DISCUSSION: “Is ‘RuPaul’s Drag Race’ The Most Radical Show on TV?” by Jenna Wortham & Episode of RuPaul’s Drag Race

How did Wortham’s article affect your understanding of the episode of Drag Race assigned for today’s class? What parts of Wortham’s essay seemed to resonate with this episode of the show?

7 thoughts on “DISCUSSION: “Is ‘RuPaul’s Drag Race’ The Most Radical Show on TV?” by Jenna Wortham & Episode of RuPaul’s Drag Race

  1. I have… very mixed feelings on RuPaul’s Drag Race. I’m glad Jenna Wortham’s essay addressed some of the issues people in the LGBT+ community have had with the show, but I feel that 70-80% of the article was really focusing on Ru herself and the more positive impacts that the show has for the LGBT+ community.

    I do agree that RPDR did contribute to society becoming more accepting and understanding towards the diversity of presentations/sexualities/genders in general. Seeing more and more people just casually accept boys who wear cute skirts and like pink, or girls with buzzcuts or people who step outside of the gender binary however they want makes me happy – (quite like the party with young, gender non-conforming kids amongst the older queens described at the end of Wortham’s article). I think the whole irreverent yet extremely self-confident attitude that RPDR and its contestants have was a huge driving factor. Anyone or anything with a huge amount of self-confidence can prove to be inspiring.

    However, there are still a lot of issues with the show. As I said earlier, Wortham does touch upon them in her article – for instance, the infamous Tyramail parody (‘Shemail’), or the challenge where contestants had to tell the difference between ‘biological females’ and ‘shemales’.

    I’m aware that these two things were dropped from the show in its later seasons, but they proved to be extremely uncomfortable and isolating for trans viewers of the show, particularly trans women. Making a pun off of a transphobic slur was bad enough, but the challenge ‘Female vs. Shemale’ was extremely painful. The message of the challenge was uncomfortably close to invalidating the womanhood of trans women because she didn’t ‘pass’ enough- an attitude that has lead to the abuse, rape and death of several trans women.

    It really doesn’t help that Ru insisted on keeping these jokes in RPDR when called out on them by trans women, including one of the contestants – Carmen Carrera. I appreciate that Ru eventually took them down, but Ru has been called out since for insisting on using another transphobic slur (tr*nny) for herself, despite not being trans. Most recently, Ru stated about a week ago that she didn’t think that trans women who were going through HRT (horomone replacement therapy) should participate in the Drag Race, which brought a lot of ire from younger queens and fans- because drag was supposed to be a celebration of expression and identity, and excluding people from drag because of their identity contradicted its messages.

  2. This article was an excellent representation of RuPaul’s drag race. The show however is incredibly vast and could never be completely covered by an article. The argument about the show as a representation of acceptance and identity I personally believe is what the show is all about. Yes, this is a parody, comedic reality show, but at the heart, the reason why this show exists is because it is to show case this world of drag which is much more complex than what people may think it is: men dressing up as women. The world of drag is about an affinity that people who feel that they don’t conform or that people who feel that they don’t know who they are can latch onto and find comfort in. The show is about showcasing the many personalities of drag and how it has helped these people grow up and become comfortable with who they are. To them it is equivalent to a sport or a musical instrument to us that allows us to express who we are and find comfort.

    This show is also about a bigger representation of minorities. Although the show is specifically about drag, it’s main idea is how these “unusual” or “uncommon” identities and groups are actually more common than we think. It also allows us into their world to see a snapshot of what it’s like and let’s us even understand and appreciate the art that it is so that we can understand how these identities are misunderstood and actually something worth celebrating. The show takes an overall entertaining route in order to attract attention to this topic and share the positivity that drag brings and also to bring attention to the issues that the show tackles such as HIV/AIDS, identity growing up/gender and even trans rights. This show educates and informs its viewers in a way that makes these topics seem natural and as important as anything else displayed in media.

  3. Wortham’s article significantly affected my understanding of the episode of Drag Race in several ways. To be honest, my initial, preconceived notion of Drag Race was just a group of Drag Queens who glam up, gossip, and start unnecessary drama in order to gain attention from viewers. The article has definitely changed my perspective on the topics of gender, sexuality, and identity. For example, I was really surprised how this show has opened up to such a wider and broader audience, especially teenagers and women in their 20s and 30s. What I got most out of this article was the amount of emphasis the show placed on “being yourself”. The article stated how much we are affected by social media programming us to construct ourselves in a certain way, and this show tries to divert us from that mentality. What truly brings the show together is the support and connectivity the contestants have with one another all due to their unique difference. They seem to empathize with one another and understand one’s struggles, unlike most of today’s shows. As the articles states, “ I think they see our show as a handbook for navigation.” This sort of mentality and attitude especially resonated with the end of the episode when one of the contestants begins crying about not feeling wanted or worth it. The judge on the shows replies by saying that as gay people we are able to choose the people we love and that we are all family.

  4. Two specific moments in the article stood out to me. First, the conversation about how this show differs from the average reality show that it aims to mock. Wortham talks about how the cattiness in this show isn’t really cattiness and always becomes disarmed when you look into the context surrounding how and when it was said. This is a sharp contrast from other reality shows, even America’s Next Top Model, which RPDR was born from, where insults really are just mean spirited insults that create barriers between the contestants. I saw this especially when the women were “reading” each other. Just take the words and it seems like a hostile environment completely incompatible with love and support. But look at the queens’ reactions and realize that they take this insults as a source of fun, almost a source of pride. No one brings back up anything that was said during it, and it actually makes the audience feel that they’re close with each other. It felt like when you insult your best friend but in a lighthearted and loving way. I also saw this aspect of support when Roxxxy Andrews became overwhelmed and started talking about feeling rejected by her mother. RuPaul responded by saying that this whole show is a family and will always support Roxxxy. Unlike other reality competition shows, even once you’re out you’re never really out. These two moment’s really brought Wortham’s words to life for me.

    The other thing I thought was really interesting was the intersection between the drag world and the trans world. I have rarely stepped into either, so I don’t feel that I can really offer any sort of genuine analysis or fully response to that, but this did lead me to some questions. How does a queen differ her nondrag female identity from her drag identity? Should they be different since one is a performance and one is the true self? Or should they be the same because drag is about highlighting one part of the true self? Since trans women are just as much of women and cis women, does this open up female drag to cis women to play an exaggerated femininity as well? Or is this space more of a sacred space for people who deal with that on a consistent basis? I don’t have answers to any of these questions, and I didn’t totally feel like the episode of RPDR helped be figure it out, but I thought they were all really interesting to think about.

  5. I had never before seen an episode of RuPaul’s Drag Race and knew very little about the show before reading Wortham’s article and watching the episode. Similar to what Patricia mentioned in her post, I had always thought of RuPaul’s Drag Race as another vapid and trashy reality show where the contestants create drama out of nothing. While I found this to be true a little bit – in the scene where Alyssa is reading her ideas for her roast of RuPaul I thought the other contestants were unnecessarily mean about it – but Wortham’s article helped me to understand why this show defies the mindless reality TV stereotype.

    Though I do not know much about drag, it definitely seemed to me from the article that RuPaul Charles has been incredibly important in spreading an understanding of what drag is and its goals. From the article he seemed genuine and not in it to make money off of contestants publicly acting ridiculous and embarrassing themselves, as he told Wortham, “Producers were just looking for the nasty side of the human experience, and I definitely didn’t want to be a part of that.” I also appreciated how it seems like RuPaul has created his show for the benefit of the entire drag community, not just himself. Wortham explains that, “the show doesn’t obscure the violence and terror that accompanies the life of the marginalized,” suggesting that the show has a deeper purpose than pure entertainment and serves as a way to educated viewers on issues that are not often addressed in mainstream media.

  6. This article definitely gave me a different outlook on the show RuPaul’s Drag Race. Never before had I thought of drag as something more than dressing up and performing, but in reality, it is a vehicle for understanding. Drag works to educate people about gender and identity and is trying to promote acceptance for things like the LGBT experience and cross-dressing. In our society today, I think a lot of people are afraid to talk about drag and the LGBT movement for fear of offending someone, so they avoid the conversation completely. RuPaul’s Drag Race is an attempt to work against these feelings and open up the conversation about gender identity.

    Central to the show is the satirization of traditional feminine stereotypes to impress the judges. Something I found interesting in the article was when Wortham tried to imagine a version of RPDR where contestants made fun of male stereotypes. She couldn’t. I think this is an example of how society glorifies men and their dominance–the male identity cannot be so easily deconstructed.

    Overall, I think the article and the episode of RPDR depict the importance of drag and how it has provided a community for many people, mainly people that feel like they don’t belong in the typical constraints of society.

  7. I had never seen an episode of RuPaul’s drag race and I didn’t know much about it before watching this episode and reading this article. My preconceived thoughts on the show were definitely a little unfair because I thought it was just another reality tv show that exaggerated behavior and drama in order to get more viewers. Wortham wrote in his article that, “Each season is with a sense of optimism in the face of relentless adversity; Charles believes that is central to the gay and queer community.” This quote made me realize that there is much more to this show than I originally thought.

    RuPaul’s Drag Race not only provides humor and entertainment for its viewers; it also opens up the conversation surrounding the LGBT community. Also, the show provides insight into the challenges that so many of the “marginalized” face. For example, Wortham explains that in earlier seasons, the actors in RuPaul’s Drag Race have been subject to violence, harassment, and disease. By telling us this, Wortham tells his readers the significance and importance of this show, and we don’t have to watch it or enjoy it, but we should definitely respect it. RuPaul’s Drag Race is a step forward in reality TV because it not only provides laughs for the viewers, it also provides a very accessible way to understand the depth of some of our societal problems.

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