America Loves Queer Eye, But Not for the Reason You Think

It’s one of 2018’s most successful reboots: Queer Eye, now on Netflix, has won legions of fans and overnight fame for each of the 5 experts.

Why is this more successful than any other makeover show? The easiest answer is that the casting is crazy good. Bobby turns messy bachelor pads into chic spaces. Karamo makes people face their deepest issues (and makes viewers cry ALL the happy tears). And do I even need to say anything about Jonathan? Yassss henny. Any of the Fab 5 could carry a show entirely on their own.

But there are plenty of shows with great cast members, and plenty more doing heartwarming things. See Say Yes to the Dress, Chip & Joanna, etcétera. But this one forces men to get their acts together. It makes them step up without further pushing them down by telling them they’ve failed. And we, as a nation, are desperate for that.

The original Fab 5 existed, in part, to teach America about gay men. The first round of Queer Eye debuted when the majority of people in this country opposed gay marriage. Now, thankfully, the trend has flipped and only about 1 in 3 Americans opposes gay marriage (that’s still too many, but it’s shrinking by the day). Gay men are no longer a novelty on television. We love Neil Patrick Harris and Andy Cohen and Frank Ocean. RuPaul is tremendously successful, as are Anderson Cooper and Don Lemon.

The new angle of Queer Eye is that the makeovers go deep beneath the surface. Other shows don’t tackle the internal. Put on this dress; your life will change. Get this plastic surgery, live a better life. The people getting the whole-life-makeover each have some big hindrance in their lives. One didn’t graduate from college with one class to go, keeps getting fired from jobs, and is a terrible roommate. Another is frightened to propose to his girlfriend of SIX years; all their furniture once belonged to her ex. A stand-up comedian in his thirties still lives with his parents. Another young man has to be taught how to cook eggs. They all have varying degrees of ignorance about basic life tasks that make for overall well-being. You can call it self-care or call it just…being a person…but the show teaches these guys how to do it.

All these guys have some sort of a failure to launch. And in this day and age, every viewer probably knows and loves a guy who’s in a similar situation. The Fab 5 could very easily knock them down even further, by implying everything about them is bad and must be fixed. But instead, they take their charges’ natural likes and dislikes into account and equips these guys to exist as adults in the world. For a generation that misinterprets “be an adult” to mean “censor everything about yourself,” this is refreshing.

Our country is hungry for their stories of redemption. Roughly 3 in every 20 American men of prime working age (25-54) are missing from the workforce. They’re not working, and they’re not trying to work – they’re sitting on the sidelines. Many are incarcerated. Many are addicted. Men are more likely than women to end up in these situations. They’re less likely to graduate college. Failure to launch is a male epidemic.

There is no version of Queer Eye for women. In fact, in the one episode where the Fab 5 make over a woman, she forgoes the home makeover and donates it to her church. She’s such a good cook that Antoni ends up learning from her, instead of the other way around. This is not to say that there aren’t any women who could use a whole-life overhaul; this is to say that viewers identify with these men because there are so many people just like them. Men can get away with immaturity for quite awhile; women, not so much.

The Fab 5 takes each participant through a life-makeover template: Getting a haircut, wearing clothes that fit, cleaning up the house, eating real food, and fixing mental hindrances that kept the guy from doing all those other things himself. Watching someone turn their life around – or have their life turned around for them – is great television. It makes getting on the right track look easy. And that’s what we’d like to believe: that anyone who’s lost can become a Renaissance Man in a week – with the help of 5 talented, funny, and smart men to show him the way. The message of the show isn’t that men need to cook with avocados more, or French tuck all their shirts – it’s that any man can do simple things to be a better man. It’s that motivation is just one sassy catchphrase away.

The show is smart and incisive and hopeful. And in case you can’t tell by now, I think this country needs 5,000 more episodes of it.

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