The days of blazing summer are mostly behind us, with them passes a season full of pop culture. These past few months contained multitudes, from the high highs of “Everything is Love” by Beyoncé and Jay-Z to the low lows of movies like “Skyscraper,” the peaks like “Sorry to Bother You” and valleys like Kanye’s bizarre album, “Ye.”
Regardless of where your tastes lie, I would hope that you took the time to watch “Queer Eye” on Netflix. A revival of the show from the mid-2000s with a new cast, the show has achieved critical success as well as widespread cultural impact. If you have watched it, congratulations, and if you haven’t, you should. Queer Eye is an essential show in this day and age because of its entertainment value and its capacity to help you as a person.
It should go without saying that for a television show to attract and retain viewers, the program has to be entertaining first and foremost. Queer Eye makes this happen on several fronts. It is fundamentally a makeover show — the Fab Five, who are experts on food, design, hair and grooming, culture, and design, enter the life of someone who’s been nominated by a friend or family member for one week. We witness the raw pleasure of transformation, seeing folks go from unkempt, disorganized, and sometimes dirty to having a completely redone home, personal aesthetic, and new worldview.
It seems preposterous that in just a week these strangers can profoundly alter a person’s life, but the Fab Five get results. Just look at their very first makeover, Tom: the man went from drinking Mountain Dew-tequila cocktails in his dingy apartment to remarrying his ex-wife and living in a clean space with some sense of agency over his own self-care and well-being.
The Fab Five are reason enough to watch. Style expert Tan France not only takes people’s style from zero to 100, but does so as an openly gay Pakistani man, representing an identity that isn’t too common on the television screen. Jonathan Van Ness is, without a doubt, one of the most savvy entertainers to arrive on the scene in the last few years. He has won an Emmy, is one of the most engaging podcast hosts out there, was responsible for the fabulous web series “Gay of Thrones,” and gives incredible haircuts and grooming advice.
Neither Antoni Porowski, the food expert, nor Bobby Berk, the design expert who redoes a house or apartment in the span of a week, do as much as those previously listed. However, Porowski works to provide people control over their diet and brings a real passion to his work. Karamo Brown, culture expert, brings shy and reticent folks out of their shells to lead a more confident and intentional life.
Also, much of the work done by the Fab Five can be translated into your own life. Tan France’s style tips are sharp, modern, and personalized. Maybe you don’t have the same sensibilities as some people on the show, but watching France work has the potential to make you more intentional with how you dress. He emphasizes feeling confidence and putting effort into what you wear as little ways to improve day-to-day life.
Jonathan Van Ness drives home the point that taking care of yourself doesn’t have to be something non-masculine, instead that taking time to care for your body is one of the best favors you can do yourself. Take some of Berk’s design tips and apply them to your dorm room or your house. Brown and Porowski might not have super applicable advice for Colorado College students, but their words are worth hearing and their actions worth seeing nonetheless.
Queer Eye, though, is easily problematized. Many episodes are focused on the Fab Five and their queer identities improving the lives of straight men. If given thought, this certainly complicates the entire production. In its reboot this year, Queer Eye dropped the “for the Straight Guy” that was attached to the title during its original run on Bravo. They are actively trying to accept a diverse group of nominees now, helping gay men of color, women, and transgender men, expanding the range of their efforts to improve the lives of as many people as they can. The show is by no means a panacea for the difficulties faced by queer folks in pop culture who want to see people that look like them, but it’s certainly a step in the right direction.
While acknowledging that the depiction of queer identities on the national pop culture stage has improved since the early 2000s, it is incredibly powerful and important to see positive images of gay men on an enormous pop cultural stage. Each member of the Fab Five is distinct, none of them a caricature.
Through honest representation of gay men onscreen, wonders can be done to bring those identities into the mainstream. In the very first episode, they let us know that “this time,” the show is about acceptance. I’m on board with that agenda, and I hope you’ll give it a chance.