Screenshot: Start your engines for Drag Race

Clear your calendar for next Monday night: RuPaul's Drag Race is returning (LOGO, 9-10 p.m.)

Yeah, yeah, I know -- it's a reality show. But this one actually demonstrates the potential of the genre: it provides a window into a subculture where the participants are skilled (and/or talented) and self-aware. In a genre where dressing up contrived circumstances as "reality" is an accepted practice, a competition between people who are deliberately subverting realism is a delightful twist.

Season One was a joy to watch. As a hostess and judge, RuPaul was like the love child of Tim Gunn and a MAC counter, cannily mining the commercial tropes of the drag genre while lending the proceedings dignity. And the contestants! One of the most exciting things about watching each of them was watching how they interpreted and subverted conventional or not-so-conventional stereotypes of femininity. One of the contestants, Shannel -- a certified Oprah-watching, label-loving performer -- cynically mined reality-TV tropes throughout her stay on the show, staging some fake drama involving a wig and some latex cleavage when she perceived a need to get the judges on her side in a hurry. After watching that premeditated act of "real" drama, every twentysomething woman on a VH1 dating show needs to hang it up; there is no way they can top.

One of the most interesting things about watching these drag queens in action is in seeing the feminine archetypes we women absorb and subconsciously grapple with, as interpreted by outsiders. The experience is not unlike going to the eye doctor's and seeing your face in a mirror designed to show you how the rest of the world will see you. Last year, RuPaul's Drag Race brought incisive criticism and great affection to the craft of gender performance art. I look forward to seeing if they can do it again.

by Lisa Schmeiser
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