Gay Politics Politics Television

On pets…

So Queer Eye for the Straight Guy was apparently – woo – a tremendous success in the States and everyone was so happy about it and stuff because – ha ha – funny gay men patronising the dumbass straight men – how funny is that!? But now – if the reports are to be believed – then there’s going to be a “Straight Eye for the Queer Guy” show coming out, designed to turn the tables back again with – ha ha – hilarious consequences. But some of my gay colleagues are protesting that turning the tables back again isn’t really acceptable behaviour… Their argument is that gay people already know enough about straight life – given that they’ve had to spend many years trying to fit into straight culture (while being taught that their lives will be immoral, diseased and short-lived) before erupting free from this stigma in a blaze of brightly-coloured taffeta and nicely-tapered trouser-bottoms. Their point is – I suppose – that one’s a tasteless misrepresentation, and the other isn’t.

I’m just having trouble figuring out which is which! Because as far as I can see, both of them share one thing in common – a flagrant and blatantly patronising image of gay people as cheery little inoffensive sexless chappies. Well bollocks to that. Bollocks to happy gay people on TV, bollocks to the straight audiences, bollocks to the producers, bollocks to the bloody cameramen, bollocks to any passing trannies. Bollocks, if you will, to absolutely bloody everyone. I’m going to say this once and once only – and I hope it doesn’t come as too much of a shock to anyone: It’s not just Straight Eye for the Queer guy that will be patronising shit that sells an image of gayness that is damaging and frustratingly bland. Queer Eye for the Straight Guy was patronising shit as well.

I can’t really believe that was a shock to anyone, but just in case – I’m sorry for those of you who fell over and hit your head…

I suppose back in the late eighties, when the prevailing mood was that gay people were diseased perverts that would lead short, shameful and disgusting lives, the idea that we might get portrayed as happy little child-puppets might have been quite appealing. But that time has passed and I think we’ve all had enough now of that newest of grotesque gay stereotypes archetypes – that of the girl’s-best-friend, sexless, happy, home-keeping, stylish queer. I might actually bloody vomit if I see it one more time on television and if I get my greasy hands on Kevin Kline let me reassure you that I’ll be giving him a piece of my oh-so-wise, well-tailored and witty gay mind.

It’s not because it’s an unpleasant image of homosexual individuals, and it’s not because there aren’t any gay men that are all smiley and pastel in the world (because there are, and they’re lovely). It’s just because I’m sick to death with being “understood” by people I meet as being a “good-natured, slightly-dim, fashion-obssessed hysterical best-friend-in-times-of-need” kind of guy on the basis of the representation of ‘my kind’ in a few shit films and TV shows. There are differences between gay people and straight people – don’t get me wrong. But there aren’t any scientists world-wide who truly understand what the hell they are, and this leads me to suspect that maybe it would be foolish to think that a twenty minute comedy show would have a better idea.

Now I’ve read my Foucault like the best of them, and I believe him to be right when he says that categorising something is a way of asserting power over it. Hence the creation (and medicalisation) of homosexuality a little over a hundred years ago. And I’m with him on the next step too – that the creation of the category also creates an identity around which the group can rebel, to try and recast itself. But it works the other way around too. We started off as godless, sex-obsessed, dirty monsters and we fought and we’ve rebelled. And now instead we’re god-loving, relationship-focused, kitchen-cleaning princes among men who like little dogs, Versace and television where ‘we’ get to patronise people. Our ‘positive’ image has already been reincorporated and recontextualised and reconsidered and represented. The tremendous variety of gay male experience – from the most delicate to the most brutal, from the most elegant to the most fierce, from the most diplomatic to the most battle-ready, even from the most tacky to the most trivially crass – all of it is reduced down to the image of gay men as fussy little children – who play at ‘houses’, play at ‘cooking’, play at ‘being men’, play at life.

Well I want out. And this is where I turn around to face my comrades who loved “Queer Eye” but are cross about its sequel. I say to you that it’s not enough that a programme on television should just be ostensibly ‘nice’ about gay people. It’s shouldn’t float our boats that some show finds it entertaining to see the happy poofs take the piss out of groups that used to kick our heads in either. If you want some honour in your programming, demand that it shows you a larger variety of truths. Most particularly, demand that it shows you the truth of identity as something negotiated, fought for, forged, lost and potentially rebuilt. Don’t let them tell you it’s something that you’re born with, something inevitable that you’ll grow into whatever aspirations you might have. Because identity is a negotiation between the world around you and what nature gave you, mediated by your mind, morals, attitudes and beliefs. It can’t be given to you like you’d give a pet a name…

41 replies on “On pets…”

the brunswick st ute muster
Tom lets rip on Queer Eye For The Straight Guy: Queer Eye for the Straight Guy was patronising shit. Straight Eye for the Queer Guy will be (you guessed it) patronising shit. Back in the late eighties, when the prevailing…

Hey – that’s really strange. Because when I first heard of the program about 3 months ago, literally the first thought that popped into my head was “I bet we get at least a five paragraph napalm bomb of a rant from Tom Coates about this”. I was wrong. It’s seven…

While I enjoy the general rant, I’m not sure I can agree with what seems to be the point of it all, which is not to say I don’t wish it were true:
“Because identity is a negotiation between the world around you and what nature gave you, mediated by your mind, morals, attitudes and beliefs. It can’t be given to you like you’d give a pet a name…”
Identity can be a negotiation between the world around you and what nature gave you, mediated… but it can also be given to you like you’d give a pet a name. Giving us identity (particularly, but not only, that of passive consumer) and teaching us to accept it like pets accept names is a large part of what mass media does, and (too) many are unaware of this and accept it like pets names, or are just too lazy to do the mediation necessary. Queer people are no more immune to mass media training than straight people, and those queer people who have obviously adopted their identity directly from mass media are no more (or less) sad and annoying than their straight counterparts.

critical eye for identity
Tom Coates has composed a lengthy rant on identity as related to the ‘Queer Eye For…’ and the recently announced ‘Straight Eye For The Queer Guy’ shows, ‘Will & Grace’ (implicitly, at least), and the…

“It’s just because I’m sick to death with being “understood” by people I meet on as a “good-natured, slightly-dim, fashion-obssessed hysterical best-friend-in-times-of-need” kind of guy …” – hey, that’s my job Tom, stop hogging it!

Your comments are well made.
However, the big question is this:
Should I wear the black Prada shirt with these trousers or not?

I haven’t seen the programme yet, either the UK or US version. Have to admit I would be tempted to watch it and probably alternatively squirm and laugh at the representations of gay and straight men. I agree that this programme will probably present a stereo-typed ësafeí image of gay men. While we do need to recognise that gay men and woman are a diverse bunch we should also be grateful for an image of gay men on TV that is just Mr Humphries or Larry Grayson ñ about the only representations I saw as a kid.

I have to confess to watching the first one of these, if only to see if it would be as bad as it sounded.
This seems to be a very confused genre of television. First you define and pigeon-hole the stereotypes you’re going to feature, and then you spend the programme blurring the boundaries you’ve established.
But let’s be honest, it’s got nothing to do with whether the stereotypes accurately reflect all homosexual men or all heterosexual men. It’s simply that the TV company wants a show that appeals to the 18-35 female market, and have drawn the conclusion that combining the make-over format with the Stamford character from Sex And The City is a perfect way to persuade L’Oreal et al. to place advertisements.
It’s mildly interesting that none of the main characters in the format fall into the demographic at which the show is targeted.

Mix sexuality and self-image and what do you get?. A modern TV show producer’s (wet) dream. TV constantly bombards us all with images of what we ARE and this show makes it starkly clear to me that reality television is shit, beyond all comprehension of the word ‘shit.’ Reality television is…ahh fuck it, it’s just not worth talking about because every single person goes through it every single day.

You’re right, of course, but surely ALL television is patronising shit? I thought that was the point of mainstream broadcast TV – to patronise and intellectually stunt the audience no matter what orientation it may be. I can’t watch these kinds of programs without feeling like my brain is slowly being shredded by a very friendly smiley person making out they’re my best friend so I don’t think it’s unique to Queer Eye.
TV – approach with caution. And a big axe.

So, does that mean you don’t like Will & Grace? I thought all gay men loved the positive depiction of yaddah yaddah yaddah
Reality is always less glamorous than TV. Escapism is part of life.

You think real-life people are less glamourous than those people on TV!? Are you mad?!
And just to restate my position – I’m not arguing that TV should be all moral and good and stuff – I’m saying that gay people who liked QEFTSG and are complaining about Straight Eye for the Queer Guy should look again at the patronising crap they swallowed so cheerfully in the first place…

It’s all about flattery though, isn’t it? You could take the disinterested view that it is, of course, patronising bullshit – or you could be flattered by the co-option of ‘gayness’ (in archetypal terms) into the mainstream, which seems to me why Queer Eye has been accepted so widely. Look at it this way – even polio goes down well when it’s in a sugar cube.

Speaking as a straight man, I’m stick of TV producers stereotyping me as having no dress sense, bad hair and not being able to dance.
Solution: don’t look to TV to supply your gender roles. Try your friends and family instead.

(Straight guy)
Actually I find it hard to understand that the whole concept of the show could be found as not patronising.
Maybe in America, where mentioning gay people without describing their eternal damnation in hell is considered social progress…

Have you watched the show? Patronizing is the last word I’d use to describe it. The men on the show genuinely strive to make a difference in the lives of the men they work with, sometimes with very touching results. If there is any sense of “better than thou,” it is tongue in cheek, and not meant in any hurtful, shameful or spiteful way at all. Amongst reality shows about degradation (Fear Factor), debauchery (Temptation Island) and rejection (any Bachelor-type show), Queer Eye is a fantastic model for good television.

As someone who works in t.v. development, I first heard about this show 4 months before it hit the airwaves, and as a gay man, I rolled my eyes and thought “oh great… use the fags as entertainment for the straights”. Having seen the show a handfull of times, I can say truthfully that I think it moves forward our cause of integration and acceptance — even though it does show us as sexless and barely a step away from the stereo-types ingrained in the national psyche. I like the show… I like that it indeed has heart and none of the men on it (gay or straight) aren’t the butt of any cruel joke.
I heard Harvey Firestein talk about “exposure at any cost” when bemoaning the period of time when any and all gay men shown on t.v. or in movies where portrayed as whimpering or suffering or flaming or dangerous. His preference was to at least have a portrayal – even if negative – rather than none at all. Going by that way of thinking, I can easily live with this show and it’s portrayal of “my kind”.

I agree with the other commenters who wish you would spend more time actually *watching* the show and less time pigeonholing and stereotyping it yourself. Setting aside the obvious fact that the entire show exists to provide a venue for product placement, these men *actually know what they’re doing*. They’re passionate about their specialties, and they’re good at their jobs. Several of them do this off-screen, for a living. Obviously what ends up on the screen is a watered down version of a much longer production, but from what I’ve read in interviews of their Straight Guys, these guys really enjoy it, and they really learns a lot from the experience.
How often does *that* happen on TV, that men are portrayed as genuinely passionate and good at what they do?
That said, I have low hopes for Straight Eye for the Queer Guy, or any other knockoffs that come out in the wake of Queer Eye. Other producers will take the formula, now that it’s been established, and lose all that boring “passion” and “genuine talent” stuff, and replace it with something cheaper.

Surely any tv show which that plays on a stereotype for the purposes of entertainment without challenging the stereotype cannot be seen as “groundbreaking”… gay people come in all shapes and sizes. Some dress well. Some dress terribly.
On another note, gay male culture seems to demand a certain conformity. I don’t see the same happening with lesbian culture. Why?

erm…not to mention the appropriation of the term “queer” to mean conservative, stylish gay urban *men*. The “how queer are you tests” used for station promos asking how much you know about hair products and cooking utensils…
And what would dyke eye for the straight girl look like, I’ve always wondered.

Jesh, i know exactly what you’re saying. I tried to spell out that I was talking about their treatment of gay men rather than gay people, because people always seem to make that mistake and I know how incredibly irritating it is. Apologies if I didn’t convey that effectively enough.

The whole thing is sad and all, but you could look at it optimistically and see it as the next shift in your Foucaultian cycle of categorisation followed by rebellion.
Now gays have been categorised as home-loving, gay men such as yourself are rebelling against it and, in time, this will create another category of gay men. By the year 2900 there may even be as many gay types as there are white straights.

Tom – it wasn’t a dig at your post. But the topics and themes of your post prove that this appropriation of queer to mean a certain kind of gay man means that discussion and debate naturally tends to be around gay (male) identity most of all. And other queer identities who clamour to be heard end up looking like they are whining to be included in this super cool club.

The show’s interesting, but predictable. They seem to be certainly skewing it towards the victim’s journey from “Oho, I dunno if I want a gay guy seeing me _without my shirt!_” to “Hey, those poofs _are_ kinda cool!”. As other posters have mentioned, though, I don’t know how much this is a concession to American mores (well, the mores of the average TV viewer).
I don’t know – diverting is not how I’d label it, but I have a low tolerance for this kind of show. I can understand taking offense at the basic ideas behind the show, given that it’s very much an us/them setup (the question of identity neatly sidestepped in this here, obviously), but in the end I think it’s about on par (in terms of repugnance) with some of the other makeover/comp shows on air. This one focuses on revision of identity instead of greed, however – that’s what I’d say the major difference is.
Straight men take notice, however: if *I* can learn to dance without the help of a team of advisors – gay OR straight – then so can you! Buck that trend!

As a straight man who is often confused for gay, I have to say that I enjoyed your post, Tom. For me, the reasons people have found me to be “gay” are all superficial and stereotypical and have been expressed by those both straight and gay; I’m “stylish,” I like to cook, I’m sensitive, I’m not too interested in sports, and, my personal favorite, I’m “nice.” So for me, Queer Eye embodies the extremes of sexual identity and for me to find myself in it, I have to someone combine aspects of the “fab five” and the hapless “macho” guy who’s dad didn’t hug him enough. I’m rather put off by both stereotypes as well. Also, I’m having trouble seeing how the spin-off would work. When does a gay man need to act more “straight?” If it’s for job interviews, I’ll be very upset. Finally, I like how you mentioned Foucault, neat!

Only just read this post. Haven’t seen the show, but the whole programme sounds utterly execrable (and yes, that is an uninformed opinion – but I read your post, so now I am informed, aren’t I?) 🙂 This gay stereotype thing is . . . argh, it just makes my blood boil.
Oh, and I seem to have run out of any decent way of putting my annoyance into words – but then you probably noticed that.
Right, I’m off to spend the evening on the phone talking to all my girlfriends about relationship advice, because that’s what I do, isn’t it?

“Straight Eye for the Queer Guy” is going to be a one-hour special (probably in time for February sweeps), not a new show itself. And I’m pretty sure it’s going to be just as stereotypical of straight guys as “Queer Eye” is thought by many to be of gay guys – some reports have joked about having experts in power tools, (American) football, etc. It sounds fairly benign to me. Of course, it remains to be seen if it will actually be funny.

i don’t understand what you want people to get from your post other than you would rather not have any gays on tv. so what they boys on queer eye are a bit over-the-top. please do not tell me you don’t know any gays who are exactly like the queer eye boys. the show is not meant to represent every homo out there man. get over yourself.
there are gay killers, lovers, fashion victims, doctors, lawyers, artists, ugly, pretty, masculine, fem, … you get my point? we can’t be represented in every way. we will never be represented in every way because we are just people. the point is that we are represented and that people know we are here, queer and they need to get used to it.
as a matter of a fact i think you might see yourself represented more than you lead your readers to believe. you might be an exact matchg to one of the guys in that show and are clearly offended because the truth hurts.
all i see in the show is a straight man having no problems hanging with these guys regardless of how queenie they seem to be. to me, this is a good thing.
as far the new show it would probably make more sense to do a show called “queer eye for the gay guy”. i know quite a bit of messy gay boys who don’t have a clue.

fyi: i am one of those guys nobody believes to be gay. “you, gay? nooooooooo” is the usual reaction. but you know what? i let them know i’m just a regular joe and gay. this works for me cause i’m spreading the gospel. get over it! work with it. play it out baby.

man with all i was saying i forgot to tell you that your site is fantastic and you are adorable. keep up the good work.

this show is being shown over in england.. it gets me that some people thing just because a man is gay.. he has style no we are all different a few of my gay friends dress like complete slobs, some dress wow i i say wow they can pull it off i cant.. we wear what we feel comfortable in.. so what if what i wear isnt “fashionable” i am comfortable in it.. its the trying to make everyone the same i object too.. so what if i dress like a goth.. doesnt bother me.. (i love black)but to be told to change by people who havent lived like me.. is just plain wrong

I have come to the brutal, searing, and, frankly, disgusting truth that I enjoy reality television. Let me clarify what I mean by reality television–I don’t include anything on BBC America or TLC (if I did, I would be ruined…

Antena 3, a spanish television channel, broadcasts a similar show (“equipo G”, in english: “G team”) on month ago. Your opinions make me feel so happy because I’m very angry with this programme and I can’t understand that nobody criticize it.

Let Me Get This Straight
The other day, Bravo TV announced plans for “Straight Eye for the Queer Guy.” “Planned tutorials may include power tools 101, NFL basics, decorating your garage, two-minute hair and sports event etiquette.” The commentary over at is inte…

Comments are closed.