Vice-Presidential Hellspawn Mary Cheney recently made headlines for asking why drag is socially acceptable and blackface isn’t. If we are to (generously) suppose that Ms. Cheney is not being deliberately obtuse, she might find her answer at RuPaul’s Drag Race: Battle of the Seasons.
First, people in blackface play pretty much one stereotype. But these gentlemen in drag had more varied takes on being a woman than Meryl Streep. Raja oozed supermodel sophistication and charisma, while Alaska Thunderfuck 5000’s comically unhinged rendition of “I Have Nothing” parodied divas from Whitney Houston to Joey Heatherton. Adore Delano was the trashy Valley Girl who surprises you at karaoke with a jaw-dropping rendition of “Purple Rain,” while Phi Phi O’Hara played the shimmying, wailing R&B diva with some impressive live vocals of her own. Ivy Winters juggled, did magic tricks and had more costume changes than Katy Perry; Sharon Needles was both goth dancefloor queen and cheerful ditz. Manila Luzon and Raja did a routine to Japanese thrash act Babymetal that involved fog machines, strobe lights, anime cartoons, Harajuku outfits, kung fu and air guitar.
Second, people in blackface are not depicting empowerment. But no one in that room had more power than hostess Bianca Del Rio, whose comic timing and speedy skill with an improvised insult make her a sort of Don Rickles in false eyelashes and sequins. She may insult everything from your ethnic heritage to your cellphone plan, but she’ll do Fireball shots with you afterward: a Rolodex of hate with a heart of gold. Perhaps Ms. Del Rio could give Ms. Cheney lessons in that past part. ★★★✩✩
Photos by Linda Evans