Here & Now's Robin Young speaks with Richard Pacelle, professor of political science at the University of Tennessee, to find some answers.
Ten years ago this week, “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy” debuted on the Bravo cable channel.
The reality show featured the “fab five” — five gay men who would make over a person, usually a straight man, giving him tips on grooming, conduct, fashion, food and design.
TV is very intimate, and we might have been the first gay people that they felt like they knew.
“Queer Eye” was an instant hit, and its self-proclaimed experts — Ted Allen on food and wine, Carson Kressley on fashion, Kyan Douglas on grooming, Thom Felicia on home design and Jai Rodriguez on culture — became stars.
But the show also brought friendly, approachable gay men into living rooms across America on a weekly basis, and made its way into the cultural conversation.
In 2004 President George W. Bush even joked about the show at the Radio and Television Correspondents Dinner.
“We participated in a moment in time in American history when television was finally opening up to seeing gay and lesbian people on TV,” Allen told Here & Now.
For some Americans, it was like meeting an openly gay person for the first time.
“For a lot of people, the power of being out and being visible is that somebody knows a gay person. And for a lot of people who watched our show — it was innocuous it was a makeover show — but TV is very intimate, and we might have been the first gay people that they felt like they knew,” Kressley said.
On criticism that the show perpetuated stereotypes
Ted Allen: “We did hear that, and you know Carson is an expert in fashion, Tom does interior design — there is a stereotype. I don’t know why we didn’t have a flight attendant … but what you always used to say, Carson, is that you can call into question whether or not we are perpetuating the stereotype — you know those are stereotypically gay occupations of things that are amenable, hospitable or friendly to gay and lesbian people — but that fact is we were being ourselves. That’s who we were and I think that’s partly what made the show provocative.”
Carson Kressley: “But I think there’s some homophobia within our community that you can’t be, you know, flamboyant. And we’ve been told by society ‘you know, you need to be a bit more mainstream and more normal.’ And there was something very liberating about being on the show and being exactly who you were.”
Allen: “I found you very offensive myself.”
Kressley: “Right, and I found you so boring. But we were being ourselves!”
On where we are now with gay rights
Allen: “I think we did participate. People who oppose gay rights are always saying ‘we don’t want this shoved in our face. You can do what you want privately but we don’t need to know that you’re gay.’ Well unfortunately actually you do need to know it. Because when we’re invisible you don’t realize it’s your son, it’s your brother, it’s your uncle, it’s your coworker … your waiter, your gymnast, your high-wire trapeze person who is being denied the same full citizenship that you get to have.”
Kressley: “Our little part was being visible and being ourselves and letting people get to know us and the biggest way to disarm prejudice is to actually get to know someone that’s different form you. And realize that, you know, its not scary and it takes the phobia away and hopefully we did that because we approached things with heart and with humor and with kindness, and people got to see us for who we are. And being gay was even maybe secondary, and people got see ‘hey there’s nothing wrong with these gays, and they got rid of that guys mohawk! I love them!”