20 Questions is a Q&A interview series with musicians, authors, and everyone in between, celebrating experiences both shared and individual in the messy game of being human.
“Pop culture is queer culture. It is our work-around for a society that has wanted us to remain invisible, on the margins, out of sight. It is something of a trojan horse and goes about its disruptive work undercover, disguised as entertainment.” Fenton Bailey is co-founder of World of Wonder, the award-winning, multi-platform production company behind RuPaul’s Drag Race, the Million Dollar Listing franchise, Mapplethorpe: Look at the Pictures, and over 20 years of groundbreaking unscripted, scripted, and documentary content. Alongside co-founder Randy Barbato, Bailey became a trailblazer in Hollywood by creating provocative documentaries and series that give a voice to outsiders and marginalized communities. Bailey and Barbato serve as executive producers on Drag Race as well as numerous other World of Wonder productions. Fenton joins me this week on 20 Questions to discuss his book ScreenAge: How TV Shaped Our Reality, From Tammy Faye to RuPaul’s Drag Race as well as pop culture, queerness, and hateful drag bans.
What is the earliest memory you have of wanting to work in film and television?
It was probably when I was about 12 and borrowing my dad’s super 8 camera and doing a remake of Sunset Boulevard. I got to play Norma Desmond.
What time of day are you most inspired?
In the shower, when there’s no way to write anything down, and so all the good ideas go down the drain!
Favorite book of all-time?
The Velvet Rage by Alan Downs.
What’s one vice you wish you could give up?
Gin and tonics.
One movie that will always make you cry?
I really do try to avoid movies that make me cry and, if they do, I will never watch them again. I also try to avoid watching anything on a plane for the same reason because anything makes me cry.
What’s the most challenging part of writing for you?
Resisting the temptation to check my Instagram.
The best book you’ve read in the last year?
Warhol by Blake Gopnik.
You describe your book ScreenAge: How TV Shaped Our Reality, From Tammy Faye to RuPaul’s Drag Race as your love letter to television, saying that “it has made the invisible, visible, especially outsiders and those on the margins.” How would you describe the power of pop culture, especially in an age of isolation, as beacons of hope for queer people?
Pop culture is queer culture. It is our work-around for a society that has wanted us to remain invisible, on the margins, out of sight. It is something of a trojan horse and goes about its disruptive work undercover, disguised as entertainment, as ephemeral — so shh, don’t tell anyone!
The last series you binge-watched?
It was House of Cards and weirdly the beginning and end of binge-watching for me. I don’t mind watching a couple of episodes at a time, but any more and I feel as sick as if I ate a whole box of chocolates.
As a writer and artist, what would you say is the best way to decompress?
Why would you ever decompress?!
The best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
Trust the timing of your life, and try to ride the horse in the direction it’s going.
If you could have one writer, dead or alive, to compose your obituary, who would it be and why?
James St. James.
One song that you will never be sick of?
“Sissy That Walk” by RuPaul.
As an executive producer on RuPaul’s Drag Race, what do you make of the hateful laws being leveled against both transgender people and drag queens in some parts of the United States?
It’s like the bullies back in school, picking on people they think are weak and easy targets. That’s their big mistake. They will not prevail, as long as we support the queens, register to vote and donate to support causes like the ACLU Drag Defense Fund.
What’s your current read?
Unscripted: The Epic Battle for a Media Empire and the Redstone Family Legacy. An incredible shitshow.
How would you describe the importance of storytelling, especially in an age of social isolation?
It’s the only way we learn anything!
You’re stuck on a long flight. Which world-famous musician would you want sitting next to you?
Favorite quote of all-time?
RuPaul: “We’re all born naked and the rest is drag.”
One thing that’s been keeping you sane during the COVID-19 pandemic?
What can we expect to see next from you?
Follow Fenton Bailey on Twitter and Instagram, and find his book ScreenAge: How TV Shaped Our Reality, From Tammy Faye to RuPaul’s Drag Race wherever books are sold.