We don’t need to defend every queer show.
I was really looking forward to Netflix’s gender-bending extravaganza Super Drags — a show about three dragtastic superheroes as they battle against the forces of Shade. It had all the makings of a guilty pleasure. The show was created by Brazilian artist Anderson Mahanski who appears to have gotten their start on DeviantArt. To make things even more enjoyable, the English dub is voiced by the likes of drag queens Willam, Ginger Minj, Trixie Mattel, and Shangela.
This was going to be a gay show for gay men to gag over sickeningly gay one-liners. I was prepared for — though not necessarily looking forward to — an overload of dick jokes, and a hyper-fixation on overt masculinity (and Super Drags definitely has this, honey). It also has rampant objectification and one too many rape jokes (note — my tolerance for rape jokes is 0). It’s not the worst show in the world, but it’s definitely not the shining piece of social commentary our community needs to spend time defending.
The plot of Super Drags is straightforward enough. Three gay men — Donziete (voiced in Portuguese by Fernando Mendonça/dubbed in English by Shangela), Ralph (Wagner Follare/Rod Keller), and Patrick (Sérgio Cantú/Ginger Minj) — work at a department store during the day. When danger calls, however, they transform into drag superheroes Scarlet Carmesim, Safira Cyan, and Lemon Chiffon in order to defend the gay-mecca of Beltbuckle Bay.
The Super Drags are led by Vedete Champagne (played by Silvetty Montilla/Trixie Mattel), who serves as a cross between your quintessential house mother and RuPaul. The main villain is Lady Elza (Rapha Vélez/Willam Belli) with a minor antagonist in the form of the “Pangean” fundamentalist Sandoval (voiced by Fernando Mendonça/Marz Richards).
Every episode Lady Elza tries to steal gay people’s highlight — i.e., the thing that makes queers (mostly gay men) so stereotypically fabulous. She does this so she can remain young. We are not supposed to like Lady Elza. She serves as a wonderful stand-in for gay culture’s fixation on stereotypical beauty standards and the hate that can spawn from them. She would have been a fantastic foil. If only the Super Drags didn’t perpetuate her same standards.
Unfortunately, the other characters often fixated on Lady Elza’s same terrible ideals to the point where I had trouble seeing the difference between them. The very first time the Super Drags assemble Ginger Minj’s character Lemon Chiffon lets a terrorist get away because she is fixated on his handsome face. In fact, this fixation on looks, especially genitalia, is quite common in the series. Characters stare at peoples groins, faces, and butts A LOT, and this action is always played off for laughs.
While there is nothing — N-O-T-H-I-N-G — wrong with displaying penises in media, there is something creepy about how much the objectification of other characters is normalized on this show. Super Drags objectifies characters constantly (mainly men).
And let us not forget the orgy monster from Episode 1.
Like, in real life, are people okay with strangers staring at their junk all the time? Did I miss a memo or something?
If this mild bit of objectification were the shows only problem, I would be able to put up with it. Following Episode 1, I was ready to binge the entire season.
Then Episode 2 happened.
Episode 2 — titled Image Is Everything— focuses on heavier queen Lemon Chiffon. Her self-worth is wrecked after she is rejected by a Tinder date for her looks. The date (who happens to be a photographer) is later captured by Lady Elza and magically transformed into a giant, camera mecha with the unique power of trapping Twinks with low-self-esteem into Harry Potter-esque photographs. It becomes Lemon Chiffon’s task to realize her own self-worth and battle the robot before Lady Elza can suck out all of the photographed twinks’ highlight.
Image Is Everything tries to be about self-esteem, and how you shouldn’t let other people’s perceptions define your own self-worth. It ends up being about how you should discard other people to preserve your own self-worth at any cost, which is an outlook nearly identical to villain Lady Elza’s in every way.
You see, Lemon Chiffon was rejected by her Tinder date because she lied about her appearance on social media. While I don’t condone the rigid enforcement of beauty standards, lying is also not okay.
Worse still, Lemon Chiffon’s response to rejection is to direct her Tinder date to a back alley to get “ravaged” (i.e raped) as a cruel form of revenge. The dialogue in the episode literally says:
That’s messed up. Is Lemon Chiffon really supposed to be the protagonist here? Because if the photographer character where swapped out for a woman we probably wouldn’t view this situation as a fun romp.
After the photographer is defeated and transformed back into a human, Lemon Chiffon scolds him on selecting people for their looks. She doesn’t apologize for sending this character off to be raped. In the logic of the show, selecting people on their appearance is somehow worse than tricking someone into getting sexually abused.
Episode 4 — Be Who You Are — gets darker. The drag superstar Goldiva (Pabllo Vittar/Jeff Manabet) is captured by Lady Elza and held prisoner in Goldiva’s childhood home as bait. We learn through a flashback that minor antagonist Sandoval played a part in Goldiva’s upbringing — though the exact extent of his involvement is left ambiguous.
With this context in mind, Lady Elza’s decision to detain Goldiva in her childhood home (suspended in the air via a sling of some sort) is extremely cruel, and borders on psychological torture. This is not the territory for lighthearted humor.
Goldiva manages to dial the Super Drags for help, but is quickly discovered by Lady Elza who then sexually molests her captive on screen (i.e licks her face, grabs her ass, and possibly more offscreen after a cut-away). The Super Drag’s response to this terrible assault is as follows:
The way they react to this assault is like how you would respond to a stranger popping a pimple in front of you — grossed out, but in a superficial way.
To be clear, I am 100% down with lighthearted shows dipping into more serious territory. My favorite cartoon is Steven Universe, which is a show that also tackles rape in its storyline. If you are going to introduce a plot line as heavy and dark as Goldiva’s, however, and treat it this flippantly, then I am going to be angry.
Given the future reveal (Spoiler Alert) that Lady Elza is the same character as Sandoval, the sexual assault of Goldiva is borderline incestuous, and to reiterate, the show plays this assault off as a joke. Molestation should not be treated in the same way you would view an undercooked hamburger or a new release from Taylor Swift.
“Argh” is not an appropriate response. It’s insensitive to the point of being cruel to the high percentage of the queer community that has been sexually assaulted.
In the closing moment of Super Drags, the character Vedete Champagne makes a direct appeal to the audience, specifically to the LGBTQ+ community, to support the show:
Is Super Drags — a celebration of mostly twinky, gay men — worth the LGBTQ+ community’s time, though?
Is it worth a literal campaign of phone calls and letters when queer people live in a world where, politically-speaking, that time might be better spent campaigning actual politicians?
A decade ago I would have fought tooth and nail for this flawed show. I would have consumed any representation, no matter how bad, because there wasn’t a whole lot out there. Queer characters played bit parts, and they were usually either the butt of a joke (i.e. Fez from That 70's Show, Mr. Slave from South Park, Jack from Will & Grace) or a character destined to die (i.e. Jack Twist in Brokeback Mountain, Andrew Beckett in Philadelphia, etc.).
Now, though, the LGBTQ+ community has so much more representation in media. In an age of queer, intergalactic superheroes (Steven Universe), gay, nerdy reporters (Dear White People), lesbian consciousnesses being preserved in computers (Black Mirror), queer, hive-minds (Sens8) lesbian pirates (Game of Thrones), spoiled, trust fund kids (House of Flowers), and the brilliance that is Pose, we have to ask ourselves if it’s still okay to put up with a bad show simply because it has queer characters.
And yes, I am calling Super Drags bad. So bad, it ceases being a guilty pleasure for me. It may not be the most egregious piece of media out there, but it doesn’t deserve a write-in campaign simply for being queer. Those days are (hopefully) over.
The show has received criticism recently from the homophobic Brazilian Society of Pediatrics for “dangerously” conflating the adult world of drag queens with childish cartoons. This is the stereotypical “save the children” argument conservatives tend to roll out whenever they dislike something. Your gut instinct might be to defend, even to love Super Drags, simply to shove it in the faces of those naughty, naughty pediatricians.
There are a lot of reactionary people in the world right now, and that’s scary. The recently elected Brazilian President is openly bigoted against the LGBTQ+ community, and the same can be said for many, many current heads of state.
Shouldn’t our community stick together on this one?
Homophobes and transphobes might hate this show for bigoted reasons, but I still maintain that we can dislike it for progressive ones. We can live in a world where we can compartmentalize these two things. We can both criticize the problematic aspects of Anderson Mahanski’s work, while also defending this talented artist from the hatred of bigoted people, organizations, and governments.
I believe the queer community can paradoxically be both critical of itself and united against its oppressors.
In fact, I think it’s vital to our growth.
But hey, like every character on Super Drags, maybe that’s just because I am a bitter queen that has no fucks to give.
UPDATE (12/11/19): In an earlier version I referred to the drag queen Willam as William.
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