Queer Eye for the Straight Guy made it to TV in 2003. American society was already well integrating the power messages of a post-Will-and-Grace world. The Gay Rights Movement didn’t make the move from hated and abused minority to a kind of legitimacy overnight. It is just it that almost feels that way in retrospect. BTW I am not saying there isn’t still much work to be done to uphold and expand what good has accrued.
The original QEftSG took gay stereotypes and turned them upside down. Instead of being bashed by the majority for being, for example, weak and effeminate, there were five out gay men transforming the life and looks of a lucky hapless straight guy in desperate need of an upgrade.
I am sure a show that based itself on such antiquated constructs binary constructs as “gay and straight” could seem quaint (or perhaps evoke ire) in today’s world of 58 shades of gender fluidity. Yet even a critic would be hard-pressed to capture the essence of the show with more pith. And that as a reality TV show in 2003, for God’s sake, there was something almost revolutionary about basic set up. Slovenly dudes, most of them white as I recall, getting help from gay men to jump-start their sex appeal with women.
Jump ahead to 2017/18 and the emergence of Queer Eye. It’s the same formula. 5 proud confident gay men hop in a car and come to the rescue of whoever their producers pick. The group presents expertise in their now familiar areas. There is exterior grooming, interior design, cooking skills, wardrobe enhancement and category now referred to as “culture'” powerful anchored by Karamo Brown. Ethnic diversity for both mentors and mentees are now much represented. Also in one episode, the recipient in need of attention was, in fact, himself gay.
One thing I noticed about each superhero of the “Fab 5” as they refer to themselves is that they intuitively embrace the old social work approach to help by “starting where the client is at.” For example, in one episode a fireman was being made anew in part by being taught how to make a hotdog gourmet.
What I didn’t expect, or perhaps have forgotten from the original series, is how directly the group’s interventions were targeted and how much genuine appreciation the beneficiaries expressed. Tears on the faces of all concerned were a common ending. Not infrequently for this viewer too. Indeed the QE group act collectively likely a well-coordinated agency of life coach interventionists. The fact that the fun they have, whether it is scripted or not, is nevertheless infectious. The way the QE team delivers its message is authentic enough to create the ensuing gravitas.
There are very few new ideas re TV show formats. In the ’70s An American Family about the Loud’s from Santa Barbara was a cutting edge example of cinema verite. Reality TV is its unfortunate, manipulated, and neutered progeny. From 1948-1970 there was Ted Mack’s Amateur Hour, itself a spin-off from a successful show on a radio of the 1930s, that was the basis for the Gong Show and American Idol.
Queer Eye partially harkens back to an impossibly sad show from my youth called “Queen for a Day.” The gist of that show was that 2 or 3 “contestants,” almost always poor white women of seemingly Appalachian descent, appeared each show and told the biggest sob story about their lives that they possibly could. At the end of the show, the audience would clap. Whoever received the loudest applause, as measured by a sound level meter which would appear on the screen so the TV audience could see who won, would walk away with a washing machine or some such.
I can imagine that many people who would lose it they received the generous living quarter makeover given on QE. The fact that that Fab 5 are perceptive, intuitive and enjoy themselves immensely ought to keep them on Netflix for a few more seasons. Well done!
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