“The Shade of It All”

“We’re going to have a good old fashioned bitch fest…with puppets!”  That was the theme of this weeks mini-challenge and perhaps set the tone for the entire “Sugar Bowl” episode which was an all out bitch fest from start to finish. The last few episodes were filled with Alyssa and Coco drama, but out with the old and in with the new as this week’s cat fights encompassed Rolaskatox vs. Jinkx. Almost immediately after Coco was sent packing, Roxxxy became all about the T and shade, as she let Jinx know that it was her against the trio. This became even clearer as the mini-challenge progressed and each contestant dressed and acted out the character of another contestant using puppets. Although most puppets were humorous and good natured, Roxxxy showed an extremely satirical impression of Jinkx.  First, Roxxxy makes fun of Jinkx’s sleeping disorder, then claimed that Jinkx was talentless and a bitch to which Ru replies “The Shade of it all”. Alaska was the winner of the challenge with her hysterical Roxxxy performance and her “Where my people at” line.

It is apparent that Roxxxy and Detox do not take Jinkx version of drag seriously. There is a definite line between the type of drag which these ladies perform. Although Jinkx takes the show and her drag very seriously, it caters to her comical side, which is who she is and what she likes. Despite how funny the other ladies can be, this does not mesh well with the beauty queen diva drag which Roxxxy and Detox present, while Alaska blends somewhere in the middle (but obviously leans more toward her two counterparts).  For TV viewers at home, this can be considered queer in itself. For those unfamiliar with the drag world, many assume that to be drag is to always be over the top, fabulous and comical. While most of the queens are expected to be this way, as with all acting, there are different types of actors and roles. If before Drag Race you did not know much about queens or did not immerse yourself in their subculture (which is invisible to most of the general public), it is understandable that all drag queens are type cast into certain roles.

This notion is broken down in this episode, as well as many before it, which show that there are various queer identities inside this queer subculture.  And although Larry Gross does not really touch on drag queens specifically in his book Up From Invisibility he does state of the gay community “our vulnerability to media stereotyping… derives in large part from our isolation and pervasive invisibility” (15).  He further notes throughout his book that it is usually over the top instances in queer culture that get shown in the media. This is why Drag Race is a perfect representation of a show which does well with middle of America audiences. It is outlandish enough that it is not threatening to heterosexual audiences and episodes such as Sugar Bowl where we see the “claws come out”, is that queer aspect about reality television that people love.

Ru announces the first ever “Sugar Bowl” for the main challenge wherein the queens must  make three outfits – super duper sweet 16, sugar mama executive realness and candy couture – with the latter being made of primarily candy. There is editing upon editing going on as the ladies prepare their looks. After Ru comes in and reminds each girl of their weakness, the girls each change their looks up a bit to coincide with his remarks. Roxxxy and Detox are nothing but sassy when it comes to Jinkx and take every moment they can to put her down. This includes during practice of the “sugar baby” dance, when Roxxxy threatens to hit Jinkx if she is not careful with her over sized lollipop. With only four queens left, it is not surprising to see an alliance form in reality television however, maybe an alliance is what cost Detox in the end. When it was time to take the main stage in front of the Judges half of the queens candy couture outfits were fabulous, with Roxxxy and Alaska definitely standing out. Detox’s taste level is questioned by the judges, which one can imagine for a Drag Queen is the worst thing they could hear. Earlier in the fitting room, Jinkx mentions that the problem with having a “best friend” in the competition is that “Roxxy is so close to Detox she cant say- Detox that dress doesnt read as candy.” Perhaps had Roxxxy spoken up Detox would have been safe from elimination that night.

And so Alaska is awarded the winning crown, with Roxxxy a close second, leaving Jinkx and Detox to lip sinc for the lives. This is ONLY after Ru asked the most dangerous question of the season “Who does not deserve to be in the top 3 and why?”  Jinx was first up and said Detox has fallen short the most often. It then came as no surprise when Rolaskatox instantaneously all named Jinx as the weakest link, accusing her of everything from lack of maturing to inability to step outside of her box to not being the best of the best.  After the ladies go untuck in the lounge and the judges are making their decisions, Michelle accuses “Roledex” of throwing Jinkx under the bus so they can make it the top 3 together, which is clear left a bad taste in her mouth.  During the lip sincing performance Roxxy obviously has her “best friend” blinders on and announces that Detox is winning, but Alaska clearly sees that Detox is getting “outdanced” by Jinkx. Jinkx  was declared the victor and Detox had to sashay away leaving the top 3 dancing their way off the stage, and allowing us one more week of the Roxxxy/Jinkx drama.

Finally, after talking about queer spaces and discursive spaces this week, I realized that we can consider the fitting room a discursive space for both the queens and the at home audience. Although it is an open space as it is shown to the public through the television, it is absolutely a place where norms and expectations are set, where society learns/gains knowledge about the “drag culture”, has its own linguistic code and on the most basic level, the place where the queens converse.

-JS-

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2 thoughts on ““The Shade of It All”

  1. mgr283 says:

    One of the biggest sources of conflict over the years on Drag Race is over which type of drag is the better drag. As the seasons of Drag Race progressed, the show’s narrative began to better define the argument for the views. This debate has two factions: the beauty/ pageant queers and the comedy/ avant garde queens. In season five this feud continues to rage on, especially in this episode “Sugar Bowl”.
    As the number of girls becomes fewer the tensions becomes greater. Roxxy Andrews bitterly lashes out at Jinkx Monsoon during the mini-challenge and we hear she and Detox coming for Jinkx while in the Interior Illusions Lounge. They are not happy at all with Jinkx’s success in the show, feeling that her brand of drag is not as real as the type they practice. Roxxy hailing from the pageant circuit focuses on channeling and exaggerating the traditional feminine grace and beauty. While on the other side, Jinkx builds her drag aesthetic around a particular vibe and character, one who is kooky and a little zany. Jinkx type of drag finds often beauty outside of the popular standard that Roxxy’s type is informed by.
    RuPaul judges the queens based on who has the best charisma, uniqueness, nerve, and talent. The show is criticized at times for favoring glamourous girls over the campy funny girls. RuPaul’s Drag Race is definitely one of the most queer shows on TV. Its cast has people from many different backgrounds and experiences, and focuses on many of the issues that plague the LGBT movement that are just not shown in other TV shows. Yet with all of its queerness the show is still informed by the heteronormative practices of television. The show is still a reality contest format and has to appeal not only to those with the queer community. I think this is the reason why the show will favor glamourous queens more often. These are the types of queens are easily digestible to mass audiences as they are more inline with traditional gender characteristics and can be a tad less provocative than the camp queens whose witty one-liners may transgress polite comedic discourse. This dynamic on the show illustrates the views of the group Gay Shame and their critiques of the commercialization of gay pride and identity. Because the show exists to make money for the studio it has to adopt some of the mainstream gay movements views. The show does skirt the line though of being too mainstream, for instance before Sharon Needles all the previous winners had been drag queens of color. Though they did fit neatly into a female gender role.
    I agree in the original post that the show operates as a discursive space. Viewers especially those with no prior encounters with drag culture do have a good window for learning about the culture. I think though what viewers have to realize is that this window has its frame made by heteronormative views. As RuPaul said concerning the winners “What we’re looking for is someone who can really follow in my footsteps: Someone who can be hired by a company to represent their product, someone who can put together a sentence on television and present themselves in the most incredible way.” The show takes a large number of queens and puts them on the same stage competing. This equates queens like Roxxy to Jinkx in terms of their drag and role of drag. In real life these two queens probably exist in very different sphere within the drag world, one where they are asked to compete against each other. The show really takes this conflict and plays off of it. I think though what would be more productive and make the show even queerer would allowing to reconcile the different types of drag. Making challenges which reflect the the drag community and its history and having a discussion about it is one way to do this. By doing this the show would be informing the viewer why the non beauty queens should win and challenge further heteronormative ideals of beauty and gender. I think the show has made some effort to do this as shown with Sharon Needles, and I only hope they continue to in the suture seasons.

    Mike Rivera

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