RuPaul’s Drag Race has turn into a behemoth with seemingly unstoppable ahead movement. First aired in 2009 and created by manufacturing firm World of Surprise, the truth present sees drag queens compete to turn into “America’s Subsequent Drag Famous person”. Since premiering, the present has spawned a enterprise empire with a legion of spinoffs, smartphone apps, thrice-yearly fan conventions and franchised variations in Thailand, Canada, the UK and now Holland.
RuPaul’s Drag Race represents the excessive watermark of mainstream success for world drag tradition. It has had an enormous hand in normalising the concept of the drag queen (at the least within the American mediascape) and, as our evaluation of the present’s media empire discovered, made the artwork kind extraordinarily profitable. Nevertheless, that drag could possibly be financially profitable and culturally acceptable has not all the time been the case.
Historically, drag has been an unrecognised artwork kind outdoors of LGBTQ+ areas, with most drag queens dwelling on the fringes of society. In america, for instance, “stage queens” who managed to search out paying work earned incomes far under the nationwide poverty line. However at the moment, drag is having fun with mainstream success, thanks largely to the connection it has developed with industrial social media.
On the fringes
Earlier than the early 2000s, drag tradition and the web developed away from mainstream capitalism. Nevertheless, each have since been professionalised, giving rise to pull profession YouTubers and social media influencers. Their parallel evolution in the direction of highly-polished, branded professionalism has offered the circumstances for drag tradition’s mainstream visibility. However at what price?
A serious motive for Drag Race’s success is that World of Surprise funnelled core elements of drag tradition into the truth TV format – a format completely depending on the low manufacturing prices and self-branding affordances of at the moment’s commercialised social media infrastructure.
However traditionally, drag in America had an ambivalent relationship to capitalism. The unconventional drag troupe The Cockettes, for instance, lived on a commune in San Francisco, placed on free performances (a few of which explicitly critiqued capitalism), shoplifted costumes and props and picked up state welfare.
Different queens – like these within the arthouse documentary Paris Is Burning (1990) and Ryan Murphy’s tv sequence Pose (2018-19) – equally operated on capitalism’s margins. The drag balls (a contest scene the place folks, typically drag queens, carry out totally different drag genres and classes) portrayed in these productions provided short-term respite from the cultural and financial exclusion queens confronted outdoors queer areas.
Like drag, the early world vast net was not initially considered a way to a profession. As an alternative, it provided vibrant areas for self-expression and knowledge sharing, from early bulletin board methods to the eclecticism of non-public webpages.
However the flip of the 21st century noticed the emergence of now-familiar model names like Fb, YouTube and Twitter, and the extractive financial fashions that turned these websites into huge money-makers. With this, drag and web tradition grew to become dominated by entrepreneurialism.
Queens of enterprise
It’s on this house that Drag Race emerged. A professionalised social media presence is all however obligatory for Drag Race contestants. RuPaul routinely directs viewers to “take part” within the programme by hashtags, and audiences are inspired to help their favorite finalist equally. In more moderen seasons, the scale of on-line followings is a continuing matter of dialogue. There are additionally frequent debates about whether or not contestants are “social media queens”, who exist solely on-line, or are “stage queens”.
Furthermore, Drag Race contestants body their social media participation by the discourse of entrepreneurial self-branding. As an example, Jasmine Masters (S7 and All Stars S3) has stated:
When you’re on [social media], you’re a actuality celeb. You’re a model from that time, you recognize, so it’s a must to deal with your self as a market, as a enterprise.
Masters has actually mastered using social media to self-brand. Regardless of performing poorly on each of her seasons, she stays a fan favorite largely by the virality of memes produced from her YouTube channel.
Different Drag Race alumni have spun their social media recognition into offline success. Many have prolific careers that embrace touring, YouTube sequence, movie and tv roles, guide publishing and even music.
In a Drag Con (the Drag Race fan conference) panel titled “The Enterprise of Drag”, Latrice Royale makes clear that, at the moment, “Drag isn’t a passion, it’s a profession.” This declare marks a radical departure from the pre-internet drag and highlights the crucial of “work” – or, as they are saying in LGBTQ+ tradition, “werq” – in at the moment’s drag tradition.
The importance of the time period is vividly captured in fan favorite Shangela’s music Werqin’ Lady, a braggadocio observe during which she boasts about her standing as a paid skilled. The music fetishes exhausting work and tenacity. And like Jasmine Masters, Shangela foregrounds entrepreneurialism in a means that’s a world away from pre-internet drag in its explicitly anti-capitalist and marginal modes.
Whereas social media has created careers for a lot of Drag Race alumni, as an artwork kind, drag is at its strongest when it questions dominant preparations of energy. Performers akin to The Cockettes and people in Paris is Burning are prime examples.
What our evaluation of Drag Race’s media empire – from episode transcripts and contestant interviews to spin-off podcasts, panels and YouTube sequence – demonstrates is that drag has been girdled by the logic of aggressive individualism and the free market. As such, the present’s mainstreaming of drag, as cultural analyst Lisa Duggan notes, perpetuates “a privatized, depoliticized homosexual tradition anchored in… consumption”. A tradition that positions drag as an financial automobile fairly as a way of mocking, querying or dismantling dominant energy buildings.