[OPINION] Socio-Behavioral Science Behind Reality TV And It’s Effect On Drag Race Fandom

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Ten years and fourteen seasons after, the popularity of Drag Race has grown in exponential levels. With the help of the internet, the show has reached out to the world. It even won an Emmy’s!

But along with its popularity, a dark side of the show has been lurking, and a conversation about its toxic fandom has since been a staple in Drag Race forums and social media groups.

In fact, I have written an opinion piece last week detailing the extent of toxicity of those who follow the show and the drag queens after their time in the show.

I posted the article in one of the most famous fan group on Facebook, and I am very overwhelmed with the comments I got from fans who have read the article. Most of the comments agree on my contention that the fandom is indeed toxic. Some even called for RuPaul and other queens to speak out regarding the bullying that some queens – sometimes superfans – are getting from the toxic fandom.

But the question remains: why is the fandom so toxic?

I reckon that by understanding the motivation behind the toxic attitudes of the fans will lead to a more nuanced and productive conversation about the matter.

DRAG RACE AS A SUBCULTURE IS A REFLECTION OF THE SOCIETY WHERE IT EXISTS

First of all, let us direct social behavior. Allegations have been made that the Drag Race fandom is racist (and I agree with this). A Quora thread gives us a clear overview of how racism has been part of the show’s fandom and why it continues.

Paul Anthony Brown wrote: “There is blatant racism within the fandom, where queens of color are more likely to receive hate, while white or “white passing” queens are more likely to be put on a pedestal.

“A more recent example would be the hatred that Season 10 contestant The Vixen received for being confrontational, even though Aquaria and Eureka started the confrontations in question. It was later revealed that Eureka deliberately provoked Vixen into an argument, which led to Vixen after the show publicly revealing a catalog of problematic behavior from Eureka. This was after Vixen had been treated as “the villain” all season.”

The Villain’s Edit: The Vixen was painted as an ‘angry black woman.’ Photo from @thevixenworld / Instagram

In analyzing a subculture, it is necessary to look at the central culture first. Research has revealed that although a subculture may share one unique deviance, other socio-cultural identifiers are still present in them. A study published in the International Journal of Group Psychotherapy argues that small groups act as a microcosm of a bigger group (society).

This means that the behavior of the society is also reflected in the conduct of its subdivision. If there is racism in a community, the chances are, there’s also racism in its subculture – including drag subculture.

It is important to note that racism in the drag subculture does not only exist among the fans of the show but in real life as well. When you try to see the post-drag-race career path of famous drag queens, you will see that majority of the world-famous alumni are white – Trixie Matell, Katya, Violet Chachki, Detox, Jinx Monsoon – with the exception of a few POC that made it to the world stage (Raja, Bianca Del Rio, Shangella, and RuPaul himself).

PRODUCERS LEVERAGE ON ‘DRAMA’ FOR HIGHER RATINGS

While it is true that ‘drama’ boosts TV ratings, the producers have recklessly created unnecessary conflict because of its edit. The show is especially notorious for making a ‘villain’ and ‘hero’ edits that put queens in the position where they are either loved or hated.

One good example of this is the edit that the Season 10 queen, the Vixen, got. It is true; the Vixen brands herself as someone who ‘came to fight,’ her villain edit did not go well for her.

“Another aspect is fans believing the edit that the show uses, which paints certain queens as “villains” and others as “heroes,” Brown said.

“The Vixen/Eureka debate is the most recent example of this, where Eureka was heralded as potentially the first plus-size queen to win, while The Vixen was painted to fit the “angry black woman” narrative.”

Another example of how the show and its producers manipulate social perception towards the queens is its controversial All Stars rule where the winning queen will have to power to eliminate one bottom queen. This rule exposes queens who eliminate a queen with huge fandom to hate from fans. One incident is when Naomi Smalls receives death threats after sending Manila Luzon home.

Death threats were sent to Naomi Smalls for eliminating fan-favorite, Manila Luzon. Screenshot from VH1

A study from Florida State University reveals that there is a positive correlation between watching a reality TV show and the increase in ruthlessness and lying. It shows that the fan is addicted to the show, the more that he will possess anti-social behavior like sending hate messages and rude comments.

Another study from the London School of Economics says that watching reality TV show can make fans meaner to the enemy of the protagonist. In the study, researchers have discovered that following the life of the Kardashians makes people meaner to poor people.

It is also true with Drag Race, as queens are being painted as the ‘heroes,’ people can be meaner and ruder to those that oppose them.

The show has a responsibility to contain this, however. Even if the show has directly not told fans to send hate to queens, the narrative that the edit is creating empowers fans to exhibit these undesirable behaviors – to the expense of a queen.

THE CONVERSATION IS CONTAINED IN A BUBBLE

Even if a conversation regarding the issue has long been happening in the drag world, the discussion has been contained inside a huge bubble and has not been elevated.

One of the most common arguments against hate is the idea that it is just a TV show and haters are overreacting. Although this argument is valid, it dismisses the fact that these people who hate queens don’t think that it is.

The cycle of this argument-response combo has never helped anybody. It creates a deadlock as it invalidates one’s feeling instead of acknowledging it.

As a matter of fact, another study has given an explanation for this. According to the behavioral research published by the Journal of Communication, people tend to think that others are more receptive to a reality TV show than they are.

This revelation suggests that mean drag race fans don’t think that they are overreacting but instead believe that those who go against them are. It’s a dangerous concoction of reality-fantasy gap and self-image.

Nonetheless, social media discourse on the topic can definitely help in solving the problem. However, it is essential to understand each other’s realities and motivations. Otherwise, the discussion will remain inside your bubble and will not make any difference at all. /apr

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