I hate reality.
Whenever I turn on the tube to escape the ho-humdrumming of modern life I’m always looking for a world as unlike my own as possible, but still speaking English (or with decent subtitles.) So whenever I see the proliferation of reality television out there my energy for entertainment drops drastically as I flip from channel to channel watching people wage war over cupcakes and crafts.
That was until I spent a day at the races.
You see, Unrealtors, there’s one reality tv show out there that breaks every mold “assisted” television has crafted…and looks freaking fabulous while doing so. That show is “RuPaul’s Drag Race”, and today I’m going to convince you that it is not only the best reality tv show competition out there, but quite possibly of all time.
Gentlemen, start your engines, and may the best woman win.
REASON ONE: DRAG QUEENS- MAKEUP AND METAPHYSICS
I hate the reality of reality tv. The window to my back alley is no different than most subject schlock I see on RTV. I’m sorry, I get enough trials and tribulations of 20-something existence on the subway to work.
What’s great about Ru and the gang is that the subject matter is something that keeps one foot in reality and the other heel delicately in unreality. The concept of a drag queen is living, breathing, lip-syncing dichotomy. When you see a drag queen what you’re seeing is a liquid illusion flashing between genders, dropping a boulder on your foundations, and making you suddenly reconsider everything you thought you knew about perception. When they do it well, at least.
Well, considering this show is hosted by who is widely considered to be the greatest drag queen of all time, you better believe they cherry pick.
Since drag queens are all about challenging reality featuring them on a “reality” television is a stroke of fake-eyelashed brilliance. In a conventionally written show this would add countless layers to the overall conflicts and drive of the program, and while unfortunately we may not be able to delve in the philosophy of tucks and blush with this competition, it still adds this just-below-the-surface subtext that takes the show just a bit higher than most reality programs. The heels help, too.
REASON TWO: CREATIVITY, CRAFTSMANSHIP, AND CATTINESS
While watching RuPaul’s Drag Race you will be continually stunned by three things: just how incredible these men look as women, just how hard it is the accomplish that, and how hilariously bitchy they are the entire time. Most reality shows I’ve found are just transporting people from their everyday life to something crazy. Interesting here and there, but give me a samurai. And make no mistake, these are nightclub ninjas.
The same way we can be in awe of a concert violinist or an expert woodworker, so should we with Ru and her queens. Most people don’t realize this, but skillful transformation from man to queen is a laborious process literally taking hours at a time. And that’s just makeup, gurl.
Often you’ll see the queens stitching, sewing, and, occasionally, supergluing together costume and dress pieces that suddenly looks so flawless you’re certain they’re store bought. Well guess again. A queen’s gotta have the dress to go with the crown, and the best competitors are often those who can manage a sewing machine as well as a runway walk.
And then there’s the attitude. Look this is RuPaul’s Drag Race not RuPaul’s Best Friend Race and these women are in it to win it. And while most reality shows would try and provoke their subjects in obvious ways by setting up certain circumstances, the producers of RDR just leave them in a room together and roll tape. When the tamest thing in the room is a two-foot wig, you know you’ve got a winner. No tea, no shade, y’all.
REASON THREE: PASSION IN PUMPS
Greed may be good, Mr. Gecko, but to me, it’s dull. Passion will always rise above bank accounts in my eye, and on the Drag Race, the prize isn’t entirely the paycheck. Yes, yes, there is a significant (unfortunately not Coach) purse to win after the last lap, but these competitors all come from the same starting line: love.
Being a queen isn’t cheap, rarely comfortable, and never easy. It’s a niche artform that, unfortunately, costs hundreds if not thousands of dollars to do regularly let alone well. To know that these are the best in bras speaks to their level of commitment to their craft, and just how much it means to them. Anyone could compete on Road Rules. It takes balls to be a queen.
It can be extremely touching to watch these men bring to life something that so obviously is their heart covered in powder. Reality tv bores me not just because it’s the real world only better lit, but because it’s so often tied to getting paid, famous, or both. And while that’s here, too, as Captain Murphy once said, “the secret ingredient is love…damnit.”
I love when artists share what matters to them. It’s always fascinating to see the different paths we take, the funny, fickle ways our hearts can beat, the way we wander through the world. I love it. And this show, this would-be silly little game show time and again showcases a whole new wondrous world of love rife with catty cleverness and perfectly polished eyeliner.
How often do we really get that out of reality competitions?
If learning about love isn’t your thing, then I guess this show isn’t for you. And that’s too bad, hunty.
So, any of you Unrealtors fellow Race attendees? Let’s hear it! TEAM BIANCA DEL RIO!!!!
—Adam Esquenazi Douglas is a playwright who was born in Texas, grew up in Arkansas, was raised by a Jewish man and a Cuban woman, and, somehow, he doesn’t have an accent. His plays have been produced across the United States, as well as in Canada and Japan. He is co-host of two podcasts, The JimmyJew Podcast Extravaganza and Schmame Over, which can be found at http://jimmyjew.libsyn.com/ and http://schmameover.libsyn.com/ respectively, as well as on iTunes. He is a contributing writer to www.GamersSchmamers.com. He currently lives in Brooklyn where he drinks far too much coffee.