Queer Eye is fine. I’ll start off by saying that. It’s fun, even. Queer Eye, a revival of the TV series Queer Eye for the Straight Guy which ran from 2003-2007, follows much of the same premise as the original: five gay men known as the Fab Five travel across America and perform makeovers. The Fab Five cover five distinct industries that gay men are stereotypically thought of to be experts. Jonathan, the yaaaas kween of Twitter and meme fame, does beauty, Tan fashion, Antoni food, Bobby interior design, and Karamo….hugs? I’m unclear. Each episode follows one person (the revival no longer specifically targets straight men but offers a diverse range of identities) who is nominated by their loved ones and needs the Fab Five’s help to become the person that they are truly meant to be. A large undertaking, but if anyone is going to help others overcome hardships and be better, it’s five hot gay men.
Branded as “more than a makeover,” Queer Eye is political -- although anything that involves gay men, I believe, inherently is. Now in its third season, the Fab Five move out of their Atlanta apartment and travel west to Kansas City to help a new crop of Americans. The season starts off with Jody who dresses entirely in camouflage and is an avid hunter. She is nominated by her husband who finds her to be the most beautiful woman in the world and wants her to feel the same way. It’s touching. A prime target for our Fab Five and a perfect pick from the producers. Jody represents white America. She hunts, works as a prison guard, and tends her own farm. She is supposed to be different than any member of the Fab Five, and when they meet, they’re all supposed to come together to realize that their similarities outweigh their differences. Effectively bridging the gap between people.
Nothing exemplifies this more than the heavily produced gun dialogue between Tan and Jody. Tan mentions previously thinking that no one should own guns, but after having family members who hunt, his mind is beginning to change. Jody talks about needing a gun for protection at work but also goes through rigorous safety training. Tan and Jody both eventually reach a consensus that gun laws need to change and be stricter. Brilliant. A national epidemic solved by the changing rooms of a J. Crew. If only our legislators had tried what clearly worked for Tan and Judy.
I don’t mean to sound cynical. The Jody episode is endearing and has interesting moments where Jody understands her personal style to be both masculine and feminine -- a pretty groundbreaking admission. But, as the season goes on, I could not help but think that the Fab Five do a disservice to issues that affect our communities, where structural issues seem to be solved relatively simply and easily. Essentially, what Queer Eye says is, you need to sit down and talk to someone you don’t agree with and you’ll eventually find out all the things you have in common. The onus is always put on the individual rather than examining the societal issues that caused all these problems to manifest in the first place.
An overarching theme of Queer Eye is setting aside time to care for yourself. Which, I agree is important. Finding clothes that fit you right will give you a renewed sense of self. A new haircut can be transformative -- it’s a known fact that gay men are most powerful right after they get a haircut. Proper skin care can leave you feeling refreshed and glowing. A clean and organized home can get you into a more structured headspace. Eating avocados comes with numerous health benefits. The list goes on. In a rather telling moment nearing the end of an episode revolving around a reclusive gamer, the Fab Five watch, in horror, as he applies hydrator to his face and then immediately wipes it off. Tan even jokes that those are the intended instructions for this expensive moisturizer. Clearly, the gamer did not understand the purpose of the moisturizer, and many Fab Five members clamor about the wastefulness of it all.
Self care costs money. The Fab Five are so effective at changing lives because they, essentially, just buy many products and luxuries the person they’re trying to help wouldn’t otherwise afford on their own. Jody, for example, even mentions that she and her husband both work full-time jobs and take care of a farm - of course buying clothing for fancy dinners is not at the top of her priority list. Jessica, a young lesbian in the episode titled “Black Girl Magic,” explains how she had to dropout of college because she could not afford it and now works in a Greek restaurant waiting tables. What the Fab Five does for these people is nice and can be life changing, but if a show is going to try to tackle political issues, maybe they should at least shed light on the economic disparities in America that force these people to make the choice between taking care of themselves and paying the rent.
What I’ll leave you with is this: America loves the idea of individualism. If you fail, that is entirely your own fault. You did not work hard enough. You were not smart enough. You did not pull yourself up by your bootstraps. Others succeed because they work hard and are smart. Much of this ideology around individualism lacks the understanding that many who do succeed do so because of structural advantages around race, class, gender, and sexuality. Queer Eye falls into this trap in many of the same ways. You can leave each episode feeling as though you have done something, that you’re better off for having watched than not, but the change that the show attempts to cultivate in its audiences rings hollow unless followed by some sort of action. Without critically examining society as a whole and placing the necessary work onto the collective rather than the individual, Queer Eye puts a bandaid -- or a layer of moisturizer -- on problems that affect us all.
Letters of Recommendation:
The Particular Sheen of America by Amtrak - Caity Weaver
Heavy: An American Memoir - Kiese Laymon
Us - Jordan Peele (in theaters)
The Other Two - Chris Kelly and Sarah Schneider (Comedy Central)
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