Still, the Fab Five aren't simply a stereotype. Whatever you think of the role they play, what counts most is the attitude they bring to itand that's what has changed. These queers may be catty, but they're hardly bitter. Their Gaylord air is cut with affection and generosity; their ebullience is sprightly rather than hysterical. Unlike the old-school fruity fusspot, circa Franklin Pangborne, they seem genuinely comfortable in their skins. To be out and proud as a gay fashion victim, and to have straight men accept this persona, suggests that the other side of homophobia is delight in each other's company. Isn't that precisely what macho struggles to repress?
photo: Staci Schwartz
Last exit to West Hollywood: reaching out for a straight man's boxers
Getting him to sit still for a facial
(photo: Staci Schwartz)
Of course, all reality TV is a fiction, and Queer Eye is no exception. Everything that looks spontaneous has been auditioned and edited. You can be sure any hissy fit or trace of disgust was grounds for dismissal. The idea is to keep a warm, zany, slightly utopian tonethe right environment for selling exfoliators. Still, if advertising evokes a world where desires are met, that's hardly an incidental power. In Queer Eye, the inchoate forces of social change are given a format. It allows straight and gay men to relate to each other with an ease that seems at once moving and strange, like a sci-fi film from the '50s. But this is not a forbidden planet; it's a world in the making.
Perhaps it's inevitable that divas and dudes will meet first on the pacified plane of product placements. After all, nothing changes in America unless it moves merch. But if Queer Eye succeeds, there will be gay zanies in every cranny of cable nation. It's auspicious, I guess, that NBC, which owns Bravo, will air the first episode of Queer Eyeon its flagship network right after Will & Grace. Gay nite at the nets? Not quite. But stay tuned for Boy Meets Boy, the dating show that asks the timeless questions: "Who's gay? Who's straight? Can you tell?" Welcome to pre-reality TV.