Today, RuPaul is one of the best known drag queens in the world. At the time of this interview, RuPaul was just emerging as a global pop star. Many viewers would have been familiar with the music video for RuPaul’s hit song “Supermodel (You Better Work)” which was in rotation on MTV in 1993. The Arsenio Hall Show was a late-night talk show popular with young people during its run from 1989 to 1994. This clip follows a fairly conventional interview format except that Hall, who is clearly enjoying interacting with the quick-witted RuPaul, asks his off-screen producer for “one more minute.” One of the themes running through this interview is the relationship of RuPaul to her family. RuPaul describes them as supportive, says that she is “proud” of them, and laments that many of her fans “can’t go home” because of their parents’ homophobia. When Hall asks RuPaul about the political implications of his drag performances, RuPaul responds, “I can’t change the world but I can change myself…and I can influence the world by what I do.”
Compare and contrast RuPaul and Arsenio Hall. Consider their dress, facial expressions, posture, gesture and movements.
What kind of gendered assumptions come across during the course of the interview? How do RuPaul and Arsenio Hall use gendered pronouns? What is assumed in the conversation about basketball?
Both Hall and RuPaul are self-identified Black men. Do you see or hear race playing a role in this clip? Where does RuPaul’s race emerge in her drag character? For example, RuPaul often engages the audience with a call-and-response style of interaction. (e.g. “Can I get an Amen?”/“Amen!”) Where else have you encountered this form of speech? How does RuPaul’s call-and-response compare to those other examples?
At one point in the interview, Arsenio Hall reads a quote from RuPaul saying, “Everytime I bat my eyelashes, it is a political statement.” How does RuPaul elaborate on this quote? How is this type of politics different from more conventional political acts like voting or marching in a demonstration? What kinds of changes might RuPaul’s public performance bring about for Arsenio Hall’s audience?