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Ambivalence and the ‘American Dream’ on RuPaul’s Drag Race

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This essay proposes that reality television show RuPaul’s Drag Race (2009–present) simultaneously participates in a highly commercial medium while commenting on, critiquing and parodying consumer culture. Drag Race, like other drag or female impersonation competitions, engages dress and performance to parody a range of normative social categories such as gender and sexuality. Yet the show differs from other drag competitions like those featured in US documentaries The Queen (Simon, 1968) and Paris is Burning (Livingston, 1990) in its ambivalent and lucrative engagement with consumer culture. In so doing, RuPaul’s Drag Race manages to parody the so-called American Dream while encouraging its pursuit.

In the spirit of Film, Fashion & Consumption’s ‘Short Cuts’ section, which encourages short analyses of timely topics, this piece aims to spark discussion across disciplines. It is my hope that experts in other fields, including queer theorists who study drag culture, will further enrich the conversation with their contributions.
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Keywords: RuPaul’s Drag Race; drag; gender; parody; reality TV

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Stephens College and the Costume Museum and Research Library

Publication date: 01 December 2016

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  • Film, Fashion & Consumption is a peer-reviewed journal designed to provide an arena for the discussion of research, methods and practice within and between the fields of film, fashion, design, history, art history and heritage. The journal seeks to stimulate ongoing research on these topics and to attract contributions not only from scholars researching in these areas but also from practitioners, who are traditionally excluded from academic debate. The journal thus aims to unite and enlarge a community of researchers and practitioners in film, fashion, consumption and related fields, whilst also introducing a wider audience to new work, particularly to interdisciplinary research which looks at the intersections between film, fashion and consumption.
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