Wester&Lacroix.Seeing Straight Throught the Queer Eye

According to gross 1998 positive depictions of gays

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Unformatted text preview: ing so, they D o w n l o a d e d B y : [ O h i o S t a t e U n i v e r s i t y L i b r a ri e s ] A t : 1 7 : 4 5 7 J u n e 2 0 0 7 Seeing ‘‘Straight’’ through Queer Eye 431 express and support the values of the sociosexual mainstream in ways that deserve serious critical attention. Queer Eye ’s Ritual Formula There is much to celebrate about Queer Eye , such as the visibility of openly gay men, their positive representation,8 and their easy fraternization with straight men. According to Gross (1998), positive depictions of gays and lesbians on television have the potential to benefit the Queer community. Not surprisingly, Queer Eye was recognized with a GLAAD Award in 2004. Still, much about the series demands close critical scrutiny. Some sources of concern, such as the show’s shamelessly stereotypical depiction of its gay protagonists,9 are obvious and of the kind that have long been the focus of Queer critiques of popular media portrayals. Less obvious, and therefore of greater critical concern, is the way Queer Eye strategically supports the heterosexist order while seeming to pose an irreverent challenge to it. It does so, we argue, by placing straight men and their concerns and crises at the center of each episode and defining them as socially and sexually desirable, even though they are deemed defective in several significant ways. This privileged treatment is in sharp contrast to the way Queer Eye robs the Fab Five of the full expression of their sexuality and ultimately renders them ritually peripheral to the heterosexuals they help by eventually exiling them from the straight world their clients continue to inhabit. Queer Eye ’s privileged placement of straight men is made possible, in part, by the series’ premise, reflected in the show’s title: there are gay and straight men, and the former can be of help to, and should serve the interests of, the latter. This premise is problematic from a Queer theory perspective in that it unquestioningly reaffirms the straight/gay dichotomy that is reflective of, and remains central to, mainstream culture’s heteronormative bias and the homophobia this bias fosters. Human sexuality in general, and Queer sexuality in particular, are far too fluid and complex for such easy categorizations. Still, Queer Eye reaffirms the notion that straight and gay are legitimate and mutually exclusive categories. Exploitation of this binary conception of human sexual orientation informs the ritual logic that shapes the show and drives the dramatic and sexual tensions which make watching the show such fun for its many fans.10 Indeed, in the absence of these two sociosexual categories, and the tensions that presumably would arise ‘‘naturally’’ from homoerotically charged interactions between gay and straight men, Queer Eye would be yet another makeover series focusing upon transformations that take people from some undesirable and miserable ‘‘before’’ to a hoped for and happy ‘‘after.’’ Liminal License Liminality is a defining feature of rituals of rebellion. Aden (1999) describes liminality as ‘‘both a state and a process in which a ritual transaction occurs’’ (p. 81). It is a ritual passage in which, as Turner (1967) puts it, one is betwixt-and-between, D o w n l o a d e d B y : [ O h i o S t a t e U n i v e r s i t y L i b r a ri e s ] A t : 1 7 : 4 5 7 J u n e 2 0 0 7 432 R. Westerfelhaus & C. Lacroix paradoxically a part of and yet apart from society. This liminal status provides the ritual logic sanctioning the temporary violations of selected sociocultural rules that occur during rituals of rebellion. This same liminal license allows the Fab Five to tame, tease, and touch their straight subjects in ways regarded as taboo in other contexts. The Fab Five’s liminal status is partly a function of the series’ ritual formula, which allows the five gay men only temporary and limited access to the straight world,11 and partly a function of the fact that they are gay. Indeed, Queers now occupy a liminal sociocultural space: no longer invisible, they are undeniably a part of society. Yet, they are still clearly kept apart in significant ways from the heteronormative social mainstream. Within the context of Queer Eye ’s ritual of rebellion, the Fab Five’s liminally limited transgressions against the sociosexual order * their taming, touching, and teasing of straight men * establish that, for a well-defined period of time, they are afforded a degree of control over their straight clients, so long as they do not violate the never negotiable heteronormative proscription against overt acts of homoerotic sexuality. The boundary that separates licit homosocial behaviors from illicit homosexual acts, while explicitly stated by neither the Fab Five nor their clients, is clearly observed by all. The Fab Five are allowed to grab, hold, hug, pat, and stroke straight men, but they are not permitted to kiss them. Any overtly sexual contact between the Fab Five and the straight men they aid is strictly verboten , although the possibility of such behavior can be flirtatiously hinted at, and often is. Queer Eye episodes are filled with tactile and verbal transgressions that stop short of overt homosexuali...
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This note was uploaded on 01/20/2014 for the course ARTEDUC 2367.03 taught by Professor Tiffanylewis during the Spring '14 term at Ohio State.

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