Film and TV

The Low-Heeled High Stakes of RuPaul’s All Stars 2

“Shit’s getting ugly in the RuPaul Drag Race.” —Janae, Orange Is the New Black

RuPaul’s All Stars 2 has been perhaps the greatest season of the only reality-TV competition that matters. Logo TV’s Emmy-winning series is not only a mainstream ingress into a historically devalued, antinormative art form for an increasingly younger and more global audience — it doubles as a launchpad for post-show careers for its contestants, far beyond the queens' usual subterranean digs.

RuPaul really stepped her pussy up with All Stars 2. The premiere revealed a shocker of a twist: Instead of pitting that week’s weakest two in a lip sync for their lives, the first episode found the top performers facing off for the power to decide which of the bottom queens sashays away. For the Race's dedicated following, this game change was akin to watching Beyoncé literally slay someone.

The season ends Thursday, when a winner will be chosen among the four finalists: Roxxxy Andrews, the thick and juicy showgirl beauty; Detox Icunt, a Thierry Mugler–obsessed fashion-plate blow-up doll; Katya Zamolodchikova, the delightfully wackadoodle contortionist and breakout favorite of season seven; and Alaska Thunderfuck 5000, the warped mastermind with a razor-sharp focus who’s dominated, with four out of seven challenge victories under her tuck.

Most Drag Race viewers are basking in the eleganza of All Stars 2, but there is a social-media swarm directing threats at queens they think aren’t playing fair. And while I would much rather focus on the season’s greatness, I feel it’s my responsibility to use this little corner of the internet to walk some of these ignorant children in nature and explain to them why sending death threats to drag queens on a TV game show is not at all cool. Because I’ve had it. Officially.

So, this is for @kimmy7197, who told Detox “thank fuck your cunt of a father is dead” after she eliminated Alyssa Edwards. This is for @jjyounghearts, who went on Instagram to let Alaska know her mother failed as a parent for “raising a scumbag rotten spoiled brat drug addict.” This is for @daisybell, who called All Star Phi Phi O’Hara “the worst most ugliest untalented faggot to ever be on drag race someone kill it.” Now, let me count the ways in which fan responses like these are so deeply troubling.

It’s not personal, it’s drag (on TV). This season's final four was not decided because of nepotism or unfair play; it’s who the producers wanted. All Stars 2, like basically every reality competition ever, is rigged. Outcomes are usually determined well before the first episode starts filming. And it’s not because of some nefarious conspiracy; it’s just how it’s always been, ever since Darva Conger was picked to be the lucky lady to fake marry a fake millionaire. After narrowing down the cast, story producers designate the heroes and villains in a narrative of their creation. Using off-camera machinations, shady sound effects and creative cutting and pasting, editors take contestants’ words and actions out of context in order to construct characters who satisfy the producers' story. Yes, it’s manipulative and exploitative and even unfair, but it’s how the sausage gets made. Sorry about it.

This is not RuPaul’s Best Friend Race. When, in the history of ever, has a drag queen had to be nice? The gender-nonconforming street fairies who threw the first bricks at Stonewall didn’t give a shit about being respectable. Alaska, the usually unflappable frontrunner, threw a tantrum last week after receiving her first negative judges’ critique. The fit caused major retaliation from fans turned off by her unbecoming behavior. Death threats, renunciations of respect and snake emojis flooded her social-media accounts. During a San Jose Club gig a night after the episode aired, Alaska addressed the backlash with her wry sense of humor, explaining, “I think drag queens should be a little bit insane. If everyone was nice and jolly all the time on that show it would be boring as fuck, so … if anytime you need a psychopathic childish monster, I am your queen.” Bow down, bitches.

Get a Grip, Get a Life and Get Over It. So, here’s the T: Sending a death threat to a drag queen for not being nice on TV isn’t nice either. In fact, it’s messed up and pathetic and kind of terrifying. Aside from a certain “K” family, reality-TV personalities aren’t privileged to the same breadth of distance from fans and ugly-hearted trolls as the Beyoncés and the Gagas of the world.

In order to keep working, Drag Racers must stay accessible. This includes maintaining multiple social-media sites and live-streaming platforms like Periscope and Facebook Live. Fans can also make time with their favorite Drag Racers in person at pre-show meet and greets, grueling ordeals where queens must stay gracious in binding, sweaty drag while on the receiving end of interminable selfies and declarations of love from total strangers. I bet these are even more emotionally taxing for queens who might be wondering if any of these strangers pleading “I love you” in person are the same ones tweeting “I hope you die.”

If you don’t learn your HERstory, you’re doomed to repeat it. I have to believe fans who resort to online hate speech are simply too young to remember when a show about drag queens would never have been allowed on air. Queens are historically denigrated figures, brash and bawdy spectacles who unapologetically flaunt their effeminacy in the face of respectability. Drag queens have endured lifetimes of ridicule, violence and alienation. Some of these trolls might excuse their online harassment as “just words,” but those words contribute to a culture in which hatred and violence are increasingly normalized.

We live in a time when an unapologetically predatory, racist, bigoted, divisive, lying Cheeto that’s been collecting cat hair under our nation’s couch for the last 70 years is a major party's nominee for the highest office in the land. RuPaul’s Drag Race is a sweet escape, a middle finger to patriarchal ideology. In an increasingly polarized, uncertain America, RuPaul’s Drag Race is my happy place. Stop dumping on my happy place!

And don’t mess it up. This Thursday, there is only one clear choice for the winner of All Stars 2. Each finalist is fiercely talented, but none exhibits more charisma, uniqueness, nerve and talent than Alaska. As a singer-songwriter, actress, comedian, spokesmodel and politically radical feminist artiste, she’s the total package. If this sudden surge of social-media backlash holds sway over whether or not Alaska gets the crown, RuPaul’s Drag Race will have jumped the shark. Officially. Of course, if RuPaul really is a genius for marketing “subversive drag to 100 million motherfuckers,” as he proclaimed a few episodes back, he already knows this.

RuPaul and Drag Race producers have a responsibility to protect the integrity of the show. More importantly, RuPaul has a responsibility to use his influence to promote media literacy and to defend his legendary children from an angry mob of fans who don’t understand that in reality TV, realness isn’t real.
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