As patience is wearing thin for the umpteenth Zoom meeting, here’s one PR pro’s idea of how to give virtual gatherings a makeover.

Online meetings can be dry.

I should know: my PR agency Bospar has been a remote, work-from-home agency since we launched at the start of 2015. While PRovoke declared our model “prescient” at the height of the lockdown, they didn’t reveal what I’ve always known: Online meetings never really stray from getting business done.  While that’s great for clients, it’s a killer for parties of the virtual variety.

But tech people won’t let technology get in the way of a good time.

Life of a (virtual) party

Consider Kevin, the frequent subject of a column about our new virtual reality from tech industry outlet ZDNet. In one such episode, Kevin hosts his birthday party on Zoom during the height of the lockdown: I went to a 50-person Zoom party and I may never recover.

The article detailed the moment when Kevin programmed around Zoom’s shortcomings:

Thankfully Kevin and his husband Donal had thought through some of the technology’s limitations. So they’d organized the evening as if it was a variety show.

First, they introduced a comely drag queen who acted as host for the evening. She proceeded to take us through several rounds of bingo. Yes, she had a machine full of balls on her dining room table. And technology is clever enough to email everyone bingo cards.

The drag queen had to work very hard.

When people are at a party, their reactions are geared toward that. When people are at home, sitting on their sofas, in their kitchens and, at least in one case, on their porches, it’s harder to get into the party spirit. Especially as, in practical terms, you can’t speak easily unless you’re spoken to. No wonder at least one attendee sat stroking their cat and looked entirely as if they were watching Monday night Netflix.

At PRSA Silicon Valley, we are happy to reveal we are influenced by such articles. After all, it’s in our interest to admit that PR works! So, we decided to follow Kevin’s example and host our own Media Predicts party with the help of a drag queen named Schwa from Screaming Queens Entertainment.  Schwa hosted bingo with Bospar, giving the winners prizes of wine (red or white) or champagne.

One of our winners, Avey Michelle, revealed: “Out of all the things in the world, I did not expect to be playing virtual drag bingo LOL.” Meanwhile, PRSA member Jeannie Entin remarked about Forbes writer Diane Brady winning the first prize: “If someone other than me had to win, I’m glad it was Diane.”

But the real winner was Schwa.

Michelle McIntyre wrote: “Love love love the pink outfit Schwa.”

Glo Linedmuth added: “slay the bells hunny.”

Caroline James: “Yes, well done Curtis, and thank you to Schwa.”

A regal tradition

Why does drag work so well in virtual meetings? In fact, why is there an actual industry putting drag queens in corporate America?

Well, consider my strawman: Online meetings are dry.

What’s the opposite of dry? Drag.

“Drag Race: All Stars 3” winner Trixie Mattel spilled the tea on the origins of the term drag to the media outlet Them: “This definition probably originated in the theatre of the late 1800s, where male performers wore petticoats to perform as women. Their petticoats would drag on the floor, and so they referred to dressing up as women as ‘putting on their drags.’ By the 1920s, the term ‘drag’ was being used by gay people.”

But drag has been with us a lot longer than the 1800s. For example, in Japan, male actors have been taking on female roles in Kabuki since 1629.

And since I’ve blown my word count, I might as well add that my lazy search on Google for “oldest known example men dressing as women” turned up this gem: “According to Norse mythology, Thor and Loki were two of the earliest crossdressers known to man.”  Perhaps Marvel should look into that.

The point is, dressing up in drag is one of the earliest ways of breaking from the status quo. It challenges us. It makes us drop our guard. And it makes what was dry suddenly so much more.

Vulture noted as much in “The Humor at the Heart of RuPaul’s Drag Empire:

As an art form, drag can channel our deepest aspirations, insecurities, and desires. It can be an image of what we want to become, but for RuPaul, the importance has been to realize that image itself is cracked. It’s just an illusion, and we’d be better off if we just laughed at it.

And laughter makes every online meeting better. Just ask the folks who went to this year’s Media Predicts party with PRSA Silicon Valley.

 

Curtis Sparrer is principal of Bospar and a board member of PRSA Silicon Valley.

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