This week, Netflix announced the renewal of Queer Eye for a second season, sending its five queer coaches into the lives of a new group of men to help guide them to be better partners and people.
While some have heralded the program as “the most empowering TV show for men right now,” others, including Northeastern assistant professor Moya Bailey, ask whether the reboot pushes the boundaries far enough.
Bailey, a scholar whose research includes an examination of how race, gender, and sexuality are represented in media, said that while it’s “exciting that men have a space to be emotional—particularly cis, straight men,” Queer Eye in many ways “reinforces the trope of queer men giving straight men access to those emotions.
“The show is largely still in service of straight men, and straight men’s relationships with women,” Bailey said. “The part that sticks out to me is this assumption that straight men can’t be better partners without assistance; that it’s queer men doing the labor of making them better partners with women.”
Indeed, Bailey said the real problems go deeper than rumpled clothes, messy apartments, and poor grooming—according to her expert view, there are systemic issues that need to be addressed both in the presentation of straight men on the show and in the country at large.
“Frankly, many of these men could be better served if there were a licensed therapist among the Fab Five,” she said, referring to the nickname for hosts Antoni Porowski, Bobby Berk, Karamo Brown, Jonathan Van Ness, and Tan France, who are food, design, lifestyle, grooming, and wardrobe coaches, respectively.
“It’s exciting to see the before and after of these men they’re helping,” Bailey said, “and that transformation needs to be external for it to work as a television show. What would be more interesting, though, is the internal work around why straight masculinity doesn’t allow straight men access to these things without the help of queer men.”
In other words, it could be that the show is more about “making these men more palatable to modern women” without necessarily addressing “a deep change in behavior or outlook,” Bailey said.
Still, Queer Eye is not without benefit. In the fourth episode of the first season, the audience watches as the Fab Five help a semi-closeted man come out to his stepmother. Certain social issues are addressed in the midst of makeovers and cooking lessons.
Bailey noted the importance of seeing queer people of color in mainstream spaces—something that the show emphasizes. She cautioned, however, that the true goal should be to include people of color in order to change long-held stereotypes and not “simply to check off boxes.” She wondered aloud whether Queer Eye falls into the former or latter camp.
She added: “Like the original, the centerpiece of this new Queer Eye appears to be helping largely white, straight men connect with their partners and not so much about who the Fab Five are or what their stories are.”
Moving forward, Bailey looks for a “yes, and” approach to programming.
“Yes, Queer Eye, but what else can we imagine?” she said. “What’s out there that’s made by queer folks for queer folks? Part of my research is looking at web series’ that queer and trans folks have made for themselves and examining how those stories offer new possibilities we haven’t even considered yet.”