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Reality TV is an unavoidable phenomenon. Starting the introduction of shows including Big Brother, Survivor and The Real World in the early noughties, it now dominates TV schedules on pretty much every channel.
Love Island, Keeping Up With The Kardashians, Towie, Made In Chelsea, the Real Housewives, I’m A Celebrity… Get Me Out Of Here!, The Apprentice, Celebrity Big Brother – there’s a variant of reality TV for every taste, and it’s big business.
However, as more and more shows and formats pop up, reality TV shows have become nastier. Big Brother, arguably the most notorious reality show, has become bitchier and more controversial over the years, with fights, race rows and removals becoming par for the course. If there’s no controversy, and everyone gets on, this means ratings will likely fall.
This has led to reality TV getting a pretty bad rep, being branded as trash and exploitative.
But there seems to be a new trend in reality TV – a trend that promotes happiness, education and acceptance rather than the bullying and uncomfortable rows that have become commonplace.
And it’s all down to queer TV shows.
Queer Eye and RuPaul’s Drag Race are two of the biggest reality shows at the moment, and they both have a few things in common. One – they involve queer men. And two – they both leave you with a warm fuzzy feeling inside after watching them.
Queer Eye originally ran from 2003 until 2007, but has been revamped for Netflix with a new Fab Five – Tan France, Bobby Berk, Jonathan Van Ness, Karamo Brown and Antoni Porowski. The premise is fairly simply – the Fab Five visit a man, who can be straight, gay, married or single, to give them, their house and their attitudes a makeover.
Noughties makeover shows were enjoyable, but were often shallow and problematic (like the good old teen movie trope of removing glasses and ta-da! You’re beautiful). But Tan mixing up their project’s wardrobe and Jonathan cutting their hair is only a small part of the show. We see the Fab Five help gay man AJ come out to his stepmother after keeping his serious relationship a secret. We see Taramo have a conversation with a police officer about police brutality against black men. We see Bobby and a devout Christian talk about the place of homosexuality in the church. And most of all, we see the Fab Five boost their new friend’s confidence without getting them to lose weight or change their personality.
Queer Eye, on the surface, is just a fluffy makeover show. But underneath, it could be the most woke show on television, and the most heartwarming. All without changing what we know and love about reality TV – a lovable cast, hilarious one-liners and an emotional story.
Likewise, RuPaul’s Drag Race has the same formula as most reality TV shows – a cast complete challenges every week, two end up in the bottom, before going head to head to avoid elimination. It’s the same as America’s Next Top Model, The X Factor, Strictly, The Apprentice. So how has it become, as the New York Times reported, the most radical TV show around?
Drag Race has been running since 2009, is approaching its tenth season and is currently airing its third All Stars series. Season nine was its most watched yet, with the series switching from Logo to VH1 and streaming on Netflix. The budget has obviously increased, from the cameras actually being in focus now to the calibre of guest judges (Ariana Grande, Emma Bunton and Blondie to name but a few). But the series hasn’t become extra bitchy, or controversial, to stay relevant.
Well, fine, there’s bitchy moments – it’s a show about drag queens reading each other to filth, it would be terrible without some shade. But it’s never malicious. Nobody is trying to ruin lives, or hurt feelings. Even the show villains still stay friends with their sisters after the show ends. And any behaviour that goes too far is rectified with a dose of karma – case in point, Jinkx Monsoon dismantling Rolaskatox and snatching the crown.
In recent seasons, the show has addressed issues in the LGBTQ community, from speaking about their coming out stories, to Trinity K Bonet revealing she is HIV positive, to Cynthia Lee Fontaine telling the girls she should have been at Pulse nightclub the night of the Orlando shooting where it not for a scheduling conflict. And in the last series, the topic of trans drag queens was brought to attention, with Peppermint coming out as a trans woman on the show and talking about the issues she faced.
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The underlying message of Drag Race is ‘we’re all born naked and the rest is drag’ – we’re all the same, we all deserve human rights, acceptance and love, and we should all be ourselves. And like Queer Eye, Drag Race pushes queerness into the spotlight, unapologetically, and makes it almost a character in itself. Drag Race and Queer Eye wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for queer people, and that’s what makes them revolutionary.
This formula is beginning to seep into more mainstream and traditional reality TV. Courtney Act – who appeared on season six of Drag Race – won the latest series of Celebrity Big Brother, and became the most important housemate in years with her patient and eloquent explanations of LGBTQ terms and issues, such as gender fluidity and drag. In a series that featured Ann Widdecombe and Dapper Laughs, Courtney’s kindness overshadowed the chances for controversy to brew – and niceness didn’t equal dull.
As shows like Drag Race and Queer Eye become mainstream, others shows may take notice of what viewers want. They want happiness, they want humour, they want acceptance. But until everyone else sits up and clocks it, at least queer shows are leading the way.
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Source : http://metro.co.uk/2018/02/23/queer-shows-like-rupauls-drag-race-queer-eye-changing-reality-tv-better-7337520/