Moira Panganiban

In the Philippines, the measure of how well a culture fits into popular culture is its ability to entertain. And what do most Filipinos find entertaining? It’s the drama! In his essay, “Four (Dis)Values in Filipino Drama and Film,” Filipino creative writer Nicanor Tiongson articulates the prevalent negative values that Filipinos usually encounter in watching entertainment shows: maganda ang maputi (white is beautiful), masaya ang may palabas (shows are the best), mabuti ang inaapi (hurrah for the underdog), and maganda pa ang daigdig (all is right with the world). He traced its roots to earlier forms of stage performances such as zarzuela, moro-moro, bodabil, and other well-known literary pieces during the occupation of the different colonizers in the country.

While these principles–or disvalues as other people may want to call it—satisfy the entertainment needs of Filipino viewers, it also possess the potential to shape the viewers’ perception of the world in a detrimental manner. This formulaic in Philippine entertainment shows fulfills one’s middle-class fetishes, fostering a sense of individualism and encouraging viewers to be stuck in a bubble where they can indulge in the fantasies depicted in the shows they watch. In the long run, this can result in escapist tendencies that hinder the formation of collective effort to break free from socio-cultural, economic, and political oppression.

Amid these norms in the entertainment industry, the emergence of local drag reality shows gave us a fresh take on how shows should be made: entertaining, informative, political, and most importantly, dramatic and camp! Unlike other international drag reality competitions, Local drag shows are serving looks and talents with Filipino wit, flair, and social issues.

These queens came from different parts of the Philippines with diverse ethnicities, backgrounds, ages, political leanings, and sexual identities. In fact, Drag Den’s roster of contestants for its recently concluded second season included Marlyn, an AFABulous cosplayerturned-drag artist. This debunks the misconception that drag is only for feminine gays but it is rather a form of art, and just like any other form of art, everybody is welcome to do it.

In a country where queers are discriminated and drag artists are criminalized for their art, local drag reality shows made a world where these underrepresented individuals can dominate, have a safe space, and express themselves without fear. And since it airs on online streaming platforms, it has minimal censorship which allows the viewers to have an unfiltered glimpse of the life and conversations of real queer individuals that were not that amplified in dominant media, even on queer-themed shows. Also, these types of programs do not solely showcase the craft of the drag queens but also pay homage to the people behind the drag scene as they recognize each designer, wig, and heel maker in each creation that the queens strut on the stage.

Aside from the sisterhood and tension that audiences see with each passing week, viewers also get to know the other aspects of the lives of these drag artists, discovering that beneath their glamorous outfits and slayage sense of humor, they are also humans with struggles that are somewhat similar and different from the struggles of cis individuals.

While joining local drag reality shows is the queens’ form of escapism from the “real world” where discrimination and hate persist for people who belong in their community, the show takes its audiences back to reality by integrating a discourse on “boring” social issues within their performances and backstage chitchats.

Given that the Philippines is among the countries in the world with no laws protecting one’s Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity, and Expression (SOGIE) or recognizing civil union in same-sex partners, Drag Den Season 1’s Kasalang Bayan (Mass Wedding) theme wear becomes a heartwarming and emotional episode for the audiences as the queens walk down the stage while stating their vows to their loved ones. Moreover, the Twinning! Episode of Drag Race’s local franchise proved that just like cis individuals, these queens also have lives outside of drag. It just showed that entertainment shall not only be confined to the purpose of making people laugh or making drama as it can also transcend into having substance and enlightening discussions on significant issues.

To make up for the list of negative values in Filipino entertainment that he made, Tiongson suggested four positive values that each correspond to the four disvalues he enumerated: maganda ang kayumanggi (brown is beautiful), masaya ang palabas na may laman (shows with substance are the best), mabuti ang may sariling isip at may gulugod (it’s good to think and decide for oneself), and gaganda pa ang daigdig (the world can indeed be more beautiful). Local drag shows embodies all of these positive values, truly making a cultural reset within popular culture by challenging traditional norms of Philippine entertainment, both in terms of what it means to entertain and to be entertained.

In local drag reality shows, beauty shines through in all palettes and shades. But it is not solely a show of glitz and glamour, as having substance and something to stand up for is a must. After all, everything is political. And with all these in mind, the world can hopefully be a better place. These shows are definitely something else and have the potential to be a catalyst for the dawn of a new era of entertainment. Hopefully, more of this entertainment genre will enter the mainstream media in the future.