It’s easy to forget that RuPaul was popular enough to be considered a supermodel, create dance hits and lead a talk show on VH1 (before returning with a new show in 2017) in the 90’s, and only RuPaul could have created a program which boosts drag queens to international stardom.
We often think of the past as a backward place, but looking back only cements the boldness and determination of RuPaul, whose show could be usefully referenced at any fraternity/sorority conference.
Fraternities were in many cases avant garde creations of college-educated men, different sects of the world’s religions mixed controversy with virtue. They even partake in giant lip sync battles (where many dress as women) once or more a year.
The contestants on RuPaul’s Drag Race even refer to their bond as that of a “sorority.”
It’s not a stretch, I promise.
Here are a few things RuPaul has done to affect mainstream culture with what was originally a comical parody of American talent TV shows.
To put some things in perspective:
- Including “All Stars” seasons, there have been 12 seasons of “RuPaul’s Drag Race” and a 13th is in casting
- The show began on LogoTV, but recently moved up to a wider audience on VH1
- The popularity of the show has served as the foundation for world tours and international brand identities for many of the contestants
- Spun off of the show are several popular Youtube series as well as “DragCon,” several Netflix productions and another television series on Viceland.
Rupaul used some clever tactics to improve his show’s reach and popularity. It was one of the television shows to fully embrace the internet – using its less regulated formats to deepen the stories of each of its contestants and push boundaries of what is to be expected of TV.
With all that in mind, here are some things to consider regarding some of RuPaul’s choices as a leader:
Define Success & Keep It Clear
To be considered “America’s Next Drag Superstar,” RuPaul seeks a contestant with the right combination of uniqueness, talent, nerve and charisma. At the end of each episode, two contestants “lip sync for their life,” and RuPaul determines which to send home. Sometimes both lip syncers are saved, other times one or both are dismissed.
This is a key element of RuPaul’s work. Those four traits are repeated by contestants and fans of the show on the regular, and repetition is a good thing for learning! It’s the “values-based selection criteria” for the Drag Race “sorority,” if you will.
The point of RuPaul’s show is to identify individuals who can influence mainstream culture, and so contestants are tested on a variety of entertainment-related challenges. They don’t make them do a construction project or work at a bakery; everything is kept in the scope of what is expected of a victorious entertainer with wide appeal.
Define a clear and general purpose and orient all that you do into moving in the direction of that purpose.
It’s generally accepted that the show blew up as social media blew up, and RuPaul has integrated social media into the show’s structure.
The challenges and their associated hashtags generate hilarious (or fabulous) imagery to use as gifs and memes, and the production company behind RPDR produces several online web series featuring prior contestants from the show – a full lineup of drag media entertainment, all made possible by betting on new media as an opportunity for affordable growth.
Some fraternities and sororities have embraced technology and the internet culture, but have not yet shifted their approach to communication. Regular outreach, 2-way communication, free video content are all opportunities to support our memberships and appeal to audiences considering college.
Don’t Take Your Life’s Work Too Seriously
Without RuPaul’s recent efforts (again, built upon an exceptional career and with help from colleagues and friends), there would not be a broadly advertised career “ladder” to climb for most drag queens.
The show values Charisma, Talent, Uniqueness & Nerve to encourage competitors to push the boundaries of their previous work. The results are awe-inspiring, hilarious, or train wrecks. That consistent determination to push boundaries is why the show has grown and why it is able to feature an occasional deep-zone conversation.
Fraternity is great, and important to many of us, but we can’t let our pride and tradition get in the way of taking valuable risk. That means we schedule out less of what our chapters do and give them a greater scope of freedom, just like drag queens on RPDR take risks within the realm of drag.
There may be failures – but they’ll be localized. The success stories will inevitably lift everyone up together.
Recruit For Talent
The contestants on this show have already built of networks of fans in their home towns or their regions. Some auditioned for the show seven, eight or even nine times before being accepted. Imagine applying for a job every year for 10 years before being offered a position. The contestants on Drag Race are tenacious and dedicated professionals.
Selectivity is critical to the future of the show, and the future of the immense drag media which has blossomed around it online. Only by choosing contestants with talent and opportunity can the show succeed in the way it needs to succeed.
We often work in reverse, and use our programming as an incentive for growth, forcing students to be less selective. We are advocating two separate things: That a certain number of people must be recruited and that chapters should be highly selective.
Our approach to recruitment offers little in terms of selectivity. Sometimes it actively works against helping members be selective.
Create Opportunity For Your Die Hard Fans/Members
A 2nd show featuring the contestants discussing a variety of topics while the judges deliberate airs on TV or online, called “Untucked,” which is typically watched by fans of the show. It offers them a deeper insight into the competing queens’ minds.
Fans and contestants interact throughout on social media, and the introduction of DragCon was designed in particular to allow easier access for fans to their favorite performers, but also to suppliers who can grow their business and the presence of drag culture.
This is important, because fans themselves can become stars through their makeup tutorials, video editing skills or commentary. The ultimate prize, competing on the show, is in some ways accessible to everyone.
Fraternities have a similar opportunity, but are perhaps too focused internally on education and membership – which can create a protective frame of mind, one which stifles opportunities to build off of our brands. Our memberships are our most valuable resource.
Updated 3/2018 – Removed some fluff, about 600 words worth of fluff and to update some trivial statistics.