Why is the BBC so obsessed with drag queens?

Every area of the Beeb’s output is saturated with content about men pretending to be women.

Lauren Smith

Topics Identity Politics

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Alien visitors to Earth might be forgiven for thinking that something like 10 per cent of the UK population are drag queens. After all, how else could you explain the sheer amount of airtime and column inches that the BBC has devoted to this relatively niche ‘LGTBQ+’ subculture?

As former BBC journalist Cath Leng recently pointed out, the UK’s state broadcaster seems to be working overtime to produce as much drag content as possible. Currently, on BBC iPlayer, you can watch titles such as RuPaul’s Drag Race UK, Canada’s Drag Race, RuPaul’s Drag Race Down Under, Jamie: Drag Queen at 16 and God Shave the Queens, a behind-the-scenes spin-off of Drag Race.

The drag obsession has even infected the BBC’s news output. Last month, the BBC News website published seven articles about drag artists. These are mostly human-interest-type stories, rather than factual news reports. One is a video interview with a South Asian drag queen named Lady Bushra, who talks about the trials and tribulations of growing up gay in Bradford. Another article describes a Hull drag queen’s reunion with his long-lost son. There were also two separate articles about two different drag queens who planned to run this year’s London Marathon.

Countless articles of dubious news value now chronicle the lives and experiences of various drag artists. This year, the BBC has reported on working-class drag queens, Northern Irish drag queens and a drag-queen Taylor Swift. It has also provided coverage of drag shows from Derby to Felixstowe.

The BBC’s fictional output hasn’t been spared, either. Since April last year, Auntie has been teasing the upcoming appearance of drag queen Jinkx Monsoon in the next season of Doctor Who. Monsoon’s character will, apparently, be ‘the Doctor’s most powerful enemy yet’. Judging by the abysmal audience ratings of the last series, the Beeb is clearly banking on Monsoon to lure back lost viewers.

It’s not just kids’ entertainment that takes the knee to the cult of drag – so do the BBC’s educational resources. BBC Bitesize – which provides revision tools for secondary-school exams – has an entire page devoted to the origins and history of drag. Drag began, it claims, as far back as the 16th century. The resource also includes a list of modern drag terminology, presumably so kids can deploy words and phrases like ‘shade’, ‘realness’ and ‘that’s the tea’ in their GCSE history exams.

Even as far back as 2014, when ‘pronouns’ were still something you learnt about in English grammar lessons, the BBC seemed preoccupied with drag. Austrian drag queen and Eurovision winner Conchita Wurst – real name Thomas Neuwirth – made a surprising appearance on the BBC’s annual list of 100 most-inspiring ‘women’. This is despite the fact that Neuwirth does not even call himself a woman. Wurst is a fictional character.

Of course, none of this to say that drag should be censored, outlawed or relegated to the dark corners of the internet. Most people are generally ambivalent towards drag. Plenty of adults go to shows or watch the odd episode of RuPaul’s Drag Race. No doubt at least a handful of people in Felixstowe who would like to be kept informed of the developments in their local drag scene. But it is still worth asking why drag has been given such prominence, and has become such an obsession, for our state broadcaster.

In many ways, the BBC is merely reflecting a broader middle-class fixation with drag, which is now seen as ‘progressive’ and boundary-breaking for its approach to gender. Taking a toddler to a Story Hour with a twerking drag artist in the local library signals to other parents that you’re au fait with the latest political and cultural trends. Allowing your primary-school-aged child to be taught sex-ed by a glittery bloke with a name like Titti von Nippleklamp is, to some woke parents at least, an important demonstration of tolerance and inclusivity.

But is this really what the broader public wants from the BBC? Most licence-fee payers expect unbiased, objective news reporting and top-quality drama. Instead, they are getting schmaltzy puff pieces about men pretending to be women, who seem to only need to cross the road to catch a BBC hack’s attention. Do better, BBC.

Lauren Smith is a staff writer at spiked.

Picture by: Getty.

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Topics Identity Politics


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