‘Precision is key’: appreciating the labour of performance in RuPaul’s Drag Race

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RuPaul’s Drag Race represents an ideal text for thinking through – and teaching – pastiche after postmodernism. The show is concerned with highlighting not just that gender is performative, but that gender performativity is subject to multiple, eclectic but often very precise layers of identity and modes of being. As befits its reality television format, it frames this explication of authenticity through artifice, moreover, by means of a continuous movement between irony and sincerity – a trait that is often said to be a central quality of post-postmodernism (MacDowell, 2010; Vermeulen and van den Akker, 2010) – formed through historical and political references (Hutcheon, 1986-87) and often revealing emotional personal histories (Canavan, 2021) in the process.
“I’m giving you 1980s lesbian literary agent, disinterested, pissed off, Ellen Barkin Fantasy” (Katya, All Stars Season 2). In this description of her look in the runway challenge ‘Pants on the Runway’, Katya articulates the minute specificity of her aesthetic choices, from make-up to wig to costume and accessories to posture and movement. The description encapsulates both the intention and delivery of the fantasy, instructing the audience how to read her impassive expression and angular gestures as she enacts a series of poses. Simultaneously, our attention is drawn to how this performance works in tandem with her batwinged brown pantsuit and platinum bob as a construction of a precise affect, with a time, mood and protagonist, as Katya intimates the intellectual and physical labour required to deliver the look. In this article, I wish to consider how the series and its contestants enact pastiche in ways that encourage and even teach the audience to analyse and appreciate performance while simultaneously highlighting the skill and precision of its construction. Pastiche is thus an instructional device for aesthetic analysis and labour.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)132-141
Issue number1
Early online date1 Mar 2024
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2024


  • performance
  • pastiche
  • metamodernism
  • RuPaul's Drag Race
  • Drag


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