Is ‘Queer Eye’ a Step in the Right Direction or a Step Back?

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Sarah Grace Goolden
Staff Writer

The Netflix reboot of Bravo’s 2003 reality show “Queer Eye” was released last February and has thus far been welcomed with overwhelming support and praise. The premiere of the eight-episode season earned it a 96 percent on Rotten Tomatoes. Yet, as the show is renewed for season two, many are criticizing the stereotypes that continued to stick with the reboot.

The original “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy” features the “Fab Five”: a team of five homosexual men that utilize their respective areas of expertise to improve the life of an elected man through the use of fashion, interior design, health, personal hygiene and culture. These elements stay the same in 2018. However, as Tan France of the new Fab Five says in the first episode, “The original show was fighting for tolerance. Our fight is for acceptance.”

At the time, the thought of a show that revolved around the interaction of heterosexual and homosexual people was something that was completely new. Gay men became icons of style and trends; this is what made “Queer Eye” so revolutionary. The problem with this label is that it creates stereotypes.

The fashionable, pretentious gay man trope is something that has been repeated time and time again and has proven to be difficult to shake within the past couple years. It enforces this idea that LGBTQ+ people are all obsessed with shopping and won’t step out of the house without hair product. This isn’t necessarily as damaging as other clichés that exist, but it does build a barrier between the queer community and the rest of the population. The original “Queer Eye” was a fantastic start to getting LGBT+ representation into American households but that did not mean it was perfect and controversy-free.

It is not hard to tell that the reboot is heavy-handed with politics, but it might be near impossible to find anything starring LGBTQ+ people that are not. The Fab Five tackle issues such as police brutality, mental illness and internalized homophobia- all while transforming the lives of individuals, through more than just clothing and food. From the premise, it may seem to rely heavily on consumerism, but that is not the goal of the show. While updating their closets and finding healthy food alternatives, the Fab Five explain how confidence and self-love are key and how these kinds of routines can be helpful for mental health. Neglecting one’s hygiene is more than just being lazy; it is thinking that they are not worthy enough to take care of themselves. In the words of one makeover subject, Tom Jackson, many believe that “you can’t fix ugly.” Although the team focuses on outward beauty and style, it is to push forward the same kind of attitude on the inside.

A lot of fans have critiqued the show for not accurately representing queer people. For the most part, “Queer Eye” attempts to include intersectional characters, but many think it did not go far enough. The show features an African-American man and a Pakistani Muslim from the U.K. and seems comfortable broaching the subject of race. There are several over-the-top, flamboyant stars, as well as those who are more reserved – encouraging the notion that being gay does not have to look a certain way. However, in 2018, it is pretty safe to say that five cis gay men are not as groundbreaking as they were in the early 2000s. Many have called for more gender and sexuality inclusion to more accurately represent queer people, as the title suggests.

Kate Rawson, the Graduate Assistant for LGBTQ+ Outreach & Advocacy and advisor of UNCG’s Confetti, sees the show as “a positive representation of gay culture,” that serves as a “fun outlet” for heterosexual people to connect with the queer community. Her complaint, like many others, is their lack of diverse sexual identities.

I do not think “Queer Eye” is perfect, but it is still a celebration of the LGBTQ+ community that does one of the best jobs of connecting people out of any reality show I’ve seen. The interactions between very different political views are mature and respectful while also staying true to their beliefs.

One scene focuses on a conversation between Karamo Brown, an African-American gay man and Cory Waldrop, a conservative, white police officer with a love for Make America Great Again hats. They talk about law enforcement, violence against people of color and the stigma against cops. It is uncomfortable but that conversation is supposed to be awkward. “Queer Eye” went out on a limb diving into a controversial subject and that is the best part of the show: its willingness to not let differences hold individuals back from having meaningful and educational experiences. Though the cast may be comprised of cis gay men, it is still a show which is promoting love and acceptance which is something we still desperately need in 2018.

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