Millions of people around the world have sat down to watch RuPaul’s Drag Race, a reality TV competition series that sees American drag queens compete against one another for the title of “America’s Next Drag Superstar.” The popular series is even about to start filming its first-ever spin-off overseas, with Drag Race UK. But did you know the show has had such an impact on LGBTQ culture and the world at large that one expert offers a Drag Race college course?
Joe E. Jeffreys is a “NYC-based performance videographer and editor focused on capturing the drag, burlesque/boylesque and nightlife scenes” (according to his own Vimeo page). But he also offers a Drag Race college course at The New School in New York City called “RuPaul’s Drag Race and Its Impact.”
“I believe that studying popular culture can tell us a lot about the standards, tastes and mores of the period that produced it,” Jeffreys recently told Gay Star News. “As a drag historian, RuPaul’s Drag Race fascinates me, and I thought that a class on it would appeal to students. It would be a subject they could relate to, and they have brought an encyclopedic knowledge of the series to the course. Now we are examining the material through more critical lenses and locating it in larger histories of female impersonation and reality TV.”
So we can only imagine the looks he got when the students of his Drag Race college course were told the entire Season 11 cast of their favorite series would be stopping by the classroom. Jeffreys says the in-class moment was able to happen thanks to the generosity of Viacom (the parent company of VH1, which airs the show stateside) and The New School.
Jeffreys said about the once-in-a-lifetime moment:
The students had no idea that this was going to happen, only that we were meeting in an alternate location that day. We handled general class business for the first 10 minutes or so, then I announced that there were some people there who would like to meet them. And through a side door out walked the contestants. Pandemonium erupted. The students and contestants hugged, cried with excitement and took selfies.
After this settled down we sat the contestants on chairs and stools and the students on the floor in front of them. The contestants were so open and authentic talking to the students and answering their questions about drag and the show. The thing that stands out to me was when I looked at the students sitting on the floor and the contestants in chairs and I thought this looked like some advanced Drag Queen Story Hour. One of the students summed up the experience best when they said they were “gagged.”
Even the Drag Race college course itself mimics the beloved series, with “mini challenges” and “main challenges.” The course’s final project is said to be in the form of a runway show, which Jeffreys says he’s “most excited about.”
Jeffreys has said about his students’ takeaway, “I hope the students take away an understanding that a historical period’s popular culture is often one of the most revealing things about it. I also hope they will have a larger background in drag history and the development of reality TV and can place RuPaul’s Drag Race into those contexts.”