The Toxicity Of Fandoms: 'RuPaul's Drag Race'
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The Toxicity Of Fandoms: 'RuPaul's Drag Race'

Fandoms usually seem like a loving community... but there's a dark side to them.

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RuPaul

Fandoms are a subculture of communities of people that share a common interest in one particular subject; whether it's a movie saga, a video-game, a television series, there are fandoms for everything. Although fandoms may seem like a loving community, they have a dark side to them. In this case, "RuPaul's Drag Race" has had one of the worst fandoms in the history of television. The rise of the show's fame has correlated to the rise of toxicity in the fan-base.

The results of these fandoms have caused an eruption of controversy on its impact on society. Furthermore, fans have grown to entitle a superior complex for being part of a fandom.

In the case of "RuPaul's Drag Race," a reality television show consisting of 10 to 14 drag queens competing to win 100,000 dollars, fandoms have shifted the show away from authenticity and have put them under the judgment of popular consensus. Over the years, the popularity for "Drag Race" has grown, allowing many to be familiar with the show and offer their opinions.

Although this has resulted in an attached fan-base that monitors the contestants every move, criticizing queen's skills, shaming unnecessarily, shifted expectations for the show, and has completely impacted the general public's perception of drag. Today, new dilemmas have arisen from the toxicity, such as subjects of racism, the constant failure to remember that it's just television, the consequences of modern-day PC media and the complexes behind consumer demand and identity marketing. Fandoms could be a social plague in terms of humanity, with "Drag Race" it's more of a war.

Fan-culture is guided through the process of new material being released for the fandom to deliberate on. Although fandoms have an engagement to the platform they support, that makes them question reality and television. Furthermore, "RuPaul's Drag Race" is a reality competition television series that has a growing fandom complex that doesn't realize the make belief behind the camera. Reality television has a storyline within itself that's masked by the "reality TV" title since it involves real people portraying themselves on screen rather than playing a character. Therefore, audiences take conflicts portrayed on reality television into a more serious light.

When it comes to "Drag Race," all the queens enjoy showing their vulnerable side and sharing stories to help audiences relate and have a more likable reception. In contrast, there is also drama between contestants that's amplified through an "edit" for viewer satisfaction. For example, a contestant named Milk on season three of the All-Stars seasons was vilified to an extreme state for lacking self-awareness and being cocky. This was vivid through the "villain edit" accompanied with shady sound effects, giving most of the screen time to Milk's brattiness, and hyping up her elimination.

The fandom takes the villain edit as an excuse to treat that person as an actual "villain" resulting in hate, degradation, and harassment online. "Online harassment of love-to-hate-them queens has gotten so bad that it's made its way into the show as a storyline — an unseen character who's managed to wreak havoc in queens' lives." (Kang). Stemming from the toxicity of the fanbase, this complex carries on into the lives of the queens after the show. Making the queens, such as Milk, have some sort of responsibility to clearing up issues from the show on social media. Such as an Instagram post discouraging negative comments or mocking themselves to dilute the issue when in reality the issue should not matter as it's being taken into the hands of angry fans reacting to a show that's filmed almost a year before it airs.

Fandoms lack empathy and bear a weight on these contestants, making them feel the pressure of the public reaction. They even put pressure on producers to create edits and storylines that correlate to the fandom taste, like justified drama and giving most of the screen time to specific contestants that are labeled as fan favorites. This creates regulation around queens on the show now, stripping away their authenticity to avoid being hated by the fandom by putting on an innocent act. The disassociation between a character or in this case reality television star and human being is the major theme behind the delusion of a toxic fandom.

There is an extent of entitlement fandoms reach whenever they're exposed to more than just the core of their common interest. With "Drag Race," queens off the show have multiple social media handles that fans follow to allow themselves to be invested in their lives off the show. This may seem like it's in good intention, but it is actually a strategy to enhance showboating legitimacy. Moreover, drag has been an art form celebrated for decades as the token of queer expression, although it was not popularized until the formation of this show.

The toxic part of the fandom comes from people convincing themselves they know everything about drag because of the television show. Meaning, many local queens get judged extremely heavy by the general public because they are not on the show. The toxic fandom of "RuPaul's Drag Race" has deprived society of the essence of drag because of their ignorant and biased mind-sets, erasing the origin of drag. This creates a comparison tree, making drag queens all around the world always get compared to queens cast on the show. Fandoms bombard queens on social media with criticisms and hate to show their legitimacy of being a fan of "drag", but instead it's received as unethical and ignorant. The fandom treats drag queens on social media as pawns of their judgment under the belief it's validated because they watch the show. The superior complex of the fandom comes out the most when it comes to identity marketing.

Consumer identity is a vital part when it comes to marketing, especially when it's towards a fandom. "Identity marketing messages that explicitly connect consumer identity expression to a particular brand may highlight the role of external forces in determining consumers' purchase behavior. In doing so, explicit identity marketing may inadvertently reduce consumers' perceptions of personal agency in identity expression, undermining the value of brand purchase as a meaningful expression of identity" (Bhattacharjee). This is especially valid when it comes to the topic of "fan favorites."

For example, Valentina was an extremely beloved drag queen on season 9, a rising fan-favorite with a large fanbase dedicated to her for her charm and beauty. Therefore, when she got eliminated in seventh place the fandom wreaked havoc on the person who eliminated her, Nina Bonina Brown. The fandom's many trolls spammed the queen on all her social media platforms with racial slurs, offensive language, and recommending suicide. This is a common result of being a fan favorite, as they have the responsibility of gearing the fandom into a more ethical approach because of their higher rank as "favorite". This type of behavior allows the fans to normalize themselves to hate comments, which gives them the opportunity to join the latter when it comes to criticizing. Allowing themselves to be very telling of their morality and humanity, as they dismiss their ethics and continue to share negativity to band-wagon the fandom. The counter-culture that is a fandom forms into a culture of its own that feeds of their product.

The consequences of the toxicity fall under the social media umbrella where fans take their anger out. This is correlated to the hive mind that gives fans a completely new way to watch TV that was not available in the past, the rise of internet theories and online connections allow the fandom to be as engaged as ever. Furthermore, in the pre-internet era, resistant readings and fan hostility could be ignored because fandom was "largely decentralized and limited in mass", which inhibited the "collective bargaining power of individuals," but in the internet age, "online fan communities have the potential to produce unified centers of resistant to influence the global industries of cultural production" (Moore). With the rise of political correctness in today's society, this also creates progressive toxicity. Fandoms dive deeper into shallowness to deprive a queen of their value by "canceling" them.

This has even created racism issues in the community of "Drag Race." Furthermore, as they get familiar with the show's structure they start to predict most of the episodes motives, and favor queens that are skinny and white. On social media, drag queens who are skinny, white and blonde have the most following in comparison to queens of color and bigger queens. The toxic atmosphere around this fandom only grows stronger as years pass by, causing fans to stop appreciating the core value of the show because of growing expectations and higher "standards".

In conclusion, fandoms start as a community bonded by a common interest, but as the common interest becomes larger it turns into a social plague of a community. Consumer identity and identity marketing are the sole formula to building the fandom, the rest of the formula is left for the fandom to prosper. Meaning, they form into a community with higher standards than "regular fans" which creates a superior and legitimacy complex, challenging other fans and following ignorance. Especially with the rise of social media, fandoms do not hold back in times of conflict or judgment, using their social privilege to spread negativity through the lens of a community. For "Drag Race," creating this privilege provides a delusion that the fandom is the true judge of the show, not the host or producers.

Overall, fandoms have a goal to be a loving community to their interest but with the freedom of social media and dismissal of ethics for one's love of a show, fandoms only get more toxic.

Work Cited:

Bhattacharjee, Amit. "When Identity Marketing Backfires: Consumer Agency in Identity Expression." MSI,25 Mar. 2015, www.msi.org/uploads/files/Selections-2015-04-Risks....

Moore, Barbara. "Social Media and Fandom." Social Media and Fandom,13 Dec. 2013, sih17.wordpress.com/.

Kang, Inkoo. "RuPaul's Drag Race Shows How the Internet Has Transformed Fandom-and Often Made It Terrifying." Slate Magazine , Slate, 22 Feb. 2018, slate.com/technology/2018/02/rupauls-drag-race-shows-how-the-internet-has-transformed-fando m-in-scary-ways.html.

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