxxy’s breakdown was notable in following a queer narrative of not being accepted by one’s own family and only finding a sense of common identity and acceptance late on in a queer narrative. While watching the Untucked episode, I was touched, and I will admit that I cried, in the bit about Roxxxy’s abandonment and the mutual understanding that the queentestants had.

I agree that the lounge that allows viewers  the “behind-the-scenes” look of the show and are the main stage for the Untucked episodes do become a safe space for the queentestants. It has become a more interesting space with the surprise boxes that bring memories, whether good or bad, back to queentestants. There is also the obvious queer targeting of the Absolut Vodka brand that regularly sponsors the show and also had one of the companies own members of the brand be part of the show. Just like the show queered the roasts, it also queers the image of Absolut Vodka.

-JB

Tagged

The Final Three, Hunty

In “The Final Three, Hunty,” we are left with The Final Three: Alaska, Roxxxy and Jinkx.

Following her elimination, Detox gets the last laugh by leaving notes for each Alaska and Roxxxy–not Jinkx. Sweet Roxxxy volunteers to draft a fake letter from the now-gone Detox to Jinkx: “Jinkx, you sent me home, you [redacted] hot [redacted] mess.” No, says Jinkx’s face. Roxxxy giggles.

hairography

This episode’s challenge is to film RuPaul’s music video, “The Beginning.” Candis Cayne, who has come up before in our class discussion, steps in as the choreographer to teach the contestants #chiffonography and #hairography. Of the three, Alaska struggles in this segment as she fails to nail the choreography. The girls then film a courtroom scene in which each girl has to portray three completely different characters. Jinkx stands out with her acting chops and her characters’ elaborate and extensive personal backgrounds.

Roxxxy’s Toddlers & Tiaras Twin

Roxxxy falls short in her performance and backstage she states that she, again, has issues with comedy. She considers herself to be serious about drag and sees comedy while in drag to be poking fun at drag: “Drag continues to get insulted in this competition.” She also attacks her fellow contestants with vicious pageant-like mind games by belittling Jinkx’s work–being a drag queen isn’t merely an occupation, it is an identity. Roxxxy’s action then not only call into question the legitimacy of Jinkx’s work but also her identity as a human being.

Camp is present throughout the episode: most notably, in the beginning when RuPaul explains the challenges for the week and emphasizes the “hung jury,” the meal between RuPaul and the contestants where RuPaul states, I hope you brought your appetite.” It would be interesting to examine how the campiness of the show affects the audience’s perception of drag culture.

The love-to-hate Roxxxy brings the drama again this week. Most of the episode was all. about. Roxxxy. In pointing out the flaws of her competitors during a one-on-one with Gloria Allred, she reminds us of the “boy drag” incident: “Alaska came out as a boy,” and continues, “This is a drag competition.”

During Roxxxy’s meal with RuPaul, Roxxxy talks about representing the big girls, “being a gay man and being thicker, it’s harder…” This concept is discussed in “Fat. Hairy. Sexy,” where Pyle and Klein explain that “Men whom the gay community considers beautiful (young, skinny, hairless) have an easier time navigating their social world.” Those who do not fall under those adjective are shunned from the “conventional gay spaces” (78). She states that she wants to be crowned superstar to set an example for the bigger girls out there–an excellent point considering that “media is the site where knowledge is produced” according to Joyrich. Roxxxy’s own acceptance on television would mean positive visibility.

However, in Roxxxy’s case, she’s not exactly a positive representation. In an intimate reveal Jinkx tells the panel about her history of being an outcast and the discovery of drag, “[I was] hurting at home; I was living on stage.” Roxxxy–not to be left out–jumps in by saying, “I love you.” Classic Roxxxy. This seems like a manipulation tactic appearing to be sympathetic in front of the judges and in the process distracting from Jinkx’s moment. I cannot deal with you Roxxxy. 

The moment of truth: Roxxxy owned the choreography, Jinkx dominated the acting segment and Alaska (I almost forgot about you) defended herself the best. The three queens compete in the final lip-sync and the viewers are left to vote for America’s next drag superstar.

-MS

Camp is For Like Ever

In response to Ru Paul’s ‘Sugar Ball’ by QK

I would certainly agree, there are undeniable similarities between the structure, format, and goals of RuPaul’s Drag Race and America’s Next Top Model (ANTM).

Image

She-Mail (Very punny too!) — I mean…

Image

Tyra Mail — Duh.

 

The reality plus competition formatting of both shows allow for the audience to categorize them as being apart of the same genre. Also, both shows follow a structure that presents elimination challenges focused on aesthetic performances, to then be judged by the respective autonomous voices in these fields (performing drag, and modeling in these cases). Though I find your connection between the two shows as an interesting point to consider; how do RuPaul’s Drag Race and ANTM shape how audiences (of these shows) value these productions as discursive spaces?

Image

The first critique you mention in your post is about the “Bitchfest” challenge, in which the queentestants mock a competitor’s style of drag, using puppets. Though this challenge could be considered “an immature outlet for their feelings”, I think this challenge could also attest to measuring a queentestant’s range of “campiness”. In Larry Gross’ text, he explains that gay and lesbian life often requires the skill to “pass for straight” in order to avoid social stigmas or physical danger, thus a heightened sense for impersonation is developed — to enact what he calls “self-conscious role-playing” (Gross, 18).

Although the “Bitchfest” could be used as a tool to voice distaste for others, like we saw with Roxxxy’s performance of Jynx, it could also seem like a meta version of camp. The queentestants were filtering their competitor’s style of drag performance through their own drag personas; i.e. how Alaska won the challenge by exaggerating Roxxxy Andrew’s tear-aways and double wigs. Gross also explains that camp can take the sting out of oppressive characterizations of personality when personas become theatrical, because it reveals how you can separate the stereotyped “truths” of gender and sexuality from the body they’re projected from. However, Roxxxy’s version of Jynx Monsoon didn’t seem very “campy” and actually aimed to do the opposite… by mocking Jynx’s narcolepsy and criticizing her contouring; which we see from Jynx outside of drag (or as Jerick Hoffer), in the competition. RuPaul responds to Roxxxy’s performance of the Jynx puppet with “the shade of it all!”, as the other contestants stand there looking stunned at Roxxxy’s aggressive performance. I felt as though this demonstrated a clear disconnect between “campiness”, and public shaming of identity.

Additionally, I would argue that the “stereotypically attractive males” with the bodybuilder-physique on Drag Race, could also be analyzed as a version of camp. Often times we see women highly sexualized on competition-formatted shows, which reinforce dominant ideologies about beauty, and heteronormative sexual preference. The first thing that comes to my mind is The Price is Right because, I’m kind of a loser (in a very self-claimed and positive sense!), but more current examples include the models on Deal Or No Deal, and Vanna White’s role on Wheel Of Fortune. In Judith Butler’s Gender Trouble she states that trouble occurs when: “the unanticipated agency, of a female ‘object’ who inexplicably returns the glance, reverses the gaze, and contests the place and authority of the masculine position” (Butler, vii), in which trouble represents rebellion and the reprimand to come. Moreover, the men used to ornament the setting for Drag Race challenge the hegemonic standard that understands the female body as an ornament of desire, exposing how desire is also constructed.

Moreover, Roxxxy’s blatant hostility toward Jynx reminds me of the way contestants on ANTM are characterized, or edited for viewers at home. Both Drag Race and ANTM have a subversive level of competition going on, outside of the constructed challenges. There always seems to be two or more contestants that respond to their competition by trying to foil them outside of the planned challenges, and then subsequently distract one another during the required challenge-competitions. It reminds me of ANTM cycle 5, with what I’ll deem “granola-bull gate”. Maybe it’s not good TV, but it is certainly memorable.

In your post, you connect Rodriguez’s explanation of discursive spaces in “Divas, Atrevidas, y Entendidas”, with discussion from Warner’s “What’s Wrong With Normal?”. This provides an interesting perspective to analyze the intersection between popular culture and reality shows, and how reality shows become what Rodriguez explains as, “not establish[ing] which identity practices are available, but it does provide a frame through which these practices are received in that context” (Rodriguez, 5). In effort to produce entertainment that the American palate has already been introduced to, with some diversity of subject so reality shows don’t seem repetitive (grain of salt here!), can the structure of RuPaul’s Drag Race provide visibility? Unfortunately individualized responses from the audience are hard to access, like you mention, although I think it’s fair to question how audience opinions are censored. Someone in class mentioned how the queentestants on Drag Race are rarely judged by a panel of their peers, and we could say the same for ANTM. Therefore, the most rational identities existing in the space of aesthetic production become the cultural agents, seeming progressive to an otherwise uninformed audience, which gets back to Warner’s original point! So, is the goal of Drag Race to code drag performances in normativity, or is the joke really on the audience? Same goes for ANTM. Is the space for which reality television occurs in popular culture ornamenting “authenticity”, or in fact limiting the margins of visibility for production (of drag culture and modeling), and negating democratization?

I realize I’ve gone off to a place that seems to be dancing around ideas concerning conspiracies, although the discursive site of the reality-competition show should be seen as separate from reality shows that (aim to) document “unfiltered” experiences. Unless reality is competition, and the reality-competition show is a more preferable context to receive all the T and the shade?

Image

also, this moment was great.

–NP

Tagged , ,

Response: RuPaul’s “SUGAR BALL”

I thoroughly enjoyed QK’s forum post about the “Sugar Ball” episode of RuPaul’s Drag Race. I, as well, definitely see the comparison between RuPaul’s Drag Race and America’s Next Top Model (in this episode especially) but throughout the entire series as well.  The entire concept of pitting individuals against one another in a televised talent competition for a prize and a title is nothing new; however, Drag Race flips the norms of this genre on their heads. It constantly subverts the conventions seen in shows such as American Idol and America’s Next Top model with camp and humor, and in doing so, creates a uniquely modified version of the “reality TV genre” for the viewer who is used to a more serious tone. On top of this, there is an added layer of complexity to Drag Race because of the ambiguity of gender and performativity that is innately built into the concept and culture of drag. Taking the term queer out of a strictly sexual or gender related context, I would argue that Drag Race queers the reality TV genre.

QK also raises an interesting point about the relationship between biological sex, nudity, and censorship. The way that media handles nudity is interesting because men can reveal their upper bodies with no objection, but if a woman were to do so, it would either be blurred out or the show would receive a stricter parental rating. If the contestants of America’s Next Top Model were to undress after a photoshoot, their breasts would definitely be censored. When the drag queens of Drag Race decostume and transform back to male, their chests are not covered. The moment when we realize this, it is a reminder that the contestants are men performing as women. It exposes the constructed-ness of gender because when one sees the voluptuous Roxxxy Andrews, for example, undressing, they may expect to see breasts underneath her dress – but instead, a biologically male anatomy is revealed. QK also brings up the concept of the “male gaze.” This is interesting because in traditional media analyses such as by Laura Mulvey, it is suggested that there is a dominant male gaze watching a passive female subject within a media text. What about when the subjects are androgynous or constantly shifting between a male and female identity? I believe that this, as seen in Drag Race, serves to queer the gaze of the viewer.

The “Bitchfest” challenge for me was interesting because the contestants were out of drag, like QK, points out – but there was still an element of theatrics in the challenge. It seems at times that even when not impersonating a female, the contestants are still performing. I agree that Roxxxy’s “Bitchfest” was uncomfortable but in my opinion, it was the most honest as well. The Roxxxy and Jinkx feud is very telling because they are on two opposite ends of the drag spectrum. Roxxxy is glamorous, emulating a beauty queen while Jinkx is quirkier and a less traditional queen. To me, Jinkx is a queer drag queen because she doesn’t fall into the norms of drag (I would argue that even though drag is a subversion of norms, there are norms within it as well). Viewers seem to be siding much more favorably with Jinkx as explained in this Buzzfeed article:  http://www.buzzfeed.com/saeedjones/the-internet-hates-roxxxy-andrews

This to me suggests that drag could be heading in a new direction and opening up to different interpretations of what it means to embody femininity. Clearly, Roxxxy does not like this direction and doesn’t believe Jinkx is a true queen.

Image

 

– Saad