The Rittenhouse Review

A Philadelphia Journal of Politics, Finance, Ethics, and Culture

Wednesday, July 23, 2003  

Seeking “Context” Where None is Needed

Today I ran across a recent Tom Shales column in the Washington Post, “Bravo’s ‘Queer Eye’ Heads Straight for the Stereotypes” (July 15), a whiney little diatribe about the Bravo cable network’s new summer series, “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy.”

Now, if ever there were a man -- I don’t know if Shales is straight or gay, and, frankly, I really couldn’t care less -- who needed some fixing up, it’s Shales. And I say that based only upon my observations of his public persona; I hate to think what Shales’s home looks like.

But with beads of sweat forming on his ample upper lip, Shales scribbles, among far too much else:

Forced to choose between scorn and condescension, gay people could hardly be blamed for preferring the latter -- and thus might not object to the stereotypes on parade in the series, which each week dispatches five New York gay men to rescue some poor, style-starved straight person at a crossroads in his life. One can hope the series . . . will prove to be as harmless as it is frivolous.[…]

Obviously TV has come a long way from times when gays were either being invisible or portrayed in cliched and melodramatic terms; then there was a period of discovery, or whatever, when it seemed that the only well-adjusted adults in dramas or sitcoms were gay, because seemingly every show was careful to include a positive gay role model among its dramatis personae. The word “queer” itself has gone from detested epithet to a slang term embraced by homosexual [sic] groups themselves, thus essentially taking away its sting.

One feels an obligation to provide some sort of context when talking about a show called “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy,” but the fact is, the program has no particular claim on words like “milestone” or “turning point.” And to that charge, the producers may justifiably respond with “So what?” All they’re doing is having a little fun, they might say, and passing along some lifestyle-improvement tips generously seasoned with outright commercial plugs.

Exactly. So what?

Shales obviously has been plying his “craft” far too long. Only a “TV critic” -- the Post misguidedly calls him a “Style Critic” -- would think we need “some sort of context” to guide us through an episode of a program like “Queer Eye.”

At one point in this ridiculous send-up the clueless Shales, proving the moniker “Style Critic” to be uniquely undeserved, writes, “Here we learn another valuable lesson: When wearing a denim jacket with jeans, make sure the two denims are contrasting, not the same, because otherwise you run the hellacious risk of appearing tacky.”

Shales didn’t know this? I thought everyone knew that. And here’s an added tip, for everyone, but particularly for those like Shales who -- and I offer this only as an observation, not a criticism -- are dealing with those pesky ten extra pounds: You will flatter your silhouette if you choose a denim jacket that is darker than your jeans.

Take that as good advice from a skinny lean guy. (On a related note, see “Things Straight Men Don’t Get #379,” about black shoes.)

In a sub-cultural reference we can be thankful few Shales readers will fully understand, the “Style Critic” signs off with this observation:

In Mart Crowley’s breakthrough play “The Boys in the Band,” a particularly effeminate character remarks, “Oh, Mary. It takes a fairy to make something pretty.” In some circles, that play is now considered hopelessly reactionary. And yet that line sounds as if it might have come from “Queer Eye for a Straight Guy” -- except that “fairy” is no longer an acceptable term. Things change -- or do they?

Thanks, Tom, but let me clue you in: It’s all about “context.” This is, after all, 2003 not 1970.

And besides, we can take the joke. Take it? Hell, we’ve been making that joke every day since time immemorial. So now a few more people are in on it. So what?

Don’t worry about us, Tom. We’ll be just fine.

[Post-publication addendum (July 27): Meanwhile, over at the New York Times, Alessandra Stanley gets it. Go read the article, Tom, and see what all the fuss isn’t about.]

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