Arts & Entertainment

July 15, 2011

He said | She said: RuPaul’s Drag U

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Written by: Alex
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Welcome to the first instalment of the new series, He said | She said! Each week, we (Alex and Rosel) discuss various happenings in pop culture and share our opinions. This week: RuPaul’s Drag U, which airs on Logo TV in the US and on OutTv in Canada.

Rosel: So here’s Wikipedia explaining RuPaul’s Drag U as “an American reality television series where everyday women compete in a series of challenges to unleash their inner diva” guided by drag professors at “Drag U.”

Alex: Sounds about right, although “series of challenges” is pushing it a little.

Rosel: Yeah, they’re more like… workshops on working out your problems.

Alex: Followed by a runway walk, dress making, and lip syncing.

Rosel: I find it interesting that Ru is hardly ever in drag in these shows.

Alex: Only when he’s being the Dragulator, and that’s just his face. Think he’s over doing drag?

Rosel: People have been speculating that lately. I wonder if he feels like he’s got more authority out of drag, especially guiding a bunch of straight women in a rut.

Alex: But how much authority can he command wearing those tiny suits, flood pants, and that much plaid?

Rosel: Touché. Though I think being the gay “sidekick” with authority on style has been a TV trope for awhile now, right? The “Approachable Gay”.

Alex: “Approachable Gay” is so different than his Glamazon [drag] persona. Drag U forces him to be more approachable.

Rosel: He seems to represent the “middle-ground” sexuality on the show, whereas the drag queens are the outrageous ones, and the women being at the other end of the spectrum.

Alex: I don’t dislike him out of drag, I just don’t entirely get it from a branding perspective.

Rosel: On another note, I like how the Drag U episodes become all about the drag queens competing.

Alex: Yes! It’s all about the queens, with token gestures towards improving these women’s lives. It mostly exists to show drag queens saying “Bitch!” It’s all about screen time.

Rosel: I wonder what this show does for the women though. It’s not helping them dress better for their everyday lives, giving them makeup tips they can incorporate to their day jobs, etc.

Alex: I’ve seen a couple episodes where the women seem to generally recapture some sense of glamour they gave up on.

Rosel: Good point. I guess it’s a time to unleash your inner demons (like the one sister does about “being the ugly sister”) and having fun onstage.

Alex: Maybe it’s just a really cathartic moment amplified by wearing a crazy wig. A big gay bacchanal.

Rosel: While still being heteronormative! Your kids can come watch you in your big wig! Sorry to whip out theory, but it just reminds me Butler’s idea that drag is not all subversive all the time.

Alex: It’s surprising, there doesn’t really seem to be any connection between Drag queen drag and Butler’s every day drag. Gender doesn’t actually get subverted in Drag U. It gets amplified.

Rosel: It is about getting out of your comfort zone but in the “appropriate” way. These women are seen as “unfeminine” at the beginning, because they can’t get dates, or they’ve just let themselves go because of motherhood, etc.

Alex: Right, “normal” women are still prescribed as straight, coupled, and child-bearing in the show.

Rosel: It IS interesting that the drag queens teach these “biological” women how to walk (like how they did onstage, dancing to “Survivor” by Destiny’s Child) and how to seduce men. I guess that is the only real subversive moment?

Alex: I feel like the show more undoes “normal” masculinity than femininity. The men can be women and men, the women can only be women.

Rosel: Favourite moment from the episode?

Alex: My favourite moment was seeing Drag Queen Morgan McMichaels half in drag/half out…without the wig, showing her hairy legs.

Rosel: But a face full of makeup!

Alex: Gorgeous face, but so out of place on that body and without the wig everything was out of proportion. I guess that big hair really does accomplish something.

Rosel: Yeah, the body looked so masculine…especially with the hairy legs: half reality, half illusion. Mine was when the drag queens showed the women how to walk onstage. I also love all the drag names the women get, like Jennasequa!

Alex: Thunderella, Beverly Hills…

Rosel: Beverly Hills was weak, I gotta say. Her low Drag Point Average was well-deserved.

Alex: Totally, and I think the winner deserved it. I think generally they do.

Rosel: Though I think Thunderella winning would’ve made for a better reality TV story.

Alex: The “pretty” sister won, a rare TV occurrence.

Rosel: Well, I think that about sums it up! Would you recommend this show to others?

Alex: Definitely, it’s fun if you don’t look to deeply at it. You?

Rosel: It’s great summer TV, for sure. And more interesting than other “What Not to Wear” varieties out there.

About the Authors

Alex | Alberta born, currently living in Montreal. He keeps busy by taking care of his vegetable garden and finches. Otherwise he can be seen putting his MA to work by watching TV, playing video games, or reading something postmodern. If you want to for some reason, follow him on Twitter: @alexkristof

Rosel | Hailing from Seoul and Vancouver, Rosel’s settled in Montreal (for now). She writes book reviews for the Montreal Review of Books, and discusses gender, sexuality, and race on her personal blog, What Are Years?. Follow her on twitter @jroselkim

About the Author

|Montreal Contributor| Alberta born, currently living in Montreal. He keeps busy by taking care of his vegetable garden and finches. Otherwise he can be seen putting his MA to work by watching TV, playing video games, or reading something postmodern. If for some reason you want to, follow him on Twitter @alexkristof.



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  1. woahhh woah woah. So these are real women on the show. That took me a minute.

    Also, I get your points about it not being subversive, but in a way all drag – even if it is drag of your own gender – CAN be subversive. Perhaps not in this instance, but the drag can bring out/exist as the commentary on your own gender that non-drag cannot accomplish. I am not sure that makes sense. I just mean that drag points to/exagerates the performance that butler is talking about so even if it is a woman in drag as a woman, the performance aspect of drag is still there, right? Plus butler has that whole thing about like the double removed drag right? I need to go look it up.

  2. Voila! Butler: “I would suggest as well that drag fully subverts the distinction between inner and outer psychic space and effectively mocks both the expressive model of gender and the notion of a true gender identity”. At least what i take this to mean is that, even if we are “drag” dressing as our own gender, what is is our “own” gender really, because if we can “dress” as anything, don’t we by doing so illustrate the weakness of the notion of gender in the first place? RIGHT? Am I right or am I so wrong?

    She also says: “Is drag the imitation of gender, or does it dramatize the signifying gestures through which gender itself is established?” Like, if a woman dresses in drag and then you don’t know if the “woman” is actually a man or a woman dressed in drag, doesn’t that kind of mind fuck the whole notion that drag is “cross-dressing” or like what drag IS? OMG BUTLER IS GENIUS. So are you guys!

    • Rosel

      Hmm. Well, I would say that while the viewer’s experience of watching these women in “drag” (and to be honest, they never go “full-on drag” with the ciswomen on the show) might be a subversive experience for the viewer (as in, I recognize the performativity of gender by watching how much more “feminine” the drag queens are than the women), it is actually more of a grounding act for the women themselves in which their biological sex and gender are more firmly entrenched in place. I say that because many women on the show are prone to say “I found the inner [sex goddess/woman/etc] in me through this” or a similar sentiment after the show, which I would say does not subvert gender norms, but rather solidify them. When I was referring to Butler’s notion of drag being “not subversive all the time”, I was thinking of this quote here:

      “But no, I don’t think that drag is a paradigm for the subversion of gender. I don’t think that if we were all more dragged out gender life would become more expansive and less restrictive. There are restrictions in drag. In fact, I argued toward the end of the book that drag has its own melancholia.” (from this interview)

  3. […] post-grad school. I’m excited to announce that we’ve started a new series called “He said | She said” where we discuss the gems and the pits of pop culture. The first topic: RuPaul’s Drag U, a […]

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