Building Bridges, One Manicure at a Time
"Queer Eye for the Straight Guy," really does trek
into new television territory. Take the case of John, a shaved-head,
broad-shouldered, tough-guy cop from New York City, who is
befuddled by his relationship with beautiful girlfriend Ayana.
John sits on the couch, hunched over with his hands grasped
on his knees, discussing his problem with Jai Rodriguez, "Queer
Eye"'s resident "culture expert." "Couples
grow too comfortable with each other and become more like
roomates. You can compromise yourselves into a rut. Combatibility
is a good thing, but too much comfort can put out the fire."
John nods, knowingly. When was the last time you saw that
on television? Two guys sitting on a couch, talking about
real relationshipsnot Bachelor strategizing, not Adam
Corolla and Jimmy Kimmel discussing Juggy virtuesbut
two guys talking maturely about the intimate aspects of love
and living together.
The knowing sensitivity of their talk points to how obdurate
the conservative, "Christian" argument against gay
marriage really is. Marriage, they say, is a union between
a man and woman because of God's commandment to populate the
Earth. But is marriage just the mere facilitation of children?
This utilitarian, misogynist view of marriage shows exactly
how little Conservatives understand about love. Maybe that's
why Rush Limbaugh, Newt Gingrich, Ronald Reagan, Bob Dole,
Phil Gramm, George Will, Dennis Hastert, et aland now
let's add House Minority Whip Roy Blunt to the listpreach
about the sanctity of the institution, but can't seem to keep
Enter Bravo's new hit series "Queer Eye for the Straight
Guy," Pop Culture's single most persuasive argument for
gay marriage. The show has been accused of peddling stereotypeswhich
it does, to a certain extentbut it's not a farce. On
its surface, "Queer Eye" is a quirky twist on the
home improvement/makeover show, but many subtexts emerge,
which deepens its impact beyond Bravo's demographically-based
pandering. Each show begins with the Fab 5 pulling up in their
black SUV; they prance (ok, Carson is the only one who actually
prances) into some frumpy straight guy's home, and proceed
to weed out all the unattractive elements. The guys are rarely
repulsed by the Fab 5 antics (which are edited into a club-themed,
map-cap romp); they know their souls are lost, and summoning
the Fab 5 is the cry for help. The only crimeother than
those of fashionis the inability to attract sophisticated
women, or the neglection of a girlfriend or wife. Perhaps,
had Congressman Blunt the courage to summon the Fab-mobile
to his Strafford ranch, he might not have dumped his wife
for that tobacco lobbyist.
Yet, the women of these straight guys aren't vain; they just
need and deserve a little attention. I've heard guys say they
absolutely won't watch the show, as if they'll catch "the
gay" just by tuning in. But what those "guys"
don't understand is how their anti-woman their "macho"
act is. The Fab 5 show that personal care isn't necessarily
vanityit can be an expression of love. The most endearing
aspect of the show is the final fifteen minutes, when the
Fab 5 gather on the couch to watch a tape of their neophyte
employing his new knowledge of grooming, cooking, and fashion.
The boys genuinely cheer for love, and they take pride in
seeing their "lessons" being put into action for a receptive
and appreciative femaleor whoever the loved one would
happen to be. What's so anti-feminist, or for that matter,
un-macho about that? It's a refreshing counterpoint to the
misogyny that currently pervades sit-com humor, that men just
want women to leave them alone until it's time for housekeeping
and sex. The girlfriends and wives are not the Juggy Dance
Squad; they're usually sophisticated career women who deserve
the dazzle the Fab 5 can bring out in a man.
The Fab 5 show you how to be sophisticated, how to elevate
yourself to the woman who makes you want to be
better. Ted (Food and Wine), Kyan (Grooming), Thom (Interior
Design), Jai (Culture), and Carson (Fashion) storm into a
frumpy guy's home and, after the mad-cap credits, they talk
with the guy about his goals, about who he wants to be. Remarkably,
Thom takes most of his stuff, especially that with sentimental
value, and incorporates it into a new designit's still
his, just with more life. Ted doesn't just prepare a meal
for you; he shows you how to prepare the meal, because nothing
is more attractive than a man who takes the time to cook.
Kyan often speaks of "long term goals" with skin
care to keep you fresh with the energy of a youthful appearance.
Carson can make extra weight look suave, so that hours in
a gym aren't the end-all of sex appeal. Finally, Jai talks
about how to carry yourself, or teaches you how to danceanything
that sublimates the physical transformation into confidence.
The only over-the-top queer guy is Carson, who is baffled
by sports jerseys (he thinks a Karl Malone jersey has something
to do with Miles Davis and that "Gretsky" is a city
in Canada). If Carson doesn't offend you, then "Queer
Guy" is a breeze. And why not? Without Carson, I would
be completely ignorant of the benefits of wooden hangers,
the slimming effect of stripes over checks, the addition of
a button to change the look of a sport coat. I've heard cynics
say, "Well, this will last about a week, and then it'll
be back to the old stuff," but I don't think so. In the
first episode, straight guy Adam impresses his wife with the
new house, wardrobe, and newly separated unibrow. During the
toast, he says, "Honey, I want to introduce you to a
whole new guy. Thank you for putting up with me. I love you,
and I want you to be proud of me." Buoyed with newfound
confidence, the Fab 5 transforms the spirit as well as the
body and the temple. It's said best on the "Queer
Guy for the Straight Guy" official site, commenting
on John the cop's transformation: "John knows his girlfriend
is something special and so turned to the Fab Five for help
in making her feel special, too. Initially aprehensive but
ultimately unafraid to try new things — spray-on tans, man-quiche
— John demonstrated that he was willing to go to great lengths
to keep his long-term relationship with Ayana fun and fresh."
Consider the episode with George, a Fabio-inspired personal
trainer whose beach look has gone haywire. He may be a hunk,
but he's a momma's boy, and despite his Apollonian figure,
he lacks the confidence necessary for success in his professional
and personal lives. The guys cut his hair, clean his house,
and flatter his physique with fashion. George is so moved
that he actually cries as they leave: "Fab 5, I made
five new friends today." Later, during George's party,
he is brought to tears when talking about his new friends.
To which, Carson replies, "Well, it takes a village...people."
"People of all kinds enjoying good food and good drink.
That's family values," says Ted. Which is the essence
of the show: We don't need the Fab 5 swishing through locker
rooms, exploiting their own homosexulity for shock value;
we need to see the genuine commradery of straight and gay
men to demystify prejudices. "Queer Eye for the Straight
Guy" points us in the right direction.
A Step Forward For The Gay Community: A major league baseball
player coming out of the closet and being accepted by his
teammates as an equal.
Not a Step Forward: Carson discussing the slimming effect
of pinstripes with Jason Giambi.
Which is not to say that the show is entirely clean of effeminate
gay stereotypes, but underneath all the Queeniness of it (including
Carson's observation, "Well, everybody loves a pearl necklace"
right before a cut to commercial) is a very old-fashioned
ideal: Romance. Not Bachelorettes handing out roses, not construction
workers masquerading as millionaires, not sit-coms with really
fat sloppy guys with mysteriously beautiful wives who find
their repulsive behavior "endearing," but real romance. This
show really isn't about facials and new living rooms: In its
best moments, it's about rekindling romance for the person
who makes us want to be better peopleit's about understanding
and empathy, and the Fab 5 are the guiding spirits to that
ideal. As much as is made of how "edgy" it is because of the
straight/gay deal, "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy"
is really very old-fashionedand a lot less offensive
than all this stupid cocktease pseudo-lesbianism in the mainstream
these days. "Queer Eye" might raise the ire of Pat
Buchanan and Joe Lieberman, or for that matter, any anti-feminist
Childbearer Conservatives who peddles "morality"
as something other than empathy for other human beingsbut
it's the most human show currently on television. Or, as Kyan
says to a straight guy on his first spa trip, "We're
building bridges, one manicure at a time." Maybe Carson
needs to have a frank discussion with Roy Blunt about the
virtues of wooden hangers.