Why ‘RuPaul’s Drag Race’ Is the Best Reality Show on Television


ALTI hope that neither Mitt Romney nor Barack Obama talk about their stances on gay marriage tonight at the final presidential debate, because there won’t be one gay person tuning in to hear them. Why? Because the premiere of the greatest contest in gay culture, RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars starts tonight on Logo at 9 PM as well. Is this little show that so few people have heard about and so few people watch really that big a deal? In one word: Yes.

Now, I can’t say that all gay people watch and love Drag Race, just like you can’t say that all redheads hate Glee (really, they should), but there is no denying that the show has had a huge impact on mass gay culture. Any queen who gets cast on this competition skyrockets to fame, making paid appearances at gay nightclubs and Gay Pride events across the country. Even Jiggy Caliente! And Drag Race certainly has plenty of straight fans. It deserves to have even more because this show is possibly the best competitive reality show on television. It certainly is the campiest.

Don’t worry if you haven’t seen the first four seasons before turning into tonight’s All Stars edition. You might not know some of the players, but the show will remain remarkably the same. What you need to understand about RuPaul’s genius creation is that no one takes it seriously. Not even RuPaul. It’s a bigger joke than Lindsay Lohan‘s next acting gig. The challenges – which usually involve the queens choreographing a performance, getting together a ridiculous outfit, or filming a sequence that looks cheaper than a high-schooler’s YouTube video – have little to no bearing on the outcome of the show. What really matters is how well each queen can dress for her final runway walk, how much RuPaul and her rotating cast of D-list judges like them, and whether or not they can lipsync for their lives. Yes, it’s all kind of a joke. The prizes are chintzy, the stakes low, and the drama is exceptionally high.

Yes, Drag Race is, if anything, a parody of reality competition shows. It takes all the stupidity of America’s Next Top Model, all the ritual of Survivor, and the transformative chutzpah of every makeover show you can dream of, and combines it into a package that’s all its own. It’s like rolling your body around in an exploded glitter ball and then wearing that to a day at the office. Oh, and let’s not forget RuPaul’s umpteen catch phrases. Every minute of the show is punctuated by one of her pronouncements from “She-Male” to “Don’t f**k it up” to “Bring me my girls!” to “If you don’t love yourself, how you gonna love anybody else, can I get an A-men?!” They all roll off the tongue quicker than RuPaul’s puntastic commentary as each drag queen struts her stuff on the runway. I wouldn’t be surprised if Ru started stealing some other people’s catch phrases too. The first time she says, “The tribe has spoken” or “You’re still in the running to be America’s Next Top Model” I will seriously lose my shit.

But it’s all the pop culture craziness that makes this an amazing show. It’s not afraid to be what it really is deep down on the inside, a cheap entertainment made on the cheap. It knows how important it is, which is about as important as the continued existence of Hershey Kisses and Bratz dolls. The Amazing Race and American Idol are always selling themselves in these serious tones like this is the best adventure you’ll ever have or the only shot you might ever have at a singing career. RuPaul does not play that game. It knows that the queens will go back to performing in gay bars just like they were before. Sure, they might get to go to bigger and better gay bars, but there are no crossover stars. The stakes are low, but that only means there’s nothing left to lose. Bobby McGee taught us that that is what freedom is another word for.

Gay folks love it so much because it is our entertainment, and this show is as crazy and gay as it wants to be. Maybe that’s why it is the only hit to come out of the gay-oriented cable channel Logo. Like so much of its other programming (or the more popular stuff on its fey older sister Bravo) there is no equivocating the gayness on Drag Race. It is so gay, that straight people might not even understand all the words people are using. (If you’re straight and you know the difference between “reading” and “shade” and “kiki” and “kai-kai,” you are either Bette Midler or have your own personal Village People troupe.) It succeeds because it just doesn’t care, and that makes us care about it so much. RuPaul is everything and nothing all at once, the gayest show on TV and Logo’s only straight crossover hit, both dreadfully sincere and more ironic than an arched (and painted-on eyebrow). And that is why everyone with a television should be tuning in.

Follow Brian Moylan on Twitter @BrianJMoylan

[Photo Credit: Logo]


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