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for September 17, 2003

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"Eye" Spy
by Your Diva, Robin Pastorio-Newman

Your Darling, Your Diva, Your One True Love admits she watches Queer Eye for the Straight Guy with ambivalent feelings. Vexation does not preclude mirth, sometimes at the expense of the hapless makeover victims. Since we live less than forty miles from Manhattan, you can have this conversation with your best friend, who talks faster than a nervous co-defendant:
BF: - when he told me he was going to be on Queer Eye, I didn't believe him but there he was in the ad -
You: Wait, what are you telling me?
BF: The guy in the cubicle next to mine. At first I thought he'd just gotten his mullet whacked off, but then he told me he was on Queer Eye and it was great and he's this week's ad.
You: Okay, short version: the guy on this week's episode sits next to you at work?
BF: Minus the mullet, yes! Yes! Yes! He says the experience was very positive.
You: Does he ... smell better?
There is only a tiny chance you can find a new! improved! straight guy and ask him what he thinks of his magical transformation, not to mention the camera in his bathroom. We could ask this veteran of the grooming wars but that would require our best friend admit to him she'd divulged this information during a stage-whispered phone conversation on company time. This avenue is if not closed off to us then discreetly blocked with a tasteful orange traffic cone. Thing is, these erstwhile losers look less like life's victims afterward than like they might get a grip, and watching someone get a grip, however tenuous, is entertaining.
The problem arises when we think in terms of representation. In cultural terms, as in dreams, things and people are not themselves but symbols. In the case of Queer Eye, our experts are not engaging people adept in their fields but rather five lenses for viewing what mainstream culture thinks of gays. The producers have taken great care to make their Fab 5 personable and funny. We've seen this same concern taken with African-American and gay characters on television for decades, except now we see them in some - some - variety. The reason for this care is the perceived threat to mainstream straight white culture posed by African-American and gay cultures, which everyone knows but no one is likely to mention in the pages of TV Guide even at this extremely late date.
Critics of the show argue that it reproduces stereotypes in a manner palatable to people who get sweaty palms picturing boy-on-boy action on the mental silver screen. Yes, we can safely say that's the truth of the matter.
Do you doubt this? Change the vocabulary slightly and the point comes into focus.
Suppose you remake Eastern Europeans in the image of their ethnic opposites. How do you feel about Serb Eye for the Bosnian Guy? This may be a bit distant from you, but to affected parties, it's a nightmare. Suppose you remake Mediterraneans in the image of other Mediterraneans. Perhaps you have Greek Eye for the French Guy, unnerving cheesemongers and international shipping magnates alike. To make the point perfectly clear, picture ugly sponsor picketing of the TV show in which African-Americans remake losers of European descent. Yes, you have Black Eye for the White Guy. Get it? Reverse the color scheme. Get it? The acrid scents of litigation and lynching perfume the air.
On the one hand, our made-over men seem to benefit from the experience, and that's good. Straight men learn that gay men pose no threat to them, which is good (and stupidly overdue). Television viewers discover there's always more to learn about living, which is good. Cultural visibility is good. On the other hand, turning five interesting and engaging adepts in their fields into dancing monkeys is very, very bad.
What to do, what to do?

©2003 Robin Pastorio-Newman

All material ©2001-2014 Sean Carolan, except as noted.


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