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Queer eye for the straight guy: Contemporary depiction of homosexuality on TV

Term Paper 2005 18 Pages

Communications - Movies and Television

Excerpt

Table of Contents

1. Introduction

2. Overview of the presentation of homosexuality on television and in movies

3. Queer Eye for the Straight Guy

4. The Construction of Homosexuality in Queer Eye

5. The Stereotypes

6. Effects on the audience

7. Conclusion

8. Works cited

1. Introduction

Queer Eye for the Straight Guy (hereafter Queer Eye) is a television series which was first aired in July 2003 on Bravo Cable Network. Basically, the main content of each episode is that five gay men, each of them an expert in their field, make over a person, most often a straight man, for a special occasion, such as a proposal to a girlfriend or even a wedding. The series was an instant, and somewhat unexpected, success. It is especially remarkable for the way homosexual and heterosexual men are presented. My paper raises, and partially answers, questions such as: What is so different here about the way sexual orientation is presented? Through which symbols is homosexuality conveyed? and, What might be the effect of these representations on the audience? I argue that even though the symbols and stereotypes have not changed, their implications on Queer Eye make them a more positive representation of homosexuality than ever before seen on television.

In order to understand why Queer Eye is revolutionary, I will first give a short overview about the presentation of homosexuality on television in the past five decades. After that I depict the symbols, and particularly visual and aural symbols, through which homosexuality is conveyed in the show by giving specific examples from single episodes. Then I describe the stereotypes which are presented on Queer Eye, followed by the influence of these representations of homosexuality on the audience.

2. Overview of the presentation of homosexuality on television and in movies

It is important to understand the way homosexual men have been depicted in the mass media over the years, because the “codes, conventions, symbols and visuals they have offered have contributed significantly to the social construction of gay men and to the resulting social ramifications of that construction.” (Hart 2000, 62) In other words, the way society views gay men is constructed through the media; this becomes especially important if this is the only source of knowing about homosexuality for the audience. Therefore, images presented on television will often be taken as representations of reality. With that knowledge, it becomes obvious why misrepresentation can be harmful for a marginalized social group. Furthermore, this overview is also helpful in order to understand the revolutionary approach of Queer Eye’s depiction of gay men.

Before the late 1960s, gay men were rarely represented at all in U.S. television or in Hollywood movies. This non-representation was going along with a denial of the existence of homosexuality, before it finally made its first appearance in the mass-media. On March 7, 1967, CBS aired its documentary “The Homosexuals”. Even though this was the step from invisibility to some visibility, it could hardly have been more harmful. Homosexuality, the images seemed to say, is an illness. Homosexual men were either shown as lying on an analyst’s couch, or they were hidden behind potted plants, in order to express their shame about having to live with this illness. Even more harmful than those mediated pictures was the stereotypical description provided by CBS correspondent Mike Wallace; he described the “average homosexual” as “promiscuous”, “not interested in or capable of a lasting relationship” and the homosexuals’ “sex-life […]” as consisting of “chance encounters at the clubs and bars he inhabits…” (Hart 2000, 62). This image was what the audience was left with.

Following this report, homosexual men soon became the target of ridicule in the media: “stereotypes of gay men – as well as derogatory terms […] – soon became commonly encountered on U.S. talk shows and dramatic series…” (Hart 2000, 62). The only possible forms of representation of homosexuality until the late 1970s were either as being ridiculous, or as being a serious illness. In fact, it was not until the 1970s that homosexuality was removed from the list of mental illnesses in the United States (Off the Straight and Narrow).

In the late 1970s, the first positive gay male character was introduced in the situation comedy Barney Miller; subsequently, other positive gay characters began to appear. Typically, those characters appeared only once or for a very limited time within the series. This trend continued until the mid 1980s, when AIDS was discovered by and covered in the media. In its early media representations, AIDS was always seen in connection to homosexual men. The short period of more positive representations of homosexual men was thereby ended. Until the mid 1990s, the representation of AIDS, no matter if sympathetic or not, was mostly linked to gay men, thereby limiting the possible range of positive representations.

Despite those representations, “the major network prime-time shows began to increasingly represent diverse and inclusive gay male characters that cumulatively reflect the wide range of roles that gay men occupy in American society” (Hart 2000, 66). The occurrence of gay characters was no longer limited to single episodes, and a variety of television shows, such as Roseanne and thirtysomething, featured recurring homosexual characters.

The final “breakthrough” was achieved in 1997, when Ellen, the first situation comedy which featured a homosexual lead character, was aired. Not only was the lead character homosexual within the series, but the main actress also leads an openly lesbian life outside the set.

According to Hart, “with the launch of the 1998-99 television season, […] Will & Grace introduced prime-time television’s first gay male lead character (Hart 2000, 67).” But still, one feature of the representation of homosexuality had not changed: homosexual characters, no matter in which setting, were represented as asexual beings. Even if a character was openly gay, there would be no physical contact with sexual connotations. And this is where we are right now. Since Will & Grace, which is criticized for the fact that the lead character’s sexual orientation does not have any impact on the plot, and that the other gay male character is so traditionally stereotypically gay (compare Hart 2004, 244), there have not been any major changes in the representation of homosexual men on television – until Queer Eye for the Straight Guy.

3. Queer Eye for the Straight Guy

Queer Eye is a make-over show in which five openly gay men, referred to as the “Fab Five”, “improve” a straight man – improve meaning that they help him choose nice clothes and the right wine, provide him with knowledge about culture and food, and, beautify his home. The straight men address the Fab Five for help before a special occasion, such as before proposing to their girlfriend or any other important social occasion.

The Fab Five accomplish all the changes in the straight man’s life seemingly in only one day, in a manner of “fairy godmothers” (Ramsey and Santiago 353) – but actually, the show has been edited to make it look like one day; the process normally takes three days to one week. This technique makes the gay men appear like super heroes (comp. Hart 2004, 250). But their real appeal lies in the fact that all of them, apart from being gay, are real experts in what they are doing: Carson Kressley, the “fashion savant”, graduated from Gettysburg College with honors in management and art; after that, he worked for Ralph Lauren from 1994 until 2002[1]; Thom Filicia, the “design doctor”[2], attended Syracuse University and graduated with a B.A. in interior design; he is the founder and owner of the successful interior design company Thom Filicia Inc. The biographies of the other cast members are similarly impressive, having them prepared thoroughly for what they are doing now. Therefore, the metamorphosis of the straight men is not at all the miracle it seems, but of course it helps the representation of gay men to depict it that way.

[...]


[1] All biographical information can be found on www.wikipedia.org, under the respective name of the character.

[2] Titles are from Bravo’s webpage

Details

Pages
18
Year
2005
ISBN (eBook)
9783638785105
File size
432 KB
Language
English
Catalog Number
v74908
Institution / College
University of St. Thomas
Grade
1,0
Tags
Queer Contemporary Communication Studies

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Title: Queer eye for the straight guy: Contemporary depiction of homosexuality on TV