Super Drags' Bawdy Queer Humor Is an Important Political Statement

Scarlet Carmesim, Lemon Chiffon, and Safira Cian—the Super Drags.
Scarlet Carmesim, Lemon Chiffon, and Safira Cian—the Super Drags.
Image: Netflix

Even though the advertisements for Netflix’s latest superhero series, Super Drags, are all drenched in oversaturated colors and sparkles, there’s a reason the network has been so bullish about drawing attention to the show’s parental advisory warnings. For all the homages to classic hero cartoons like the PowerPuff Girls and Sailor Moon, Super Drags isn’t at all a show meant for kids.

The Netflix original comes by way of Brazilian creator and artist Anderson Mahanski. Super Drags tells the story of Ralph, Patrick, and Donziete, three unassuming department store employees who lead secret lives as superpowered drag queens tasked with protecting the world’s magic from nefarious, homophobic villains. Each Power Rangers-esque episode finds the boys facing off against a new monster of the week with designs on sapping unsuspecting civilians of their “highlight”—the intangible essence that gives people their inherent light and creativity.

That aspect of Super Drags’ plot feels very much like a loving tribute to the kind of magical-girl and sentai/mecha hero team shows that have always had a broad appeal to younger audiences, but the show’s bawdy sense of adult humor makes it feel distinct—and has been the source of some controversy. Super Drags’ dialogue often reads like the transcript from a particularly boozy, catty episode of RuPaul’s Drag Race: Untucked!, which is to say that the jokes are equal parts clever and filthy and often veer into decidedly blue territory that might put some people off.

These aren’t the pleasant, sanitized drag queens newly-out baby gays introduce their parents to at their first pride parades. The Super Drags are the kinds of all-stars who’ll throw a drink in your face, embarrass you in front of the world for acting up at one of their shows, and silently judge you for having seen Venom before A Star Is Born.

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The show’s fondness for dick jokes and graphic gags about gay sex were enough to gain it an early condemnation from Brazil’s Department of Pediatrics of Development and Behavior before the series’ release. Back in June, the Department put out a statement calling for Netflix to pull its plans on Super Drags due to the concern that the show’s queer messages were inappropriate for children—especially since, given the show’s superhero subject matter, it’s the kind of program that might catch younger viewers’ eyes.

While the organization insisted that it respected the voice of Super Drags’ team, the subtext of the call to Netflix smacked of the kind of homophobic ideas conservatives have been lobbing at queer people for ages—that the very existence of non-cis, straight people is somehow a potential threat to young people. Again, Super Drags is clearly labeled as not really being for kids, but of course, this is the internet (and Netflix, to boot) that we’re talking about, which means that short of parents setting restrictions on their accounts, it’s not as if a teen trying to watch the show isn’t going to be able to.

That being said, Super Drags dropped both in Brazil and the U.S. at a time when both countries are dealing with relatively recently-elected political leaders who regularly espouse homophobic propaganda from the highest seats of power. In the years leading up to his successful bid for Brazil’s presidency, President-elect Jair Bolsonaro has been notoriously open about his retrograde ideas regarding queer people—calling for violence against them and insisting that they are a social ill that must be dealt with. Though Bolsonaro has begun to reel in his homophobic rhetoric since winning the election for the sake of public appearances, his willingness to stoke fears about and animosity towards LGBTQ+ people has solidified his status as someone not working to protect queer rights in the country.

The Super Drags transforming.
Image: Netflix
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With that kind of socio-political backdrop to it, there’s a boldness to Super Drags’ willingness to be an unabashedly outspoken celebration of the glittery, campy aspects of queer culture that have become more popular with mainstream audiences. As hokey as a flying drag queen beating up a terrorist for trying to attack a busload of gays on their way to a concert sounds, it’s the kind of message that’s worth amplifying in times when bigotry against minorities like LGBTQ+ people is on the rise and making people question the safety in the world.

That’s also what makes the series’ overall lightheartedness such an effective counterbalance to its crassness. To be clear, Super Drags repeatedly has its head all the way in the gutter to the point of being a little cringe-worthy, but it never makes the mistake of taking potshots at the people who need the most protection. It’s a show that wants you to understand the beauty of accepting people for who they are and respecting their identities—a message way more shows could stand to champion more often.

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io9 Culture Critic and Staff Writer. Cyclops was right.

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DISCUSSION

poetjunkie
Poetjunkie

I... disagree. I generally agree with Charles but this show is borderline insulting. That has nothing to do with how effeminate the characters are; I don’t buy into the whole bullshit butch vs fem thing in our community, because that way lies sexism, something our community needs to rid itself of. What I do take issue with, though, is how every character is dainty and simpering. We’re always victims in need of rescuing, and even the super heroes spend more time powerless and conflicted by petty squabbling than being, yuh know, a hero.

YES, it’s empowering to see ourselves as the super hero for once, but are any of them powerful on their own? No, their strengths derive from outside themselves. They’re powerless without their special belt buckles (I’m only five episodes in so maybe this changes?), and when they fight, they do so with limp wrists and dainty abilities. One of the characters even has a wand, and its only power is to wrap things in a condom... beacuse lord knows us gays can’t be on-screen without their being a background narrative of HIV/AIDS, as if that’s all our sexuality will ever amount to.

If a character falls down, they fall ass first. If a character is thrown or flies, they do so ass first, because butts (and therefor anal) is something to laugh at, not as just another normal aspect of human sexuality. The lesbians (while barely there), are angry and super butch. Every character cares about only one thing: sex, with tongues drooling and eyes popping. The bad guy in episode one wants to kills gays, and tries to, but he’s hot ao let’s grope his dick while he’s unconscious! That’ll teach him. NO! I want to see the queens be tough as fuck and kick his ass, not drool over the squirrel he’s smuggling in his pants. Which, please don’t get me wrong, I’m not a prude by any stretch and I love me some sexual innuendo... but it feels like this show is written/produced by straight men who are taking just as much joy laughing at the gay characters and using nothing but toxic stereotypes of the community, rather than taking charge and changing the narrative of us being little more than soft victims of the world at large. The heroes spend more time sniping at each other than lifting each other up, and while us gays do tend to feed on our own, there’s also a huge component to our community lifting each other uo and embracing ourselves for who we are (yeah, that leads to us segmenting into “no fats, fems or asians”, but even that could be a narrative to tackle! Yet it doesn’t.).

The heroes feel like the butt (ha) of the joke in this show, and I’m just not here for it.