What RuPaul’s Drag Race has not done for South African drag • illuminaija
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What RuPaul’s Drag Race has not done for South African drag

What RuPaul’s Drag Race has not done for South African drag

Note: illuminaija.com encourages freedom of speech and difference of views. The views published herein does not necessarily reflect that of illuminaija.com.

I try to keep the worst of my cynicism out of my writing because it comes off terribly bitter and pathetic from someone who gives off heavy bitter and pathetic vibes to begin with but I have something to say about .

Well it isn’t actually the show itself so much as the cultural impact the show has had and the audience it has built.

RuPaul’s Drag Race has undeniably opened drag up to a larger audience both in the United States and all over the world and it is beginning to influence the way drag is perceived and performed in South Africa.

What the show hasn’t done is create a safe and sustainable marketplace for queens in South Africa to create drag.

The reality for the bulk of SA queens is that their art costs them more to produce financially and emotionally than they are ever likely to receive in booking fees and unlike in the United States there is no culture of tipping drag artists in South Africa.

It would be hugely unfair to paint all venues that book drag queens with the same brush but as partner to a drag queen on Cape Town’s scene I have witnessed first hand how queens are victimized and taken advantage of in a cutthroat industry. I will say that when I moved to South Africa’s so-called gay capital in 2013 I expected to find many more LGBT community-minded venues.

Drag Race has also led to the unfortunate rise of trolling and bullying of anyone whose drag you don’t particularly live for and that isn’t something any artistic community can allow and expect to thrive. In the entertainment industry you have to be able to accept a harsh critique but the shady elements of a reality tv show don’t have a place in a community that acts as a haven for people who have been victims or marginalization all their lives. Drag is more than just entertainment it is a place where art and activism intersect and it is often born out of societal rejection which makes it an artform at odds with commercialization.

RuPaul did not invent drag and drag does not belong to one particular person or group, South African queer art should reflect the reality of life in this country for LGBT people not act as a pale imitation of American pop culture. I recognize that there is a fine line between encouraging an appreciation of cultural diversity and telling audiences what to like.

Audiences who want to enjoy queer art do have a certain responsibility to understand the place that it comes from and the different forms it takes. It is faintly ironic that a TV show that has demonstrated the tremendous versatility and diversity that drag can encompass has created archetypes of drag that strictly determine what kind of queen can be successful. South Africa’s own rich queer history should inform the drag we see in LGBT-friendly venues. The cultural shockwave created by Drag Race threatens to obliterate that history and context and replace it with death drops and wig reveals, not that there is anything wrong with those things although I believe Orthopaedic specialists don’t recommend the former.

You need to give Drag Race its due when it comes to inspiring new drag artists and motivating existing queens to innovate but it hasn’t magically created platforms for those artists to achieve the kind of success their talent deserves in South Africa.

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