Last month’s FAR post detailed the blockbuster hit show Queer Eye. The Fab Five – Karamo, Tan, Bobby, Jonathan, and Antoni, not only inspire the people they are making over, but are using their growing fan base to become true agents of change.
One of the key factors in why this show is important is due to the changing landscape of culture and academics. 2019 has been shaped by years of Queer, Gender, and Media concepts and theories. We can talk about Laura Mulvey’s “Male Gaze” or Jose Esteban Munoz’s “performativity” when looking over episodes of Queer Eye. There is power in “queering the lens.” There is power in filling the space, starting the conversation, and challenging the dominate landscape. When the first Queer Eye premiered, media was heavily entrenched in the cliché of the “gay best friend”, either the super femme man who knew way too much about fashion for his gender and the overly butch aggressive lesbian. Audiences have demanded higher standards for a more diverse range of representation.
The importance of this current Queer Eye has brought the academic work of the last 20 years to televisions across the world, albeit packaged in a feel-good reality show. Nisha Rao writes,
First and foremost, it undermines the traditional views of masculinity as you watch the hosts and the guests change their ideals. More specifically, masculinity means something different to each of the men on the show and how they want to express that. The hosts don’t intend to change their guests, but rather boost their confidence so they want to change something about themselves. And, in that way, the show’s importance is clear. The show touches upon social justice, demonstrating its multifaceted capabilities in a world that devours cheap reality television.
The work being done has also extended to the rising celebrity statuses of the Fab Five.
Tan France has released a memoir entitled “Naturally Tan” where he explores what it was like growing up as a Pakistani immigrant in England during 1980s when prejudice towards South Asian communities was increasing. One chapter talks about the changes Tan experienced after September 11th. He talks about the persistent racial profiling as an aftermath of 9/11 as well as despite his ‘celebrity’ status, he continues to be racially profiled. Tan also has brought to the forefront the importance of representation. He mentions how growing up, he never saw people that looked like him on Western television shows and how important he knows his presence is on Queer Eye for the as he puts it, “the brown people.”
Karamo Brown was one of the only members of the Fab Five that had a very public career before Queer Eye. Karamo was the first openly gay Black man to be on MTV’s 2004 The Real World: Philadelphia. He continued to be involved shows off and on before hitting the big time with Queer Eye. He is focused on activism within both the LGBTQIA community and the African American community. He cofounded the 6in10.org organization that seeks to break the stigma of HIV and mental health in the African American community. Karamo released his memoir this March, titled “Karamo: My Story of Embracing Purpose, Healing, and Hope.” This November Karamo and his son will be releasing a children’s book called “I Am Perfectly Designed.”
Each one of the Fab Five brings something different, unique, and likeable to the audience. Rhea Swain in her article interviewed viewers of the show to see what makes this tv show so relevant. One of her interviewee states,
Queer Eye’ has helped bring awareness to queer identities, thus making them a more significant social presence. Representation is an important aspect of media and pop culture. The way I see ‘Queer Eye’ is that I see myself in these men. You do not feel as alone in society when you see an identity of yours being represented in movies and television. At the same time, ‘Queer Eye’ makes me want to be a better person, not only for other people but also for myself. They make me feel more connected to society and I want to be able to help and move people the way they do,
Now we come to Jonathan Van Ness. He has taken this world by storm. He has a podcast #GettingCurious. He has also broken a lot of boundaries when it comes to assumed “Masculinity,” and has come out as non-binary, gender non-conforming. JVN, as his fans call him, at times is extremely dramatic, expressive, and yes at times flamboyant. In almost all the promotional interviews, press photos, and award shows has come in multiple forms of gender bending clothing. JVN has worn heels, dresses, skirts, cropped tops, all the while paired with long hair and a mustache.
His greatest strengthens is his uncanny ability to be open, honest, and raw. He has released his memoir “Over the Top” where he explores everything from growing up in rural America to drug use and to self-healing.
His memoir also talks about JVN being a survivor of sexual assault. This book has also provided a new platform to pick up the conversation again regarding the stigma around HIV/AIDS. JVN reveals in the pages of his book that he is HIV positive. His disclosure has helped to bring back the spotlight onto this heavily stigmatizing disease which with the current medical research and drugs available, HIV is no longer a death sentence and if one can get to the undetectable stage, the disease is not transmittable. A new awareness program U=U was just announced paired with the program #sciencenotstigma.
The Fab Five and Queer Eye are providing new visual spaces for the average person to confront gender roles, sexual binaries, and toxic culture. In a way Queer Eye is providing a space to which how we think, act, and feel are getting there own make-overs.
Anjeanette LeBoeuf is currently during research for two upcoming books, one about Japanese Interment Camps and the other about modern Hindu Goddess worship. She is the Queer Advocate for the Western Region of the American Academy of Religion. Anjeanette also writes for the activist blog, Engaged Gaze. Her focuses are divided between South Asian religions and religion and popular culture. She has become focused on exploring the representations of women in all forms of popular culture and how religion plays into them. She is an avid supporter of both soccer and hockey. She is also a television and movie buff which probably takes way too much of her time, but she enjoys every minute of it. Anjeanette has had a love affair with books from a very young age and always finds time in her demanding academic career to crack open a new book.