The Best Part of RuPaul’s Drag Race Is the Commercials

Expanding the LGBTQ Conversation
May 19 2014 6:29 PM

In Praise of Drag Race’s Wonderfully Weird Commercial Mélange

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Synergy!

Still from Orbitz commercial.

As the finale to the sixth season of RuPaul’s Drag Race approaches this evening, I find myself in the mood to reflect on the past few months of “she mail” and Snatch Game, of Tic Tac luncheons and Darienne Lake’s tacky fashions. But if I’m honest with you all, the thing I will remember most about this season of Drag Race, long after even my fondest recollections of any specific queen's Charisma, Uniqueness, Nerve, and Talent have faded, will be the commercials.

J. Bryan Lowder J. Bryan Lowder

J. Bryan Lowder is a Slate assistant editor. He writes and edits for Outward, Slate’s LGBTQ section, and for the culture section.

I realize many (if not most) fans catch the show the day after on LogoTV.com, but those of us who pay for cable—let’s be real, just to be able to watch Drag Race on time—know that this season’s commercial breaks were often more of an absurd emotional rollercoaster than the show itself. Indeed, while Drag Race’s editors are camp geniuses, Logo’s sales department, or whoever else was involved in choosing the particularly heady and bizarre range of ads that ran between the program segments, deserve our recognition as well.

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A typical break would go something like this: We leave the giggles and frivolity of the previous segment and begin our first spot—a synergistic delight from Orbitz featuring Manila Luzon and Alyssa Edwards cavorting to some tropical locale in the company of a sexy man.

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Natural enough, right? But then, the bottom falls out: An insanely graphic PSA from the CDC about the dangers of smoking. While this ad is obviously intended to hit the younger demographic watching Drag Race, please note that it is never a good idea to slot a commercial this dark in the midst of a comedic, taboo-pushing show—trust me, the campiness bleeds over in ways you may not appreciate.

At this point the buzzy conversation of my viewing group has faded into an uncomfortable silence. Perfect time for a Golden Girls promo. That helps lighten things, but then we reach the refrain of this season’s commercial rotation: the “Real Men Revealed” campaign co-sponsored by Logo and Truvada-maker Gilead.

This series of spots features various men (including some queens) stripping down in a laughably earnest effort to show how intensely REAL they are about their health, specifically their HIV status. Now, don’t get me wrong: HIV awareness and education is a wonderful and necessary endeavor. But after seeing that “I'm havin' gay sex” fireman strip down for like the 15th time, the message tends to get lost as the PSA becomes more of a curious aesthetic object. Speaking of which, can we all co-sign a memo of protest to the person who lit this shoot? Why do men who are clearly in perfectly decent shape end up looking, in the words of one co-fan, “dumpy and heavy-legged,” like they’re escapees from Lumpy Space? It’s an odd choice.

In any case, chatter focused on making fun of the DJ who refers to sex as a “collaboration” carries us through the strangely placed ads for old-person, Life-Alert type products, until we get to the requisite OraQuick presentation. OraQuick, in case you missed the approximately 287 ads that aired this season, is an at-home HIV test—good stuff. But is the best way to advertise it by having queens for past seasons of Drag Race accost random gays at various points between New York's West Village and Hell’s Kitchen to ask about their sex practices? Especially when one of them blithely admits on camera, no doubt in front of many people who know him, to “sometimes” thinking about safe sex?

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Just as my friends and I are pondering that question, a truly riveting moment occurs, sponsored by Boy Butter Clear Personal Lubricant. Why the creator of Boy Butter thought he, a possessor of some serious creep factor, was the ideal spokesman for his product is unclear, but his yellow lube apron has slipped into my mind for eternity. 

At this point, I feel whiplashed and demoralized by Logo’s commercial zig-zag. Which, curiously enough, is exactly the moment that RuPaul pops up and cajoles me to “tap that app, come on tap that app”—an exhortation to download the Logo TV mobile app.

Numbly, I follow the instruction. Was this the goal all along? Who can say?—I’m too emotionally drained to theorize anyway. I just want my drag show back … and of course, Ru and her friends are more than happy to oblige. They know I’ll tap just about anything to avoid seeing a real man again—or at least for the next 10 to 15 minutes. 

J. Bryan Lowder is a Slate assistant editor. He writes and edits for Outward, Slate’s LGBTQ section, and for the culture section.

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