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How "RuPaul's Drag Race" has influenced pop culture

The finale of "RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars 4" on Feb. 15 left fans shocked because for the first time ever in "Rupaul’s Drag Race" history, two winners were crowned instead of one. Both Monét X Change and Trinity Tuck took home the title of All Star and will join the other queens in the hall of fame.

Over the course of nine years and more than 100 drag queens later, the show has become one of the most successful reality TV shows on air today. But it wasn’t always rainbows and glitter.

When "RuPaul’s Drag Race" first aired back in 2009, people were instantly turned off because of how it threatened society’s norms. In an interview with "Nightline," RuPaul Charles said that he didn’t think his work would ever be truly mainstream. This was at a time when "RuPaul’s Drag Race" was airing on the LGBTQ-focused cable network Logo.

“I haven't been accepted in mainstream media outlets,” Charles said. “Because the only ways they can actually have a conversation with me is to make fun of me, or [to] somehow make a joke about what I’m doing.”

Less than a year later, the competitive reality show made a leap to the network VH1, doubling its viewership and gaining a huge audience, many of whom are outside the LGBTQ community. This transition into mainstream media has helped introduce drag into pop culture and is also providing an educational opportunity for mainstream society to learn more about queer culture.

If you’re watching "RuPaul’s Drag Race" for the first time, it may feel like you’re stepping into unknown linguistic territory. The queens on the show speak "fluent drag," and for someone who is unfamiliar with drag culture, it may come across as if they’re speaking another language.

Slang like “Yaaaaaas, queen” and “Spill the tea, sis!” are just a few examples of the terms that have been derived from drag culture and have entered mainstream pop culture.

Language isn't the only thing for which drag culture is responsible, but not credited. The sudden popularity of lip-syncing is thanks to drag culture. Even the contouring trend that many believe was pioneered by the Kardashians actually began with queens trying to emphasize or diminish certain features of their face.

Drag, according to Charles, applies to every single one of us, regardless of gender, race or social background. It simply refers to how we choose to show ourselves to the world. “Why not make it work for you,” he said in an interview with Oprah Winfrey. “If you have the power to control how people see and interpret you, why not use it?”

"RuPaul's Drag Race" has a large fan base that ranges in age. College students, however, make up the most of the show’s demographic. The following is a quote from Salisbury senior Chase Hancock, who has been a fan of "RuPaul’s Drag Race" since it first aired back in 2009.

“As a member of the LGBTQ+ community, I can see that "RuPaul’s Drag Race" has helped change pop culture by increasing general acceptance of the queer community,” Hancock said. “The show has opened the eyes of the public to better understand drag, the history behind it, what is means for the LGBTQ+ community, while still being an entertainment program. It’s a show with power that opens doors for education and tolerance towards sexual minorities.”

Drag has a long history in Western European culture and it is not necessarily a new phenomenon in society. Dr. Kara French, a history professor at SU, explained the long history of drag and how it has been around for centuries.

Shakespeare's Globe production of Richard III

“It dates back to the time of Shakespeare if not earlier. During the Shakespearean era it was forbidden for women to perform on the stage, so men would perform women’s roles instead.” This often meant that the men would cross-dress as women and would act the way women were supposed to act.

In a time when drag culture is bigger and more popular than it’s ever been, it’s hard to imagine a time when drag was submerged deep in underground clubs and back alley bars.

Drag was seen as society's dirty little secret and the mainstream media would keep it that way for a long time. The fact is, drag has been a part of our culture for centuries. And every era that has passed has been crucial in shaping what drag is today.

Drag culture is only growing and the future is bright and full of glitter. "RuPaul's Drag Race" has put drag culture on a pedestal for the mainstream public to digest. Which means that drag is reaching new people that it’s never reached before. It’s important to remember the history of drag and the fight drag culture has fought and continues to fight against society’s social norms.

"RuPaul’s Drag Race" returns for season 11 Thursday, Feb. 28 at 9 p.m. ET on VH1.

And that’s the tea, sis!



Staff writer

Featured photo: RuPaul's Drag Race Wiki image.

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