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:

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.



– Saad


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