The Fab Five have made a comeback in 2018, but this time, they’re going beyond the surface level thanks to Netflix.
When the original show, known as “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy” premiered on Bravo in 2003, at a time when homosexuality was not as easily accepted. While shows like “Will & Grace” were on the air, most of middle America was not necessarily exposed to the idea of gay men as much as society accepts it today. Because of this, the show’s on-camera team, known as the Fab Five, had to relatively stay in a box in terms of how they were being portrayed on camera. Though they were still able to showcase each of their individual personalities, certain subjects were not touched upon, instead keeping the show as a piece of lighthearted entertainment. “I don’t think America was ready to hear one of the Fab Five refer to their husband or their boyfriend,” says “Queer Eye” co-creator David Collins.
The new “Queer Eye” (which dropped the “for the Straight Guy” from its name as a way for even more inclusion), gives its team much more permission to be themselves rather than fitting into the cookie cutter molds of what the public generally perceives a gay man would act and look like. The show attempts to blur the lines of what it means to be gay or straight. They each have real, authentic personalities that their outward appearances also reflect. In the first episode, Tan France (the fashion expert of the group) states that:
“The original show was fighting for tolerance. Our fight is for acceptance.”
Even within the makeovers themselves, we see a difference in the presentation of straight and gay identities, particularly in episode 4. The man getting a new look is gay, which on its own is a new venture for the show. What is interesting, though, is how they tackle the fact that he is afraid of looking overtly gay. When he goes with Tan to find new, better fitting clothes, he makes it clear about his worries of being perceived as feminine. Tan then supports this decision, acknowledging that he needs to feel comfortable with how he looks both outside and in. Through this lens, the show is able to emphasize the contrast between how gay men, both in fashion and in general life, are perceived versus the actuality of gay men’s diversity. What it also does, though, is combat the “normal” idea of masculinity, allowing men of any sexuality to feel comfortable in their own skin through the combination of the outward and inward makeovers. By breaking down these barriers, the show is able to “methodically combat toxic masculinity within today’s exceedingly volatile political climate” and blur the lines for both straight and gay stereotypes.
Much of this change to the formula of the show stems from the fact that it is being produced by a digital platform, Netflix. While the previous incarnation had to be confined in many ways because of its spot of a major television network, a Netflix original like “Queer Eye” is able to push the boundaries more and approach the concept of the show from a new angle without worrying about how it will play to a primetime audience. As Garrett Schlichte of Harper’s Bazaar put it, a digital platform like Netflix creates a space “where its progressivism can be highlighted and celebrated, rather than toned down for traditional network television.” The Fab Five have even acknowledged this, with Antoni stating in an interview:
“It’s taken on a whole new meaning on its own with a home like Netflix where it’s not advertiser dollar driven, we really get to focus on the story. That’s only helped us.”
With just how many millions of people can be reached through a platform like Netflix, the show is able to expose new perceptions of gender and sexuality rather than harping on views of the past. By utilizing this digital platform, the “Queer Eye” franchise has been to expand its horizons and allow for a whole new era of audiences to watch and appreciate the impact of the Fab Five on a whole new level.