But I would argue that the new Queer Eye feels great in more of an anesthetic than the usual way. In some time when anti-LGBT sentiment in this country remains stubbornly consistent, the makeover show’s unremitting positivity feels similar to a numbing agent than a dose of pure joy. Yes, it feels great. But is it great to dismiss the pain right now?
Queer Eye amazes us with all the fantasy that homophobia in conservative parts of this country can be cured with haircuts and button-down tops–and while that’s a reassuring fantasy, it is also a dangerous you to indulge at a time such as this.
“The original show was fighting for tolerance,”fashion ace Tan France announces at the start of the first incident, delivering what is essentially the reboot’s thesis statement. “Our fight is for approval.”
The episodes which follow do make good on this promise–but at a carefully-staged way. The show provides plenty of human connection between Georgia men and the new Fab Five who might have never spent considerable amounts of time together with people.
As my Daily Beast colleague Kevin Fallon noted in his mixed review of the reboot, “you wager those minutes tug at your heartstrings when you watch.” I’m not made out of rock; there’s an undeniable power from the reboot that’s only improved by the setting.
Nonetheless, it’s important to remember that everyone who looks on this show–including the police officer who hunted for Trump and the leader–signed up to be about the show. They were vetted, chosen, and hand-picked from the Queer Eye production team.
Much has been made from how this reboot into Trump country. But this is not a show that finds virulently homophobic individuals and turns them into LGBT allies; this really is a show that finds individuals who a liberal crowd may think would be homophobic–that may even say a couple of homophobic things– that are amenable to the notion of being in close proximity to homosexual men for the length of a take.
In other words, Queer Eye is not so much creating acceptance where there’s none; it is giving some much-needed homosexual friends to people that are already likely to take them.
This downgrades, somewhat, the emotional reaction I had to those episodes. What comes as bridge-building that is transformative across onscreen is really somewhere between pleasant shoulder-rubbing and that.
As one Vulture reviewer of the fifth installment set it, “obviously [Pastor Bobby] has to be cool with gay dudes or he wouldn’t have been with this show in the first place, but it was really wonderful to hear that he’s us down”
Nice, yes, but maybe not or hope-inducing.
As somebody who lived in Georgia for five years–and that spent the summer of 2017 at Utah, Texas, Arkansas, Indiana, Tennessee, and Mississippi composing a forthcoming publication about LGBT activism from red states–I am aware that the divide in this country around LGBT issues can hardly be solved with free kitchen renovations.
What’s holding the LGBT community back in this country are not people like Tom, the adorable bearded man from the Queer Eye premiere who inquires wed designer Bobby Beck the impolitic question, “Are you the husband or the wife?”
The problem is the 1 third of Americans that, based on Gallup, nevertheless believe that homosexuality is “morally wrong”–and also how those Americans, by virtue of their geographic distribution and voting habits, essentially control a powerful political party’s stance on social issues.
I am not saying that countries like Georgia are homophobic hellscapes–as I’ve written previously, I really prefer the sensation of LGBT community and solidarity in red states to the open support found in several coastal blue regions–but I’m saying that bias in the U.S.A runs much deeper than an optimistic program such as Queer Eye is able to show.
The queer individuals I met on my 2017 red-state road excursion have seen more cultural shift than LGBT people in New York or even L.A. might expect–but it is slow, painful, halting shift.
It comes in the form of agonizing conversations with anti-LGBT loved ones, often held over several decades. There’s no team of lifestyle gurus with Netflix money who swoop into change hearts and minds. Progress is hard-earned–and there are no shortcuts to the end line.
This is where you could say that Queer Eye is meant to entertain, first and foremost, not to record the reality of anti-LGBT discrimination at a country like Georgia. Really let my guard down, kick back, and appreciate this selection of stories?
This appears to be exactly what many critics have done up to now. Vice known as Queer Eye “the least cynical seeing you’ll like this season,” imploring viewers to let it “defrost your frozen-over heart”
BuzzFeed believed it “empowering and positive.” EW highlighted the fact that their TV critics cried, with one noting that the experience of watching Georgia men interact with the new Fab Five “does the soul good, especially in these days that were broken.” I watched all of the episodes and was entertained, and felt my soul swell. I cried.
But largely I consented with Slate‘s J. Bryan Lowder, who broke with the pack of critics, composing who “the producers are heavily encouraging (controlled) minutes of cultural and philosophical friction–every one of that need to, naturally, resolve in warm understanding.”
Queer Eye never lets us moan too far into treacherous land, staying securely on the wrong side of the thin line between confidence and navet.
Georgia is a country where among the trendiest and most queer cities in the nation is surrounded on all sides by counties. The country is a mixture of contemporary and traditional, conservative and progressive. It’s truly the ideal setting for a reality show to navigate the battle of cultural values which will establish this country’s future.
The new Queer Eye might have been a different beast than the original, keeping up the self-improvement fun while allowing space for harder borders. On the contrary, it supplies a sentimental sugar showing us glimmers of tension but always lest we get too sad about the state of the planet, rebounding back. Just like bowling together with the bumpers up watching these episodes feels: Nothing can go wrong.
That would be OK if Queer Eye were just a show about getting rid of straight men’s ill-fitting pants. It’s not. It’s also a show that aspires to be about “acceptance” And approval looks a whole lot messier.