This is the text of a talk I gave as part of the BFI's Hot Take event on masculinity onscreen. Please note: the audience were instructed beforehand to read out in a monotonous, robotic voice the signs that I held up at various intervals in the talk.
The most invidious episode of the new series of Queer Eye – in which five cis-men who aren’t queer remake straight men so that they can earn more money and get their dicks wet – isn’t the Bobby Van Camp episode. To jog your memory, Bobby Van Camp is the smug and sanctimonious father of nine who gets remade by the so-called Fab Five to look exactly like Karl from Neighbours. That episode misses the boat by offering nothing but the merest, most feeble rejoinder to Bobby’s ostensibly gay-hating religion, as our five hosts gratefully and tearfully accept Bobby’s smug and self-regarding speechifying on the topic of “gays: you’re just humans like me.”
The worst episode of Queer Eye isn’t even the one which invokes racist police brutality in a completely confected scene where an officer pulls over one of the hosts, Karamo, only to reveal that he’s actually a good guy playing a trick on them. As with the oppression of the church, police violence is given nothing but the most cursory clapback, as the genies need to get on with the business of showering their heterosexual Aladdins with money – because nothing could be more queer than making a Faustian pact with Mammon.
Audience: YAS QUEEN
The worst episode, and the most boring, is when the mincetrels visit Remy, a boring schlub with no style or interests, do up his house with expensive self-styled ‘Cuban’ murals without even a jot of irony, and dress Remy to emulate his style icon Don Draper, a misogynist pig from the 1960s. They remake his home to look less ‘feminine’ – it used to belong to his grandmother – and give him a manly style.
Audience: WERK IT MAMA
Here are enacted all the worst facets of Queer Eye – its repulsive grovelling towards our historical oppressors; its mortifying boner for capitalism, the machine purpose-built for crushing minorities; its snivelling adoption of supposedly queer tropes for the benefit of ‘acceptance’ rather than revolution; its actual or implied misogyny; its inability to propose a valid queer universe with a new or interesting language; and its refusal to address patriarchy and masculinity as ills to be fixed or nuked.
In the world of Queer Eye, it's possible to sell off the secrets of our minority existences, all the tricks we have squirrelled away through millennia of murder and oppression, all the timeworn codes we have developed in order to embody an alternative to a grotesque mainstream culture of self-advancement and violence. It’s possible and even advisable, they believe, to maintain masculinity as it is and make adorable cosmetic changes to it, which will hopefully make the big man stop hitting us.
Audience: MY WIG IS SNATCHED
Thank you for listening.