- Queer Eye’s Fab Five are America’s new favorite boy band. But why isn’t the show giving “Culture Queer” Jai more to do?
As bradamant reported recently, we are huge fans of Bravo’s smash makeover show Queer Eye for the Straight Guy. It’s the first reality show we haven’t felt guilty about enjoying. Yeah, as a couple of snarky city dwellers, we know our biases are flattered by it (to say nothing of our Diesel-fueled fashion sense). But I think Queer Eye also rewards our intelligence, by acknowledging what we’ve long felt – that regular exposure to gay life doesn’t make you gay, it makes you savvier.
Savvy about fashion? Certainly. (I’ve often said the best straight-male fashion sense is gay fashion turned two degrees back to the right.) Savvy about decor, food and wine? Indisputably. Savvy about art, culture and music? Well, theoretically.
The show itself certainly has a pop-music sensibility. Its five “Queers” are basically the umpteenth iteration of the Monkees, Duran Duran, the New Kids, Backstreet Boys or ‘N Sync – a prefab boy band, marketed through its members’ Tiger Beat–ready personas. The show even calls them the Fab Five, fer chrissakes!
“Fashion Queer” Carson is the breakout, the Justin Timberlake, pretty and spunky; while “Grooming Queer” Kyan is the coy pinup, the Kevin Richardson or John Taylor hiding behind the frontman. (All boy bands need an outsize frontman and an even prettier number two.) “Decor Queer” Thom is the tough, hard-working guy the girls love, self-reliant like Joey Fatone or Andy Taylor, snarky like Backstreet’s A.J. “Food Queer” Ted is the beloved nerd with untapped leadership skills – his antecedents date back to Ringo, continue through Nick Rhodes right through to Lance Bass. And “Culture Queer” Jai is – well, he’s the…um…
Poor Jai. He’s never given much to do. He’s supposed to advise on art and music, but he’s often reduced to giving the straight guy pointers about posture or body language. That’s useful, but isn’t that like asking Batman to rescue kittens from trees? Often, Jai is assigned tasks that aren’t even culture-related. One week, swear to God, he was reduced to picking out gourmet coffees – it’s like foodie Ted was too busy preparing the big meal and threw Jai a side task to keep him busy. Why won’t they let Jai do what he’s obviously supposed to do: improve the straight guy’s taste in music (or movies, or books, or museums)?
I think they’re reining Jai in for the same reason the musical guest on The Tonight Show always comes last: music divides people (despite what Madonna said about it “bring[ing] the people together”). Talk show programmers have learned that they’re bound to lose a chunk of their audience when that night’s band comes on, no matter how seemingly mass-appeal that act is. Especially in our modern zillion-channel metaverse, telling people what music to like is like dictating a poliitcal party or a religion to them. Fifty years of rock n’ roll have fused music with identity – so much so that, not only do rock people want nothing to do with rap, but punk-rock people want nothing to do with rap-rock. And, by extension, straight-music people want nothing to do with queer music.
Is there such a thing as “gay music”? Dumb question. The enlightened among us would like to believe there’s no such thing as a gay culture ghetto, and surely many of us straights have met gay men who hate show tunes, lesbians who hate folk. But even a TV watcher from Paducah knows by now that club music, Broadway and opera are considered queer music. Queer Eye itself knowingly plays up this association: its theme song, “All Things,” is a hi-NRG club anthem by Widelife (”All things just keep gettin’ better”); and the show’s incidental music and sound beds resemble nothing so much as New York City club Twilo on a Saturday night.
With all these campy ditties pervading the show, Jai should be allowed to spread the faaaabulous musical gospel to the Straight Guys. But the show, so wonderfully progressive and matter-of-fact in its culture politics, still conforms to one deep-seated prejudice: dressing like a gay man may not make you gay, but listening to his music might. We’re in a Metrosexual moment, when straight men are more concerned with their appearance and grooming than ever – and unafraid that so doing will call their sexuality into question. But haven’t we all made the crack that a suspected in-the-closet man is a “friend of Barbra” or “loves his show tunes”? We’ve come far enough as a society to get straight men to tweeze and wax; but we’re not yet at a point where they can unironically love Cher.
Last night on Queer Eye – the very week I was writing this – they finally let Jai go music shopping. If you blinked, or got up off the couch to get a beer, you missed it, but for maybe 45 seconds of the show’s hour, Jai walked Greek bodybuilder George through Tower Records and foisted some new CDs on him. I guess it had finally reached the point when the Straight Guy had such abysmal taste that they needed to tell him what to listen to – George was still speaking rhapsodically about Bon Jovi, for crying out loud.
My favorite moments on Queer Eye often revolve around the moment when the mostly pliant Straight Guy fights back, reasserts his straightness by declaring a line in the sand (e.g., I’ll wear a jacket, but not in that color). We had such a moment during Jai’s and George’s tour through Tower. Jai had picked some CDs that inarguably improved George’s collection: Stevie Wonder, the latest from Beyoncé, a collection of background-y club music. He even threw George a bone by letting him linger in the Bon Jovi section and grab a couple of Jon Bon’s latest. But Jai really lit up when he came across a copy of The Very Best of Cher – and that’s when George lowered the boom. “No way, I draw the line at Cher.” “Oh, c’mon,” said Jai, in his best whiny, Mom-why-can’t-we-buy-the-cookies voice. “Sorry,” said George.
To my knowledge, it was the only time George refused anything the Fab Five proposed on the entire show. That’s not to suggest I would have bought the Cher CD, either – I love “Gypsies, Tramps and Thieves” and “Believe” as much as the next pop fan, but I do think gay men lionize the ex-Mrs. Bono a tad overmuch. Still, I marvel that an unabashed Bon Jovi fan felt he had the right to trash Cher (who once dated a member of Bon Jovi!), and that he thought this, at last, was one step too far into queerdom.
I laughed heartily at the Cher confrontation, but I also felt an acute disappointment. I bet it’ll be months before they let Jai go CD shopping again.