It’s been a funny time for masculinity. While important discussions have started, particularly in terms of mental health, or re-examining our collective approach to women (be it in the boardroom or the bedroom), there are still remnants of a draconian age pulling us backwards at every turn – Trump (the most boorish kind of Alpha Male) elected as Leader of the Free World, Weinstein’s downfall smearing a big shitty paw print on truly excellent movies. Living legends (Cosby), purportedly “woke” males (CK, Franco) unmasked and demystified, dragging us back into the swamps. Disproportionate pay, umpteen more stories of sexual abuse, you feel like masculinity’s “rock bottom” has either happened or isn’t far off, and then, hopefully, something good can start to grow from it. But for now, it’s all a bit messy.
So – and this isn’t meant to sound remotely flippant – thank GOD for Queer Eye!
For the uninitiated, Queer Eye has recently arrived on Netflix, as a remodified and rebranded take on Queer Eye for a Straight Guy, in which five gay men are Quantum Leaped into a flailing life to retune it. In the wrong hands, this could have become cartoonish TV, something to gawp at, fixating on the awkward car crash of high camp and repressed masculinity, leaving both gay and straight men lampooned. But it’s not just avoided all manner of pitfalls, and tumbling clichés, it’s flipped them on their heads, often by tackling the elephant in the room head-on – questioning the straight-jacketed attitudes of the bible belt, looking at complex relationships between race and sexuality, talking about the behaviour of US policemen towards young black men, finally tackling the global beard (as in facial, not pretend boyfriend) epidemic.
Men, particularly straight ones, aren’t great at self-betterment, they’re often allergic to Oprah Winfreyisms about “living your truth”, or anything that challenges them to be honest, open and introspective
But more than anything, Queer Eye’s M.O is simply to challenge men to be open. Men, particularly straight ones, aren’t great at self-betterment, they’re often allergic to Oprah Winfreyisms about “living your truth”, or anything that challenges them to be honest, open and introspective – and this inability to scratch beneath the veneer has played a huge part in damaging masculinity. It’s why groups of men still cling onto “banter” instead of just talking normally, and though the landscape is shifting, it’s why they still often continue to battle mental health problems in silence. But here we have five strong, proud gay men – one who looks like a beauty salon Jesus, and another who only ever seems to chop avocados in half – united in their goal to encourage guys to talk about the things that make them unhappy, or nervous, or to accept their own fallibility, and to understand it. Ultimately to feel comfortable being who they are.
It’s relentlessly positive TV at a time when it feels like we need relentless positivity. And, without wanting to steep too much gravitas onto something that is ultimately just an entertainment program, it’s found a rare space in 2018 where we can celebrate masculinity, and be proud of being men, where brotherhood and fellowship, vulnerability, and openness are the true markers of a man. At a time when we’re just breaking free from the shackles of oppressive notions and draconian norms, a show like this makes total sense – because, logically, who knows more about finding the strength to change than gay men?
(Photo by Desiree Navarro/WireImage)