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Sullivan, 2003; Walters, 2001). As a ritual of rebellion, Queer Eye allows for some
violations against, and complaints regarding, the heterosexist order. In the end,
though, Queer Eye domesticates * rather than emancipates * its gay protagonists by
controlling their access to straight spaces and managing their sexual impulses while
they are there. In doing so, the series reassures the social mainstream by rendering the
heterosexist sociosexual order safe from any possible Queer contamination. We
suspect that this reassurance is one of the factors driving the show’s popularity.
During the decades since the Stonewall Riots of 1969, Queers have rightfully refused
to remain excluded from and invisible to the broader social order. As a result, the
media landscape is far different from that charted by Russo (1987) in his classic The
Celluloid Closet . Today, Queers are quite visible in the media, and a wide range of
Queer characters is represented. Television shows featuring Queers and Queer themes
have generated good ratings; and since good ratings are profitable, we can expect to
see more of the same. As a result, television has become a hotly contested site of
negotiation between the values of the heterosexist mainstream and Queer sexuality
(Battles & Hilton-Morrow, 2002; Capsuto, 2000; Dow, 2001; Gross, 2001; Hart, 2003,
2004; Kooijman; 2005; Slagle, 2003; Tropiano, 2002). Queer critics now face new 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 7 440 R. Westerfelhaus & C. Lacroix challenges in critiquing series like Queer Eye , which often simultaneously challenge
and reaffirm the heterosexist sociosexual order.
Rituals of rebellion are notoriously difficult to control, and Queer Eye is no
exception. Such rituals paradoxically possess an emancipatory potential that runs
counter to their reaffirmation of the dominant order. Indeed, even as Queer Eye
contains Queer sex, it also calls into question the heteronormative ideology that
makes such containment desirable. After all, the inclusion of five openly and
unapologetically gay men as the heroes of a prime-time television series is a bold
refusal to settle for the kind of Queer invisibility that had once been routine. During
the course of helping their clients, these gay heroes critique the straight world in
which they must operate. Their complaints are often couched in humorous
comments. In his examination of resistance to colonial domination, Scott (1987)
identifies the tactical use of humor as a weapon that enables those who are weak or
oppressed to challenge their oppressors. In the Western world, this weapon has been
used to good effect by African Americans, gays and lesbians, women, and other
marginalized people. As Tasker (1998) points out, Queer humor threatens heteronormative ideology by exposing and inverting its biases. The Fab Five’s humorous
comments also challenge the naturalness of the heteronormative order by making it
seem strange. However, just as challenges to patriarchy are ‘‘articulated in the context
of masculinist ideologies’’ (Gamman, 1989, p. 18), the challenges posed to heterosexist hegemony by Queer Eye draw from, and are situated within, a popular culture
permeated by hetero-ideology and the pervasive strategic rhetoric supporting it.
Predictably, Queer Eye reaffirms the heterosexist sociosexual order, even as it poses
a subversive challenge to it. Indeed, the Fab Five’s complaints about and critiques of
the messy living quarters, slovenly dress, careless grooming, and hairy backs of
straight men deal with superficial issues that do not significantly challenge the
foundations of the heterosexist order. This is the genius of rituals of rebellion as a
form of strategic rhetoric. They help maintain the dominant social order by deflecting
attention away from contested issues of central importance, and focusing instead
upon unimportant peripheral issues. Only rarely, as for example when Thom
complains that he lacks a partner when the less than perfectly dressed Rob Munroe
has one,14 does Queer Eye question the naturalness of the heterosexist order in any
meaningful way. More often, however, the series supports such institutions as
heterosexual marriage without forcefully calling into question the fact that gays and
lesbians are denied the right to marry.15
Thus, the ritual formula of Queer Eye domesticates the show’s Queer protagonists.
Although the Fab Five are the show’s stars, their straight clients are at the center of
each episode. Straight bodies, not Queer ones, are the focus of appreciative
comments, admiring gazes, tactile attention, and sexual desire. In spite of fashion
faux pas and grooming inadequacies, straight men are framed as the obvious *
because natural and normal * object of sexual desire on the part of the straight
women with whom they are involved and the gay men who have come to help them.
When it comes to the latter, their sexua...
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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.
- Spring '14