House3
CLOSE
MENUCLOSE

‘RuPaul’s Drag Race’ And Its Discontents: What Are The Show’s Effects On Local Drag Queens?

Culture
Photo by Chelsea Guglielmino / Getty Images

Has RuPaul accidentally broken local drag scenes?

RuPaul's Drag Race has fucked up drag,” said Jasmine Masters in a January 2016 video shot shortly after her elimination from the esteemed reality competition show. The semi-obscure video, which polarized viewers and fans of the show at the time of its release, is a sort of stream of consciousness complaint from one of the program's most divisive characters. In it, Masters bemoans the micro-politics and micro-economies of gay bars, in which it has become quite clear that the show's contestants are much more highly prioritized than even the most established of local girls, and complains about the generational divide between older queens and younger, more avant-garde gender explorers.

Although the video's opening line has since become somewhat of an ironic catchphrase, with Drag Race recently concluding its ninth season, it is becoming increasingly obvious that at least some of what Masters had to say isn't wrong. Drag Race has had an immense effect on the world of local queens and continues to shape the aesthetics of drag writ large for a new generation who may or may not understand the immense history of the art form. In fact, many of the performers working today simply don't remember a time before the show even started. Masters' comments perhaps underscore a growing discontent with the way the show continues to affect both the art and business of drag. 

A poignant example of this effect could be seen when it was announced that, for season nine, Drag Race would be moving from Mondays to Fridays. What seemed like a small, innocuous change that would allow the show to court a wider audience (paired with Ru's move from Logo to VH1) ended up hurting countless gay bars, who depended on the show bringing in traffic on a night that would otherwise largely be dead. Huffington Post writers James Michael Nichols and Cole Delbyck detailed the ways that this essentially robbed local businesses of an evening of profits they had begun to count on: “[Mondays] felt like a community experience with everybody watching this show and having a really good time,” said Brooklyn, New York, gay bar owner Steven McEnrue. “I think it’s a little early to tell, but I do think a bit of the magic of coming together on a Monday night might be lost. It’s definitely going to be a completely different dynamic this year in terms of the crowd and how the show is.”

RuPaul's Drag Race has brought a greater awareness to drag, in general, and has therefore grown the art form and helped local communities to thrive,” said Goldie Peacock, a New York-based drag king, who sees the effects of the show as a kind of double-edged sword:

[But] the RPDR machine has also created a tier of celebrity drag queens, many of whom can command top dollar for their services; making a livable wage doing drag as a local performer is much more challenging. I've witnessed producers of high-profile events reserve tens of thousands of dollars of their budget for these queens, while even internationally legendary, established non-Drag Race alum receive a fraction of that sort of pay—or are sometimes just wooed by the potential "exposure" of getting to perform alongside TV stars. It's certainly reminiscent of other facets of the entertainment industry.

While larger clubs can afford to shell out the growing booking fees of former Drag Race contestants, smaller gay bars continue to struggle to keep people tuned in once an episode ends. And although viewing parties provide important opportunities for new queens to test their skills in front of audiences that simply wouldn't exist otherwise, casual fans of the show usually aren't interested in sticking around to see the homegrown talent perform, says New York City's Zalika Parsons, a foul-mouthed and quick-witted queen reminiscent of the legendary Divine: “It's annoying and disheartening. A viewing party is a way to try and bring a community together, but it's also a way to let people see the talent that's in it—by leaving early, you're showing that you only care about famous people.”

Drag performer Qhrist with a Q, a gothic non-binary artist, adds that while drag had previously never been considered a path to stardom, younger kids now see the art form as a career opportunity rather than a political gesture: “Drag Race has set a new standard of drag that is unrealistic in the face of many of America’s long-existing drag performers and communities… [The show's] transformation of drag from community organizing tool to celebrity shortcut is something to think about.”

But it's more than just money, Drag Race sets a specific and perhaps rather constricting aesthetic standard that many queens who fall outside of it are beginning to resent. “It's just creating a heteronormative mindset but for drag and art. Not every queen is a pretty, skinny male who follows all the trends and says, “Yas! Werq! Slay!' There's way more to drag than just that,” says Zalika. 

Part of the humor of Masters' video was its extreme hyperbole. Of course, Drag Race hasn't fucked up drag. In fact, the general consensus amongst queens seems to be that the show's positive effects far outweigh the negatives, but complaints about the mainstreaming of the medium are slowly becoming almost as ubiquitous as the praise. “I think that the proliferation of drag, in general, means that there are more people out there to reject the beauty standards that are being upheld by the show,” says campy Brooklyn queen Ariel Italic, offering a counterpoint to the critiques:

There are people who will only go out to see Ru girls, but there are also people who will now go out to drag shows because of the Ru girls. I think that Drag Race has made drag more commonplace and more acceptable, and, because of that, broader definitions of drag have had more room to thrive, because so many more people are doing drag.

There's no doubt that Drag Race has had an immense effect on the way drag is viewed as an art form, and that RuPaul himself has almost single-handedly created an explosion of interest in what had otherwise been seen as an underground hobby or niche. But as the show's popularity grows, it's worth considering the toll it takes on those who can't, or don't even want to, make it to the small screen.

Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images

While she wished Tana Mongeau a happy birthday on one account, her other one paints a different picture

If you're in YouTube and influencer culture as deep as the rest of the internet, you already know that Tana Mongeau and Jake Paul got engaged yesterday. How does Mongeau's ex, actress Bella Thorne, feel about the situation? According to her official Instagram account, she's totally supportive of her. But, as is usually the case, her (what I call) Finsta tells the more realistic story.

Keep reading... Show less
True
FROM THE WORLD WIDE WEB
Photo by Dimitrios Kambouris / Neilson Barnard / Getty Images.

"And then she cried the white girl cry"

I'm not sure I'd even call the ongoing spat between Nicki Minaj and Miley Cyrus a beef. We've seen Minaj in real beef, like her ongoing feud with Cardi B that culminated in some major Fashion Week drama. But even though things aren't that level between Minaj and Cyrus, things are still definitely not okay.

Keep reading... Show less
True
PHOTO BY JASON MERRITT/GETTY IMAGES

Congrats!

Amanda Bynes has just graduated with the Class of 2019 from the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising in Los Angeles. Late Monday evening, Bynes shared a photo to Twitter celebrating the achievement, posing alongside a classmate in her cap and gown.

TMZ shared additional selfies with fellow classmates from the graduation ceremony. Sources told TMZ that Bynes seemed "ecstatic," and that she was "getting tons of love from her teachers and peers."

The actress has been enrolled at the school since 2014, though, as Page Six notes, was kicked out for a short period of time toward the beginning of her studies, but returned and completed her program within five years.

In March of this year, Bynes checked into a mental health facility after an alleged relapse, following four years of sobriety. Prior to that, she had returned to the public in late 2018 with an interview with Paper in which she opened up about her experience with depression after the release of She's The Man, as well as her drug use.

True
Asset 7
MORE in VIDEO
Screenshot via YouTube

Welcome to the family!

Taylor Swift has filed a trademark for her newest cat, Benjamin Button, which she adopted during the filming of her "ME!" music video.

Keep reading... Show less
True
Photo by Lars Niki/Getty Images for POPSUGAR and Reed Exhibitions

She didn't even know she had one until the show

Camila Mendes has been open about her eating disorder before, but, in a new interview during a panel at PopSugar's Play/Ground, she revealed that costume fittings for her show Riverdale were the catalyst that led her to seek treatment.

Keep reading... Show less
True