Et Tu Ru? Entrepreneurship and the Commodification of Drag in RuPaul’s Drag Race

Jonathan Buck

Abstract


Historically, drag is a taboo which has been marginalized in the face of centuries of repression against non-heteronormative activity. Yet today drag has become highly visible in popular culture, and this is in large part attributable to the international success of American reality TV show RuPaul’s Drag Race (2009-present). Its bold representation of drag on a mainstream television show is unprecedented and the selection of drag queen competitors by the show’s producers has demonstrated a plethora of representations as Drag Race showcases a diverse range of identifications from the world of drag performance. The blossoming of Drag Race’s success comes at a historical moment in which we are seeing a huge proliferation of queer representations (re)produced in US television and other media over the last decade. However, as I will argue, the apparent liberalization of drag queens in popular culture is not simply a celebration of so-called ‘progress’ in the recognition of the marginalized, but may also be prompting the promotion of other value changes within late capitalism’s ideals of consumerism and entrepreneurship. Contestants are increasingly pressured to construct their drag performances to conform to a recognizable brand to reach the heights of their own private ‘success’. Mainstreamed depictions of queer subjects are susceptible to co-option, particularly in televisual forms such as Drag Race which prospers by channelling the emancipatory and subversive desires of the subculture. Through trans-textual considerations and historical contextualizations, I show how the representation of drag in Drag Race is depoliticized through neoliberal discourse as the show’s continual demand for competitors to ‘work it’ privileges and maintains the impetus for competitive profitmaking above the needs and demands of disempowered groups.


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DOI: https://doi.org/10.29311/for(e)dialogue.v3i1.3144



Copyright (c) 2019 Jonathan Buck

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for(e)dialogue

ISSN 2398-0532