In 2003, a new show premiered on Bravo: Queer Eye for the Straight Guy. The reality show starred five gay men (called the Fab Five) who were all ‘experts’ in five different fields: fashion, culture, grooming, design, and food/wine. This Bravo show had five seasons and 100 episodes focused on helping make over different straight men. It ended in 2007 but ten years later, Netflix decided to bring it back.
With an all new Fab Five, the first season of Netflix’s Queer Eye premiered in February 2018 to positive reviews. The show was a bit different this time around. There were new members of the Fab Five, the show was centered in Atlanta, Georgia, and it wasn’t just straight guys getting make overs. By the time that season two came out in June of 2018, three of the sixteen episodes were not about straight men.
I’m not going to lie: it took me awhile to watch the first season of the reboot simply because I’m really terrible at watching new shows. But in the weeks before and the days after the second season release, I watched all sixteen episodes and cried during most of them. One of the things that this reboot does so well, at least in my opinion, is remind people that self care is not a selfish act (and can be a variety of things like grooming, cooking, and cleaning) and it is possible to love and be loved fully.
But there are a few things that I can’t help but think about after finishing the two seasons. Who the target audience is for this reboot? What the main lessons from the show should be? Why does the show scream of subtle (and sometimes obvious) classism? And what happens after the Fab Five and the cameras leave? Is there some lasting change for these folks?
- Why I Couldn’t Stop Watching the New Queer Eye by Kathryn VanArendonk, Vulture
Queer and straight/cisgender people alike shared positive reviews/thoughts of the show but looking back on the show, a large part of it feels targeted at straight/cis folks. Even though Jonathan Van Ness introduced society at large to the drag slang ‘henny’ and admitted that his drag name is Vanessa (his last name with an a), the show’s queerness still fits neatly into bite sized, digestible bits. The show, at least to me, exists in part to remind straight/cis folks that the LGBTQ/queer community is just like them.
Many have pointed out that while the show is called Queer Eye, it has a long way to go to actually be fully representative of the queer community. The Fab Five are wonderful gay men who try to take on masculinity in many of their subjects and themselves but they’re just five people who are a part of a larger community. Honestly, I don’t think any show (or any individual) can take on the responsibility of representing an entire community, nor should one show or person. I would love to see more shows like Queer Eye that show the diversity of the LGBTQ community.
Similarly and as evident by the ‘Sky’s The Limit’ episode (the reboot’s first and only one with a trans man), the Fab Five, the Queer Eye crew, and society at large have a long way to go on understanding and fighting for trans rights. The fact that Skyler’s top surgery started the episode, seemingly without Skyler’s knowledge, only adds to the narrative that trans folks should be defined by medical procedures and biology.
- A Review of Queer Eye’s Trans Makeover, By an Actual Trans Person by Samantha Riedel, them.
As an episode, ‘Sky’s The Limit’ does an okay job at explaining where many trans people are coming from in regards to their identities for folks who’ve never thought about gender identity and trans issues. Karamo going to the DMV with Skyler to get his gender marker changed showed the legal hoops that trans folks have to go through. And I do believe that Tan’s conversations with Skyler were a genuine attempt to better understand a part of the queer community that Tan wasn’t familiar with. Although, I don’t believe that Tan has never met a trans person before; odds are that he just doesn’t know that he’s met a trans person and his comment at the beginning of the show unknowingly played into the narrative that cis people are always able to tell when a person is trans.
During the first episode of the show, Tan France (fashion) says: “The original show was fighting for tolerance. Our fight is for acceptance.” That sentiment is at the heart of the show in each episode and while the Fab Five reminds each subject (and, by proxy, the audience) to be their best versions of themselves, they still need to fall into the status quo and need to be what society deems to be the best version of themselves. As Spencer Kornhaber writes in an article for The Atlantic, “Queer Eye can, it must be said, trend oddly conservative when reconciling subjects’ self-images with cultural demands.”
While it can be revolutionary for five gay men to openly be themselves in the south and the episodes addressing religious homophobia brought a tear to my eye, should we be fighting simply for acceptance? Jude Dry does a significantly better job at addressing the issues of queerness in the show in an article for IndieWire and ends the article by saying: “Is that all queer people can hope for in 2018? Acceptance? No, thanks. We’ll take celebration, adoration, exaltation, and a whole bunch of better TV shows.”
I do have to say that there is a lot that I love about the show. The fact that the Fab Five are so physically affectionate with each other is amazing, especially since intense/toxic masculinity often requires men to not be physically affectionate towards friends. And there are so many ways in which the show tackles toxic masculinity in pretty subtle ways. I also love that Karamo heard from deaf fans of the show that the subtitles were often wrong and said he’d use his access to Netflix to try and rectify this issue.
And Skyler Jay actually did an interview with the site them about his experience with the show and did say that he had a great week with the Fab Five and it’s hard to condense the entire week into a 45 minute show. He even talks about how Bobby helped him out after their week and after he had another surgery. To be honest, reading that interview definitely changed a lot of my own discomfort about the episode.
And it turns out that there are many ways in which the Fab Five have kept in touch with the subjects from the show and as mentioned, there’s so much else that happens during their time with people that we just don’t see on the show. For example, I learned while reading a recent interview with Karamo Brown: he actually helped Bobby Camp from season one episode five find a new job!
Ultimately, Queer Eye is a just one reality show and like any other reality show, it crams months of work and conversations into just a handful of 45 minute episodes and centers only five people in a diverse and wonderful community. I’ll admit that even with the flaws, I still love Queer Eye and the Fab Five, largely because they do remind people that self care is not a selfish act. You can care and provide for others while also spending time and resources caring for yourself.
With such a relatively limited amount of queer media, so much of the media that does exist has a large burden of trying to represent such a diverse community. And while I know that one show can’t be truly representative of the entire queer community, I hope that Queer Eye’s success can mean more shows like it with many more queer folks starring, writing, directing, and working behind the scenes. Pose from fx (staring folks like Angelica Ross and Our Lady J and produced in part by Janet Mock) is just one example!