In 2003, we needed them. Conservatives were back in power, a false narrative got us into war in Iraq following the 9/11 attacks and continued hostility towards LGBTQ people was the norm. Parts of the world seemed more progressive. Belgium became the second country to legalize same-sex marriage. But in the U. S. of A., many states had already begun to draw up legislation to ban marriage equality. After a few decades of slow but steady progress, all seemed lost.
And then, THEY showed up. Queer Eye for the Straight Guy debuted. The “fab five” consisted of a foodie, a fashionisto, a groomer, a decorator, and the “culture vulture” – all gay men. The premise of the show was simple: straight dudes get all Eliza Doolittle’d so that they can go out and openly date/marry the woman of their dreams, a premise that was evidently so groundbreaking the show won the Emmy for Best Reality Programming in 2004. However, the show’s purpose was to show that gays are good at the things that they’ve always been stereotyped for doing, and that those roles were useful to society, so the straight world had better accept them and keep them around.
In 2018, we have armed conflicts in the Middle East, a toupeed baboon for a president, BUT we have finally achieved marriage equality. Why did Netflix decide it was time to reboot Queer Eye? According to the first official trailer for the reboot, we no longer need to fight to be tolerated, but now, we are fighting to be accepted. In this reboot, all of the same roles are being filled by a different cast of experts. The latest batch of “fairy godfathers” might appear on first glance to be a more diverse group, but they all seem to have 3% body fat, are under the age of 40 and are rocking full heads of hair. The trailer promises to tackle additional challenges, more timely societal movements, such as the Black Lives Matter. Though there is one constant: we are still fighting to be accepted and respected for… our expertise in hair, decor, culture, food and fashion.
This time, instead of clearly liberal New York City (no one’s conservative there, right?) Netflix is bringing it to the American South, because nowhere is more intolerant than the American South. But we’re not talking about Jackson or Little Rock. Netflix is bringing it to Atlanta. The very Atlanta that was ranked #1 “Gayest City in America” by The Advocate, a ranking that was bestowed in part by a point system that included… Netflix rentals as a barometer for gayness! The very Atlanta with the rainbow sidewalks in Midtown were championed by #basic reality star Robert (Finding Prince Charming) Sepulveda Jr. The metric for finding a place of “intolerance” seems mostly based on the state’s notoriously large tax incentives for entertainment industry production.
The current state of LGBTQ media representation is small, but powerful. We have mainstream, award-winning network sitcoms like Modern Family displaying all the banality of gay life, the perplexing and ever-shifting Sense8, your mom’s favorite talk show, Ellen, and the reigning grande dame of gay TV, RuPaul, with his Drag Race and associated spin-offs. So with all of this in-your-face normalcy (straight women now make up a huge part of Drag Race viewers), why resuscitate these tired stereotypes in 2018?