Queer Eye for the Straight Guy

Starring:
  • The Slimming Effect of Stripes Over Checks
  • Wooden Hangers--Always Wooden Hangers!
  • Waxings

 

 
Directed by Transcendent Notions of Romance

The Fab 5 on their way to JimmyO's apartment to "Make-Better" the Hick Midwestern Farmer Look.

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 relationships—not Bachelor strategizing, not Adam Corolla and Jimmy Kimmel discussing Juggy virtues—but 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 al—and now let's add House Minority Whip Roy Blunt to the list—preach about the sanctity of the institution, but can't seem to keep theirs together.

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 stereotypes—which it does, to a certain extent—but 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 crime—other than those of fashion—is 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 vanity—it 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 female—or 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 design—it'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 dance—anything 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 people—it'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-fashioned—and 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 beings—but 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.

The Pitch:
2 "The New Yankee Workship" with Norm Abram
Plus
2 "Will and Grace"
Equals
4 "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy"
See It For:

Thom's reaction to the "Baldknobber's Guest House" motif of Shimes' apartment.