‘Queer Eye’ strives for acceptance in a new fight for representation
“The original show was fighting for tolerance, our fight is for acceptance.”
This is the sentiment that opens the first minute of “Queer Eye,” a Netflix reboot of the 2003 Bravo series “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy.” For those unfamiliar with the show, the concept may seem offensive or demeaning. Five gay men, each an expert in either food, culture, grooming, fashion or design, take a disheveled straight man and turn him into something beautiful. Yet the show is not an exploitation of stereotypes or a gaudy attempt at reality; rather, it is truly “a fight for acceptance,” as on-cast fashion expert Tan says.
Dallas, Georgia isn’t exactly a town that anyone would consider progressive. Located in the Deep South with a population of just 13,000, it encapsulates the classic hometown Southern attitude that is practically immune to change. But this is where Bobby, Karamo, Tan, Antoni and Jonathan, better known as the “Fab 5,” find their first project.
Tom is a self-described “country boy.” He’s got a lush beard, a rotund belly and a thick Southern drawl — the type of character who would seem more comfortable adorning a certain red trucker hat than a pair of suede Oxford shoes picked out for him by a gay man. When the Fab 5 find him, Tom is sitting in a stained recliner, drinking his special mix of Mountain Dew and tequila. He may look like a lost cause, and with his mantra of “You can’t fix ugly,” it’s clear that he certainly thinks he is.
Yet the last thing that “Queer Eye” will stand for is insecurity. This is a show about acceptance, and that means accepting every part of yourself and expecting others to do the same. The Fab 5 are unapologetically themselves, and they each have a vibrant personality that transcends the career stereotypes that people may try to fit them into. The same goes for Tom, who I myself am guilty of placing into a certain category. But Tom is a delightful character whose transformation from a jort-clad lonely man to a confident, flat-cap wearing grandpa was honestly tear-inducing.
And it’s through this realization and through the interaction between the men that the significance of the show becomes so evident. The politics are not obvious, but they are certainly present. Nobody has to ask what might be strange about bringing together these two demographics that are so often pitted against each other. But watching Tom cuddle up on a mattress with Jonathan and Bobby, talk love with Antoni and be vulnerable with Karamo — it makes a person start to question everything they thought they knew about how we should view and treat each other.
Normalizing this behavior is why it is so important that we have such queer representation on television. This decade is no stranger to a proliferation of queer characters on hit TV shows. From “Modern Family” to “Andi Mack” to “Will & Grace,” queer people are representing all different walks of life. And while all of that is wonderful, “Queer Eye” brings a new, perhaps more favored form of representation. In “Queer Eye,” queerness is obviously central, but it isn’t a plotline or conflict or ploy to get publicity. Rather, it is just something that permeates every aspect of the show, in all of its pure-fun glory. If you’re watching “Queer Eye,” you are going to be having a good time. Incorporating queerness into such a feel-good, relatable show not only encourages, but also fosters, acceptance.
As humans, our differences may seem far more important than our commonalities. It is hard to look at someone who leads such a vastly different lifestyle and believe that they too share the same hopes and wants and insecurities as you do. But if “Queer Eye” teaches us anything, it is that some prejudices and assumptions run only skin-deep and no matter the circumstances, there is nothing that a great makeover can’t fix.