RuPaul's Drag Race and the Toronto Drag Scene
The debut of the television show RuPaul’s Drag Race (Barbato, Bailey, and Charles) in 2009 marked the start of a new drag boom. The program’s commercial success throughout the 2010s brought drag performance into the mainstream cultural arena, prompting a host of effects on the historically grassroots culture of drag. This thesis project explores the show’s impact on one particular geographic community, the Toronto drag scene, which has been active in some capacity for at least 70 years. This ethnographic study is drawn from a year and a half in the field in the Toronto drag scene and a series of semi-structured interivews with nine research participations who took part in the 2018 edition of the Toronto-based drag pageant Crews and Tangos Drag Race. Using this group as a case study, this thesis demonstrates how Drag Race has influenced both the politics and aesthetics of the Toronto drag scene. Drawing from scholar Will Straw’s work on scene theory, I argue Drag Race now acts as global drag culture’s dominant system of articulation (Systems 369) and that it not only dictates trends in drag, but also provides the contemporary drag fan a rubric for understanding drag’s cultural meaning. I contend the show influences how drag is interpreted by fans and informs how gender, race, and economics are negotiated in the Toronto drag scene. Drag Race has created a new, economically-driven global drag scene, which looms large over the local scene in Toronto. Using Straw’s concept of lines of influence, I argue there is a two-way dialogue between local drag in Toronto and the Drag Race-driven global drag scene. The participant interviews and field work showcased in this project demonstrate how the Toronto drag scene receives, re-interprets, and resists the vision of drag presented by Drag Race.