Wester&Lacroix.Seeing Straight Throught the Queer Eye

Queer eye is thus positioned at the intersection of

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Unformatted text preview: Fab Five’s] mission is to transform a style-deficient and culture-deprived straight man from drab to fab in each of their respective categories’’ (‘‘About us,’’ 2004, para. 2). In effecting this transformation, most episodes of Queer Eye follow the same predictable pattern, one easily recognizable to anyone familiar with the standard formula followed by most make-over shows. Queer Eye is thus positioned at the intersection of three important trends in American television programming. First, Queer Eye provides yet another venue for the growing presence of openly gay men and women on television in the United States.3 Second, the series’ rigidly formulaic format is similar to that of other supposedly ‘‘unscripted’’ reality remake shows in which a person and/or a home are radically and rapidly transformed in ways that unapologetically celebrate conspicuous consumption. This call to personal redemption through product consumption, reflected in Queer Eye ’s metrosexual aesthetic, is driven by contemporary culture’s moral imperative that we always look our very best. Third, the series contributes to the commercial co-optation of Queers, who have been pressed into promoting this product-driven self-improvement through a ‘‘normalization of consumer masculinity, which rejects aspects of traditional masculinity and depends on vanity 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 7 430 R. Westerfelhaus & C. Lacroix consumption’’ (Clarkson, 2005, p. 235). Presumably, as Queer Eye would have us believe, gay men have greater insights into decorating, fashion, fitness, and grooming than do straight men. This knowledge provides a sanction for the Fab Five’s ritual power over their straight clients, which they exercise within the limits imposed upon them by the series’ formula. We argue that Queer Eye ’s rigid, ritualistic formula functions strategically as a mediated ritual of rebellion . As Gluckman (1963) explains, rituals of rebellion grant their participants temporary license to violate selected sociocultural rules; in doing so, they provide much-needed outlets for expressing and relieving social tensions. Often, these violations register complaints against and provide critiques of the dominant social order by those oppressed by or distanced from that order’s center of power.4 The complaints and critiques are restrained, however, by constraints imposed by the formulas that shape rituals of rebellion. Rather than threatening the dominant order, such rituals actually promote social stability, even as they seem to challenge it. They do so by reaffirming the values and reasserting the social structure of the dominant order. Rituals of rebellion are thus strategies masquerading as tactics. It is from this deception, we argue, that such rituals derive their special power as a form of strategic rhetoric. In the past, organized religion and other traditional social institutions provided the normative ritual experiences used to perpetuate core sociocultural norms and the values associated with them. In the contemporary Western world, films, television series, and other offerings of mediated popular culture play a similar ritual function (Aden, 1999; Vande Berg, 1995). The popular media provide audiences with powerful ritual experiences that tap into and promote the mainstream’s sociosexual mythology. In doing so, mediated rituals perpetuate the heterosexist social order, often at the expense of Queers and Queer sexuality. This is the case with Queer Eye . Although the series seems to challenge heteronormativity, it does so in ways that reflect and reinforce sociosexual values that privilege and protect heterosexuality’s centrality, and which are antithetical to any overt expression of Queer sexuality. The show functions as a mediated ritual of rebellion that allows only a few highly controlled, minor, and temporary violations of the mainstream’s sociosexual order. These violations assume the form of breeching experiments that highlight the very heteronormative sociosexual conventions Queer Eye egregiously * though impotently * flouts. Indeed, like other rituals of rebellion, Queer Eye institutionalizes, and thus tames, its own complaints against and critiques of the dominant social order. In the end, Queer Eye ’s ritual formula reaffirms the naturalized conventions that simultaneously privilege the (mainly white) heterosexual male while disprivileging (mainly white) gay males.5 Given the influence of such rituals, Queer criticism must identify the form that these rituals take, the logics that inform them, and the values they promote. In our critical engagement of Queer Eye , we examine 10 representative episodes * culled from the series’ first two seasons (Collins, Williams, & Metzler, 2003, 2004) * that illustrate the show’s rigid ritual formula.6 Out of the 211 episodes listed on the series’ webpage (‘‘Episode Guide,’’ 2006), only four deviate from this formula.7 Most episodes of Queer Eye slavishly adhere to the series’ formula; and in do...
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