When Bravo’s new reality series Queer Eye aired last summer, it became a breakout hit and one of the most discussed television programs of the year with 3.34 million viewers per episode. Starring five gay men (the Fab Five) who perform makeovers on their straight “projects,” the program has accrued praise for its positive representation of gay men across media. Critics have called it a “public service…for our community” and one of America’s “greatest gay success stories.” The reviews were astounding, but they seem to ignore serious issues in the analogous depictions of the Fab Five.
What many of these critics overlook is how Queer Eye maintains the image of gay men to the Fab Five’s “fairy godmother” and feminine persona.
Although film experts such as Kylo-Patrick Hart have claimed, “the diversity of personalities and ways of being reflected by the individual members of the Fab Five implicitly reminds viewers that all gay men, like all straight men, are individuals, and that no single individual can ever adequately represent the diversity of an entire demographic group,” any viewer would have to disagree based on the blatant homogeneity of the so-called “diverse” Fab Five. For starters, the Fab Five are men trained in fashion, style, personal grooming, interior design and culture. When have these professions been seen as anything but feminine in our society? How could the Fab Five serve as a positive representation of gay men when all that is offered in the representation of gay men is that of femininity, insinuating that all gay men adhere to this characteristic?
Yet, it is not only the Fab Five’s occupations that are problematic but also their ways of expressions and speech.
Carson—the Fab Five who flaunts his feminine gayness —epitomizes the stereotypical flamboyant gay. Let’s look at “Make Room for Lisa: Tom K”—to name one of a million examples. As Carson is examining his “project’s” closet and finds only one pair of shoes inside, he freaks out, exclaiming, “Why is there like a total shoe drought in here. What’s going on? I’m freaking out. He only has one pair of shoes!” Now, to state the obvious: Carson’s gesticulated hand movements (jazz hands anyone?) and high-pitch squeal epitomize flamboyancy. He has a complete freak-out…over shoes! Could anything signify a stereotypical “flamer” more?
Carson freaks out in “Make Room for Lisa: Tom K” over Tom’s lack of shoes. See youtube video.
What’s even worse is that even the less “stereotypically” flamboyant Fab Five members’ ways of being sparkle with femininity.
Jai is the cultural guru and arguably one of the least “flamer-ey” of the Fab Five. Yet, even he is occasionally represented in this feminine way. In “Raising the Stakes: John B” Carson pretends to cut handcuffs off of Jai’s wrist and as he playfully brings an axe to the cuffs, Jai’s face expands in an exaggerated expression of shock, and he exclaims in a high-pitched voice, “No! No! Forget it! I’ll live with it. I’ll live!” Although if Jai were in real danger this reaction may be deemed understandable, Carson poses him no threat. Rather, Jai exuberates femininity as he embellishes the situation and acts as a little scaredy-cat with a voice five octaves above that of a prepubescent boy. The producers even made sure to highlight Jai’s theatrical fear by focusing the camera on his wide-mouthed expression. And JUST in case the viewer missed this very apparent touch, Ted even mentions, “Look how scared Jai looks.” The producers might as well have had him leave a rainbow path as he walked away!
Jai theatrically reacts to exaggerated danger in “Raising the Stakes: John B.” See youtube video.
This issue becomes even more problematic because rather than Queer Eye creating a sense of unity and community between straight and gay men, it maintains traditional assumptions of the dichotomy between the two.
Whereas the Fab Five are assigned to this fruity “fairy godmother” status as these makeover specialists, the straight men are represented as these macho-men full of bravado and manliness. Take for instance “He’s a Little Bit Country: John B” of this past season, when the project is a 6 foot Navy Seal Cadet with a mullet or “My Big Fat Greek Haircut: George K” when the project is a hulking body builder, all being made over by the scrawny Ellen DeGeneres look-a-like Carson. Not only are their ways of being differentiated, but so are their physical attributes. In what delusion could Queer Eye be one of the “greatest gay success stories” when it consistently creates a bipolar division between the gay and straight men?It’s quite ironic that it’s the same reviewers that are praising Queer Eye for its “breakthrough” status are those that have bashed NBC’s Will & Grace for “offering highly restrictive representations of gay men that lie at extreme opposites” since the only two gay characters in the show completely contrast one another with Jack’s homosexuality being openly flaunted and Will’s being easily overlooked. How can they reject one show for only showing two sides of a spectrum yet approve another for only showing one side of the same spectrum? There needs to be a middle ground: is gayness not just one aspect of a person? Queer Eye doesn’t seem to think so as it allows this one trait to dominate the Fab Five’s being, where their representations should be as diversified as the straight men’s in the show (scholars, jocks, slobs, etc.). Too many critics and viewers are focusing on the fact that Queer Eye features five gay men as its lead characters in a seemingly positive light (rather than in blatantly derogatory and sickly ways as traditional television series offered) and are therefore falsely praising it for increasing social tolerance and wider recognition of the status of gay men. Yet where is the common sense? How can critics be so distracted by the prominence of gay men in the show that they don’t realize that this alone does not make for a positive portrayal?
Too many critics and viewers are focusing on the fact that Queer Eye features five gay men as its lead characters in a seemingly positive light (rather than in blatantly derogatory and sickly ways as traditional television series offered) and are therefore falsely praising it for increasing social tolerance and wider recognition of the status of gay men. Yet where is the common sense? How can critics be so distracted by the prominence of gay men in the show that they don’t realize that this alone does not make for a positive portrayal?
Just because Queer Eye does not openly demean and bastardize gay men does not mean that it should be praised as the Holy Grail of television series of modern thinking. Although casting gay men is a step in the right direction, careful care needs to be taken to ensure that such representations are diversified and in fact positive, detracting from the societal misconceptions that gay men are confined to this feminine persona.