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).
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?
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?