Queer Eye: Making Over its Heroes and the Reality TV Industry

Riddle me this: what do five gay men, middle-America makeovers and avocados all have in common?

If the title of this article doesn’t give it away, then you’re just as bad at reading as I am at telling riddles!

But yes, Netflix’s Queer Eye reboot will always be a great obsession of mine and my go-to recommendation for your next binge watch. It follows the same premise of the wildly popular Queer Eye For The Straight Guy that aired back in 2003 to 2007, where the ‘Fab Five’ – five homo-sapiens with expertise in fashion, cooking, grooming, design and culture – makeover everyday (typically straight) men. The idea that a gay man had the knowledge and know-how to improve another man’s life, a straight man at that, was something very new for television.

AntoniBobbyJonathonKaramo and Tan are more than just perfect human beings with killer insta’s (totally getting paid to plug them), but they’re the new fresh-off-the-rainbow faces of the reboot.

There literally hasn’t been an episode where I didn’t feel ALL THE EMOTIONS when they swoop into these people’s lives for a week and straighten them out (I’m hilarious).

Reality television (TV) is notorious for being a bad influence – sans Queer Eye. From promoting meanness and course language, to alcohol and substance abuseit paints a pretty not-pretty picture.

Television as a medium is very powerful and influential. So whilst it can endorse the ‘bad’, it can also show the ‘good’ and shape a person’s perceptions and attitudes on an array of varying topics. It can go beyond simply providing mind-numbing and stereotyped entertainment and actually be a positive force by allowing everyday voices and conversations on a variety of social issues to be heard in the public sphere.

Not only do the boys make-better each person, but they elicit change in conversations around masculinity, representation and influence.

Guys, it’s okay to cry

Queer Eye focuses less on the superficial makeovers of their heroes, but instead focuses on overcoming toxic masculinity and opening men up to their emotions. The fact they even refer to their makeover-ees as ‘heroes’, speaks volume to the level of respect and care they have for them. They’re far from just an emotionless mannequin they can dress up and teach how to cook with avocados.

A show that allows men to open up and cry on camera is very unusual, even more so when other men are helping him deal with those emotions. An American advocacy group conducted a content analysis study across a variety of popular reality TV shows – the likes of Jersey Shore and Teen Momand found that only 21% of what the males said about themselves was ‘positive’. But on Queer Eye, in every episode a very supportive environment is shown, accompanied by an air of vulnerability and openness from the boys.

Exposing emotional pain and trauma is just as important as bandaging a wound on your arm. The toll it can have on not just your mental health, but physical health, is daunting. A Harvard study confirmed that bottling up emotions and pain can increase your risk of dying from heart disease. This confirmed an earlier 2000 Harvard study that showed negative emotions like anger, anxiety, and depression are linked to the development of heart disease.

The boys on Queer Eye don’t shy away from encouraging their heroes to open up and wear their emotions on their sleeves for once. And they’re all surprised to see that they aren’t less of a man for doing so. These are highly valuable traits in this age of television where there is constant bitch fighting over a man who doesn’t even choose one of them to be with (*cough Nick Cummins cough*).

I spy with my little eye… representation

Reality TV has continued to be a driving medium in conquering and showcasing diversity in media. Dropping ‘For The Straight Guy’ from the title just goes to show their mission is to help just about anyone, ladies, gay guys, rednecks, cops and Christians included. The show represents different kinds of people from all different kinds of backgrounds. From the heroes themselves, to the ‘Fab Five’, they all offer something for viewers.

The show affords a level of representation that is really not comparable to anything on reality TV and even in a wider view of television. Sure there was some queer representation before, like Will and Grace and The Ellen Show, but nothing to the extent of Queer Eye. Whilst these predecessors did wonders for queer representation on television and helped make the gays not look as scary as the boogie man, they weren’t aimed at bridging the gap between the whole community.

Whereas in Season 2, Episode 5, trans hero Skylar opened the floor and mic to the legislative restrictions and daily hardships the T’s of LGBTQ+ face. A lot of which the G’s were a little ignorant to, but the episode showed how having civil and respectful conversations can actually prove to be an effective way of communicating. *mind blown*

LGBTQ+ representation is important, especially in Australia as there’s a huge lack thereof.

With gay marriage now legalised in Aussie land and the days of the plebishit are behind us, now is the perfect time for more authentic representation on our small screens. Neighbours recently aired the first Australian same-sex marriage on tele in an episode guest starring our favourite frontrunner for equality, Magda Szubanski (whom my car, Mazda Szubanski, is named after). But the gay characters are just that, characters being played by straight actors. It’s a great stride in the right direction, but it still lacks that authentic queer eye *slaps knee*.

 

When the Queer Eye boys came down-under, they provided that eye for representation and did a mini-episode in the rural NSW town of Yass (picked for obvious reasons).

It’s only fitting that the YASS QUEEN’ing folk step in and make-better one of our own; George, a cattle farmer and former rodeo cowboy. Like George, toxic masculinity is deeply rooted within Australian culture. Especially when it comes to vulnerability and physical contact, which is usually seen as ‘weak’. This ‘touch isolation’ theory discusses that the lack of physical contact can adversely affect other aspects of life, like relationships and mental health.

George was a victim to this, but the ‘Fab Five’ did what they do best and broke down those walls by the end of the episode. Truly showing that no matter how big the wall is, it can be knocked down – I think Trump figured that one out too.

Let’s talk about sex politics, baby

Both in 2003 and in 2017, there was a Republican administration in the White House. For those that don’t follow our red, blue and white friends’ politics, they’re the more conservative ones. There seems to be an ironic correlation that whenever a Republican is in office, Queer Eye comes out to play. So even though Trump might be reelected in 2020, I guess Queer Eye is here to stay for another four years (the only benefit of our favourite Oompa Loompa sitting in the big chair).

Political candidates have relied on television’s ability to convey their messages to a mass for decades. From advertising campaigns, to debates, TV has been a go-to for all things politics. In recent years, social media and television have increased the amount of political commentary and opinion pieces that circulate. Yet, what’s typically afforded is a one-sided monologue, rather than a two-way conversation. It might be visible to us on our idiot boxes, but it’s far from healthy or respectful.

The boys with the queer eyes showcase just how healthy it can be on reality TV, of all things. They discuss topical issues like racial profiling, discrimination and harmful legislative LGBTQ+ provisions in a very grounding and organic way.

When it comes to inciting messages for a mass audience, these types of conversations are more digestible in the reality format. It grounds the idea of politics and encourages discussions and learning opportunities over the dinner table, rather than yelling at each other at a party after too many drinkies.

When you live in a country where many have fought for a significant time gaining political recognition, it can be a very distressing thought to have it taken back away.

Karamo Brown (Mr Culture) touched on this in an interview addressing the state of the States and how the show has helped open the doors to respectful dialogues:

“The fact the government is against you is hard – even in America. We have a vice president who is adamant that he hates the gays, and is doing everything to remove us from the history books. It’s important that we show who we are holistically as gay men, but also that we start to help our allies understand that we still need their support.”

Democracy is our reality and we shouldn’t shy away from holding those in power accountable, because we’re the ones with the real power.

Netflix: Are you still watching ‘Queer Eye’?

It’s rare a sequel, let alone a reboot 11 years later, actually lives up to the hype. Queer Eye doesn’t just makeover better their heroes, but they make us better for watching and growing with them from episode to episode, like the gurus they are.

Queer Eye is creating a true dialogue to happen on screen, rather than a one-sided monologue to a mass audience.

Even though reality TV has been and will be around for as long as houses need renovating or wildy-coloured cravats need wearing, maybe all the industry needs is a queer eye to shake things up a little.

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