In the same vein as “Project Runway” contestants on the show are often put in odd situations (that are meant to somewhat reflect challenges RuPaul has had to face in the entertainment industry) and they must not only rise to the challenge, but also reflect their unique personalities through something creative (usually acting, sewing, or something else related to their looks). Like “America’s Next Top Model” their looks are a constant factor.
Unlike ANTM, the show doesn’t show us the girls (and they’re more often referred to as “girls” rather than men or boys) socializing outside of the workroom. All the trash talking, or “throwing shade”, happens in the work room. But it’s still there, and that makes this show similar to ANTM and “Project Runway.”
After reading Reality Bites Back by Jennifer Pozner, I’m more inclined to watch reality competitions with a more skeptical eye. With some of the tropes and stereotypes that Pozner highlights in her book in mind, I looked for the pros and cons in this series.
Pros include a massive amount of creativity demanded of the contestants. You may be competent enough to have your makeup look like a female/classy drag queen, but if you can’t bring it when it come to the fashion end then it’s too bad for you. Personality is key in this competition as well. Ok, I should say the personality that they show to the judges as it’s entirely possible to be a bitch backstage and have the judges clueless (what’s up Tyra). Taking the competition seriously while also having fun is definitely a good thing. Friendships are also important in this competition. Seeing girls that form friendships and help each other out is a great thing.
With that said, it’s not a perfect show. One con includes the blatant exploitation of stereotypes. If you had never met a gay man before and all you had to go on was the image of a swishy and ultra feminine man then this show isn’t going to do anything to disavow you of that image. Granted it’s a show about men who dress up as ladies so it’s not like you’re going to find a huge rugby player in the mix. Sometimes it seems like the contestants are living up to this stereotypical image, and often feed off each other leading to a room of screeching, giggling, girly voices. While I haven’t found any typical black women tropes presented, there is some talk of “ghetto.” When it comes to the Latinas it’s usually mentioned a couple times how “spicy” they are. Racial stereotypes aren’t as glaring or insulting as on a show like ANTM, but they’re still present.
Body issues are talked about (especially about the larger girls being proud of their size), but the girls are clearly encouraged to throw shade about each other in other ways. It’s like you can almost hear the questions and suggestions posed to them by producers. “What did you think of Shangela’s dress?” “Who does the best makeup?” Even RuPaul feeds the fire when he does stuff like asking Shangela if she asked for any help (we, the audience, know that’s all she does and it gets on other girls’ nerves). There’s even a challenge where the girls insult each other in good fun (aka. they have to “read” each other). Presumably after the “good-natured” round of insults that’s supposed to be it; it’s all out on the table and people can move on. Except this little activity occurs as the group is dwindling down and the competition gets increasingly revved up. The girls become harsher than ever despite already saying what was on their minds. Don’t worry, they can take it all back in the reunion show.
I like Drag Race. It’s an entertaining show that helps me engage in the great American past time of judging other people. It has it’s detractions, but ultimately I enjoy looking at the creativity.
A show not for the middle-America homophobe :p