Did ‘RuPaul’s Drag Race’ Just Cross The Line Between Throwing Shade And Straight Up Bullying?

This week’s episode of RuPaul’s Drag Race season 12, “Gay’s Anatomy,” was, much like the producers when designing an improv challenge, a mess. This season has already been hit with a number of controversies, namely, contestant Sherry Pie being disqualified after various accusations of catfishing and manipulating inappropriate material from young aspiring actors, some of this season’s contestants supporting the show’s unfair ban on trans queens competing, RuPaul admitting she rents out her farm to a fracking company, and whether the Covid-19 pandemic could mean we’ll even get a normal series finale (if one at all). 

But, these all existed outside of the show’s control. Now, with the latest drama between Britta Filter, Aiden Zhane and the rest of the queens, RuPaul’s Drag Race is crossing the line between throwing shade and downright bullying. 

So, what’s the beef between Britta and Aiden?

Following on from the shocking and unfair elimination of Rock M. Sakura, the queens returned to the workroom and reflected on last week’s results. Reminiscing on her gentle and kindhearted soul, they all admitted that Rock didn’t deserve to go home that week. In fact, and much like the fandom has mentioned, she shouldn’t have even been in the bottom two. 

Instead, as Britta Filter, who won the lip sync against Rock, insinuated it should’ve been Aiden. What followed was a series of scenes where the queens all turned on Aiden for being safe that week. Any chance she got, Britta would bring up Aiden’s “basic corset with pom poms hanging off it” outfit in last week’s design challenge, how she finished so early that she could take a nap while the rest “continued to work their asses off.” 

Before all this, in “World’s Worst,” Aiden paired herself with Britta and the disqualified Sherry Pie in an improv challenge. Not feeling as confident in improv, she chose to work with the season’s alleged strongest improv comedians to at least be safe. Then, she felt out of her depth in the performance in comparison to them, and was told off and patronised by the two for not being at the same level as them in the challenge. Or, perhaps, the whole competition. 

Then, this week’s Untucked happened. Half of the queens continued to bring up Aiden’s attitude in the design challenge and how she didn’t deserve to be safe this week. The other half remained silent and sipped their cocktails in shock and awe of what was unfolding before them. It wasn’t until Heidi’n’Closet, who ended up in the bottom, stormed up to them and told them off.

“At the end of the day, the bitch is safe,” she said. “Heidi’s gonna worry about Heidi right now”

“You need to leave her alone. Leave her alone. She’s clearly bothered.”

And, even though it’s production’s fault, it feels like straight up bullying. 

At least once an episode, Aiden admits that she feels isolated and like she doesn’t belong in the group. As Jaida Essence Hall confessed last week, Aiden’s quick to bring up the fact that she’s not used to having a close circle or drag family. Outside of the show, she lives in the suburbs of Atlanta, Georgia, and works a full-time job. And, as some of the other girls share in Untucked, she feels so alien to the rest of the cast because she’s latching on to that fear and not letting her connect. But, that’s hard to do when people are yelling at you. 

Aiden Zhane’s edit harbours back to how the show’s producers pitched Jinx Monsoon in season five and the way that reality TV constructs narratives. In season five, Jinkx announced she was a narcoleptic and struggled with her condition throughout the whole season. That led to some fun moments of her dozing off unexpectedly and being underestimated, but then, much like Aiden here, she was bullied by the rest of the group. She was seen as unpolished and not at the same level as the rest of the girls, and then won the damn season, lol. 

Now, I’m not saying Aiden will win — frankly, I think it’ll be between Jaida Essence Hall or Gigi Goode — but the show uses edits like this to create a narrative and turn its audience against contestants. It’s a producing style found in reality TV that works well when constructing narratives, characters and drawing people in to them, but in an era where social media has given us the ability to talk to celebs and create artificially personal one-sided opinions of them, it’s dangerous. 

We’ve seen it time and time again within the RuPaul’s Drag Race community. A queen is edited as a villain, attacks a fan favourite or avoids an elimination or is saved over Trixie, Tatiana or Ben DeLa Creme, and the natural reaction is to send them hate. It’s gotten to the point where Drag Race alumni have to publicly warn their fans to not send others’ hate, instead inspire and celebrate their faves. 

It’s easy to get super invested in reality TV and its characters, that’s literally the point of it. But, as a fanbase, we need to not send hate to people. Yes, Britta is bullying Aiden and yes, last week’s Untucked was super uncomfortable to watch. Britta has openly admitted she’s embarrassed of how she presented herself on camera and treated others on the show. But, it’s important to criticise the producers and season as a whole for bullying Aiden. Yes, Britta instigated it but the rest of the cast who contributed and added to the drama are just as right to be blamed.

And look, I love this cast and I love drama. Most of my favourite moments come from the shady quips and lines from Untucked, but this episode was a bit hard to watch. I hope, going forward, it gets better. Otherwise…yikes. 

Julian Rizzo-Smith is a writer and producer. He also claims to be a vine historian, avid connoisseur of low-fi beats, indie hip hop and Kermit memes. In a perfect world, he’d be married to Tyler the Creator, own an Arcanine and a Lapras, and don his own Sailor Scouts uniform. He tweets @GayWeebDisaster, which is also, coincidentally, how one might describe him.

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