Dire straights

Bravo's "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy" offers a whole new flavor of wicked fun for the makeover genre -- and brings the shame of being hetero out of the closet once and for all.

Topics: Reality TV, Television,

Dire straights

“It’s so ugly! Everything is so ugly!”

“It looks, actually, like you’re nuts.”

“The futon’s scary-looking.”

“Do you buy all your clothing at the Home Depot?”

Either Butch Schepel is hallucinating, or there are five gay men in his apartment, insulting everything from his crumpled mattress to his dirty jock strap.

Even a hole in the wall doesn’t go unnoticed. “It’s a glory hole!” one of the men cries, delighted. Then, soberly, he turns to Butch, determined to educate him. “Do you know what that’s for?”

Welcome to “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy” (premiering Tuesday, July 15, at 10 p.m.), Bravo’s new makeover show starring five gay lifestyle experts intent on transforming hapless straight guys into … well, slightly less hapless straight guys. Struggling to overcome such formidable obstacles as hopelessly out-of-date clothing, clueless furniture arrangement, and bad grooming habits, the “Fab Five” are tireless visionaries armed with swatches, blow dryers, wingtips and a bevy of smartass remarks.

Like an upbeat, West Hollywood version of “What Not to Wear” that’s both wildly entertaining and unexpectedly earnest, “Queer Eye” seems destined to incite even more awe and envy than happily married gay cover boys Chip and Reichen on “The Amazing Race.” But, exciting as it is to imagine unleashing the wicked wit and whimsy of gay culture onto Middle America, will the less informed imagine that all gay men are exactly like Jack on “Will & Grace”? Is the snarky gay man the wisecracking little black boy of the 2000s?

“Queer Eye” certainly offers banter that’s a little more inspired than Gary Coleman’s “Whatchoo talkin’ ’bout, Willis?” Indeed, a steady stream of quips flows from the mouths of our experts as they assess the severity of the straight male crisis at hand, discarding empty shampoo bottles and irrevocably soiled boxers along the way. Within minutes, they have Butch’s jock strap boiling in a pot on the stove. “Would you like some soy sauce with that?” Butch asks, getting into the spirit of things. “There was already soy sauce in it,” fashion expert Carson Kressley responds, and then pauses to think. “Was it soy sauce or boy sauce? I can’t remember.”



The chaos and disarray of Butch’s apartment has propelled interior designer Thom Filicia to the verge of an existential crisis. “There’s nothing,” he mumbles, shaking his head. “There’s no thought in anything!”

But Carson seems to savor ripping Butch’s fashion sense to shreds. As he removes sloppily folded clothes from the closet with a pair of tongs, he cracks, “Remember the Gap in ’85? If you don’t, here’s a visual. Gap in ’86. Gap in ’87. Oh, and ’88, what a year! What a year for ‘oatmeal.’”

The next segment opens with testimonials from Butch’s friends and family. “Butch’s sense of style is very limited,” says one friend. “His type of a work outfit is interchangeable with a farmer,” says another. “That’s actually kind of Butch’s ‘Let’s go out’ attire as well.”

In another episode of the show, straight guy Adam Zalta’s family is even less reserved. “Adam is hairy,” says his wife. “He’s got one eyebrow,” says a friend. “It would be very nice if there were two.”

“He looks like a clown,” his wife summarizes.

In fact, the show seems designed not for straight men but for the exasperated women who love them — and hate their acid-washed jeans. There’s something undeniably gratifying about seeing these men — who, so far, seem to be selected for their swarthy, hobbit-style looks — getting shaved, buffed, waxed and, best of all, derided within an inch of their lives. No matter how loudly a wife or girlfriend bemoans the unshaven neck or the shirt with the pit stains, it doesn’t have quite the impact of a gaggle of men who are this fervent about the rules of maintaining a lifestyle that is both sanitary and aesthetically pleasing.

At times, though, the Fab Five’s conviction borders on the religious.

“That’s a monobrow. It’s never a good answer unless you’re Frida Kahlo or Groucho Marx,” says grooming expert Kyan Douglas.

“You never want to match your denims,” proclaims Carson. “It looks like some crazy coordinated armor.”

The solemn edicts just keep coming. Work that hair product in from the back. Keep those cookbooks in the kitchen. And who knew that, if you’re using self-tanning products, you should exfoliate first, or that, if you’re wearing an old-fashioned wingtip with a vintage flair, sockless is “the only way to go”?

Helpful as such tips might be, inevitably some straights will feel that “Queer Eye” is more an attack on the habits of the heterosexual than it is an embrace of gay culture. By unabashedly trumpeting the superior fabulousness, meticulous organization and impeccable grooming of gay men, is the implication that straight men are pathetic slobs by comparison? Should straight men feel shame at having eaten bean dip out of the can all these years?

Of course they should. After years of being ribbed for letting an extra day or two pass between bikini waxes, straight women in particular will enjoy watching as the curses of personal hygiene paranoia are hurled at an unsuspecting straight male population.

But are men today too focused on their looks, too primped and polished? Would we really feel comfortable knowing that our boyfriend self-tans, gets his back waxed, and has his hair professionally highlighted? And if these gay men show him how to shine his shoes, tie his ties, and style his hair, what fun is left for us, the women behind — or in front of — the man? Will we feel comfortable climbing into bed with a manicured, moisturized pretty boy every night?

Apparently so, if the results of the makeovers on the “Queer Eye” are any indication. In the final segment, the straight victim emerges as a cleaner, prettier version of his old self, interacting with friends and family while the Fab Five share cocktails and watch the whole thing on a big-screen TV. Butch looks vastly better after he says goodbye to his ponytail, beard and overalls. And he seems to feel better, too, walking confidently through the crowd at the art opening his “Queer Eye” consultants have arranged for him. His friends seem impressed to the point of awe, and a few of the women can’t stop looking at him.

“Oh, we’ve got a gasper!” coos Carson, an apple martini perched in his hand. “She is so into him!”

“This guy is kinda hot,” remarks Kyan.

“That guy is hot.” Carson agrees. “I think he just touched his ass.”

At the close of the next episode, Adam shows off his redecorated house, organized closets and fancy appetizers to his guests. The missing tiles in his front hall have been replaced, his children’s toys have been relocated to the closet, the unibrow has been vanquished, and he really does seem like a new man as he breaks out a pair of pearl earrings for his wife — you know, the ones that culture expert Blair Boone picked out for her? You can almost feel Adam’s pride, after years of being chided for slacking off, in getting every detail just right. Sure, these are the details that women and gay men generally care a little bit more about, and it’s not hard to imagine this guy failing to tie his tie or shave his face quite as effectively the next day. But with that proud grin Adam is sporting, it’s tough not to feel that he’s actually thrilled to have had some help.

“He is, like, glowing!” the experts scream. “He did a great job!”

The final scenes of “Queer Eye” are so absurdly funny and oddly touching, and its stars are so consistently boisterous and funny, I began to develop delusional thoughts about the show’s far-reaching impact. The charms of the gay male will be spread far and wide, thanks to one show! Just imagine all of those regular folks across the country who just love “Will & Grace” without understanding that many, many gay men are just as witty and charming and acerbic as Jack and Will are! “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy” will unveil the originality and flair of gay culture for bland heterosexuals across the globe!

Sharing my vision of a gay culture explosion, all thanks to one show, elicited a less enthusiastic response from a gay friend. “It depresses me when they play up the ‘Jack factor’ like that,” he said. “It’s so one-dimensional. All gay men aren’t like that.”

And he’s right. Obviously, the stereotype of trendsetting, fabulous pretty boys hardly sums up the entire gay male population. The fact that “Diff’rent Strokes” suddenly made middle-aged white people across the country walk around exclaiming how adorable and clever black children were certainly didn’t win them many fans. How enlightened and special can you feel when you’re merely embracing a stereotype, falsely assuming that it’s an accurate representative of such a large segment of the population?

But then, not all straight women are exactly “Stripperella” either. Whether it’s enlightening or just a lot of fun, “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy” is destined to have you cackling with evil glee one minute and vowing to exfoliate the next.

Heather Havrilesky is a regular contributor to the New York Times Magazine, The Awl and Bookforum, and is the author of the memoir "Disaster Preparedness." You can also follow her on Twitter at @hhavrilesky.

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 11
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Beautiful Darkness by Fabien Vehlmann & Kerascoët
    Kerascoët's lovely, delicate pen-and-watercolor art -- all intricate botanicals, big eyes and flowing hair -- gives this fairy story a deceptively pretty finish. You find out quickly, however, that these are the heartless and heedless fairies of folk legend, not the sentimental sprites beloved by the Victorians and Disney fans. A host of tiny hominid creatures must learn to survive in the forest after fleeing their former home -- a little girl who lies dead in the woods. The main character, Aurora, tries to organize the group into a community, but most of her cohort is too capricious, lazy and selfish to participate for long. There's no real moral to this story, which is refreshing in itself, beyond the perpetual lessons that life is hard and you have to be careful whom you trust. Never has ugly truth been given a prettier face.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Climate Changed: A Personal Journey Through the Science by Philippe Squarzoni
    Squarzoni is a French cartoonist who makes nonfiction graphic novels about contemporary issues and politics. While finishing up a book about France under Jacques Chirac, he realized that when it came to environmental policy, he didn't know what he was talking about. "Climate Changed" is the result of his efforts to understand what has been happening to the planet, a striking combination of memoir and data that ruminates on a notoriously elusive, difficult and even imponderable subject. Panels of talking heads dispensing information (or Squarzoni discussing the issues with his partner) are juxtaposed with detailed and meticulous yet lyrical scenes from the author's childhood, the countryside where he takes a holiday and a visit to New York. He uses his own unreachable past as a way to grasp the imminent transformation of the Earth. The result is both enlightening and unexpectedly moving.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Here by Richard McGuire
    A six-page version of this innovative work by a regular contributor to the New Yorker first appeared in RAW magazine 25 years ago. Each two-page spread depicts a single place, sometimes occupied by a corner of a room, over the course of 4 billion years. The oldest image is a blur of pink and purple gases; others depict hazmat-suited explorers from 300 years in the future. Inset images show the changing decor and inhabitants of the house throughout its existence: family photos, quarrels, kids in Halloween costumes, a woman reading a book, a cat walking across the floor. The cumulative effect is serene and ravishing, an intimation of the immensity of time and the wonder embodied in the humblest things.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Kill My Mother by Jules Feiffer
    The legendary Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist delivers his debut graphic novel at 85, a deliriously over-the-top blend of classic movie noir and melodrama that roams from chiaroscuro Bay City to Hollywood to a USO gig in the Pacific theater of World War II. There's a burnt-out drunk of a private eye, but the story is soon commandeered by a multigenerational collection of ferocious women, including a mysterious chanteuse who never speaks, a radio comedy writer who makes a childhood friend the butt of a hit series and a ruthless dame intent on making her whiny coward of a husband into a star. There are disguises, musical numbers and plenty of gunfights, but the drawing is the main attraction. Nobody convey's bodies in motion more thrillingly than Feiffer, whether they're dancing, running or duking it out. The kid has promise.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    The Motherless Oven by Rob Davis
    This is a weird one, but in the nervy surreal way that word-playful novels like "A Clockwork Orange" or "Ulysses" are weird. The main character, a teenage schoolboy named Scarper Lee, lives in a world where it rains knives and people make their own parents, contraptions that can be anything from a tiny figurine stashable in a pocket to biomorphic boiler-like entities that seem to have escaped from Dr. Seuss' nightmares. Their homes are crammed with gadgets they call gods and instead of TV they watch a hulu-hoop-size wheel of repeating images that changes with the day of the week. They also know their own "death day," and Scarper's is coming up fast. Maybe that's why he runs off with the new girl at school, a real troublemaker, and the obscurely dysfunctional Castro, whose mother is a cageful of talking parakeets. A solid towline of teenage angst holds this manically inventive vision together, and proves that some graphic novels can rival the text-only kind at their own game.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    NOBROW 9: It's Oh So Quiet
    For each issue, the anthology magazine put out by this adventurous U.K.-based publisher of independent graphic design, illustration and comics gives 45 artists a four-color palette and a theme. In the ninth issue, the theme is silence, and the results are magnificent and full of surprises. The comics, each told in images only, range from atmospheric to trippy to jokey to melancholy to epic to creepy. But the two-page illustrations are even more powerful, even if it's not always easy to see how they pertain to the overall concept of silence. Well, except perhaps for the fact that so many of them left me utterly dumbstruck with visual delight.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Over Easy by Mimi Pond
    When Pond was a broke art student in the 1970s, she took a job at a neighborhood breakfast spot in Oakland, a place with good food, splendid coffee and an endlessly entertaining crew of short-order cooks, waitresses, dishwashers and regular customers. This graphic memoir, influenced by the work of Pond's friend, Alison Bechdel, captures the funky ethos of the time, when hippies, punks and disco aficionados mingled in a Bay Area at the height of its eccentricity. The staff of the Imperial Cafe were forever swapping wisecracks and hopping in and out of each other's beds, which makes them more or less like every restaurant team in history. There's an intoxicating esprit de corps to a well-run everyday joint like the Imperial Cafe, and never has the delight in being part of it been more winningly portrayed.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    The Shadow Hero by Gene Luen Yang and Sonny Liew
    You don't have to be a superhero fan to be utterly charmed by Yang and Liew's revival of a little-known character created in the 1940s by the cartoonist Chu Hing. This version of the Green Turtle, however, is rich in characterization, comedy and luscious period detail from the Chinatown of "San Incendio" (a ringer for San Francisco). Hank, son of a mild-mannered grocer, would like to follow in his father's footsteps, but his restless mother (the book's best character and drawn with masterful nuance by Liew) has other ideas after her thrilling encounter with a superhero. Yang's story effortlessly folds pathos into humor without stooping to either slapstick or cheap "darkness." This is that rare tribute that far surpasses the thing it celebrates.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Shoplifter by Michael Cho
    Corinna Park, former English major, works, unhappily, in a Toronto advertising agency. When the dissatisfaction of the past five years begins to oppress her, she lets off steam by pilfering magazines from a local convenience store. Cho's moody character study is as much about city life as it is about Corinna. He depicts her falling asleep in front of the TV in her condo, brooding on the subway, roaming the crowded streets after a budding romance goes awry. Like a great short story, this is a simple tale of a young woman figuring out how to get her life back, but if feels as if it contains so much of contemporary existence -- its comforts, its loneliness, its self-deceptions -- suspended in wintery amber.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Through the Woods by Emily Carroll
    This collection of archetypal horror, fairy and ghost stories, all about young girls, comes lushly decked in Carroll's inky black, snowy white and blood-scarlet art. A young bride hears her predecessor's bones singing from under the floorboards, two friends make the mistake of pretending to summon the spirits of the dead, a family of orphaned siblings disappears one by one into the winter nights. Carroll's color-saturated images can be jagged, ornate and gruesome, but she also knows how to chill with absence, shadows and a single staring eye. Literary readers who cherish the work of Kelly Link or the late Angela Carter's collection, "The Bloody Chamber," will adore the violent beauty on these pages.

  • Recent Slide Shows

Comments

0 Comments

Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>