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Why You Need To Watch: Queer Eye


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You should be watching Queer Eye. Why? It’s the perfect show for today.

Reborn to be as important in 2017-2018 as its original version was between 2003-2007, Queer Eye is vital, wonderful viewing. The rights of LGBT people have changed a lot in a short time. In the 1990s, LGBT media representation was increasing while LGBT rights were challenged through legislation like 1996’s Don’t Ask Don’t Tell (DADT) and the Defence of Marriage Act (DOMA). The decriminalization of homosexuality across the states was still in process and would take until 2003 to be completed. 

It was in this climate that Bravo’s Queer Eye for the Straight Guy emerged in 2003, the year homosexuality was finally decriminalized.

Over five seasons, the original Fab Five came into the lives of overwhelmingly straight male participants and helped improve aspects of their lives, performing not a Makeover but a “Make Better”. The impact of the show was immense. For the first time, many heteronormative households across the USA were engaging with gay individuals, inviting them into their homes each week. However the show portrayed the hosts in quite flat and stereotypical terms and it was media portrayed through a straight heteronormative lens not a queer lens. 

Following the cancellation of the original show, LGBT rights took huge steps forward, although this was, and is still, challenged. In 2015, the Supreme Court declared same-sex marriage legal in all 50 states. During Barack Obama’s two terms, he committed himself to supporting LGBT rights and delivered in this respect. Transgender rights however have been opposed through state bathroom bills while President Trump is attempting to ban transgender individuals from the military. 

In just ten years all this has occurred, and it is in this context that the incredible new version of Queer Eye has emerged on Netflix. The hosts are now Antoni Porowski (food and wine expert), Tan France (fashion expert), Karamo Brown (culture expert), Bobby Berk (design expert) and Jonathan Van Ness (grooming expert). Unlike the previous show, the Fab Five are given real character and voices. While there are straight guests who we might have met on the original show like slovenly older man Tom (who has lost his girlfriend), religious patriarch Bobby or Cory (a Nascar-loving Trump-supporting Cop), the scope of the show is wider, with gay man AJ in the first series, and series two featuring the first woman and trans man guests. 

The stereotypical facades each guest projects is taken apart, giving them depth. Tom, we discover, has crippling self-esteem issues and declares they “can’t fix ugly” like him while Cory connects with Karamo, a black man, and both speak candidly and maturely about Black Lives Matter and Police Brutality despite their differences which they both note. The best episode however is AJ’s. A black gay man in Atlanta, he calls himself the “straightest gay man in Atlanta” and is not out to his stepmother. Over the episode we see the fab five speak honestly about their own coming out experiences and Karamo notes how difficult it can be for gay men in the black community. At the end, AJ comes out to his stepmother through a letter written to his late father. They embrace and AJ’s life finally seems fully his own. As AJ notes: “I expected more of an external transformation. But what I didn’t realize was this was a transformation inside.” 

The “Make Better” ethos of the series is extremely relevant today. Toxic masculinity is highly present in society today through groups like MRAs and Incels. The latter has even had men murder in its name like Elliott Rodger and the Toronto Killer.  The men assert that they should receive sex readily in virtue of their maleness. A response to it is non-toxic masculinity. A meme making the rounds currently shows example of what this might be. It calls for a masculinity which is tender, confident, feeling, and not constrained. Men should be able to be emotional without being called terms using femininity as a negative. 

In Queer Eye, this embrace of a positive masculinity is emphasized. As Jonathan says: You can’t selectively numb feelings, so if you try to numb the vulnerability you also numb joy, happiness and connection”. Likewise the self-entitlement that those like Incels represent is challenged by the Fab Five who tell the men they meet that taking care of oneself and making an effort for others is how to get what they want in life. They state “how you take care of yourself is how the world sees you”. The Fab Five’s job is to help the men improve this and emerge from a “make better” as the best versions of themselves possible. Jonathan tells Tom that he’s sweet and has to show he has something to offer people. “Confidence is sexy”. By the end of the episode, Tom ‘s self-esteem has improved. Since the episode his better self has led his ex-girlfriend to start dating him again.

Queer Eye is a vital piece of media for 2018 and representative of how quickly representation and acceptance can change. While “the original show was fighting for tolerance”, Tan Frances says, “Our fight is for acceptance”. Funny, entertaining, emotional, moving and important, you really should be watching this show. The revival is fighting for different goals than the original show was, and that’s a good thing. Times change.

The show is fighting for people of all genders and sexualities to be their full best selves instead of feeling constrained by traditional roles in society. It wants to “Make Better” the world at a time when we frankly need it. 

Queer Eye is available to stream on Netflix.


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