Neale Whitaker: On Queer Eye’s appeal
Getting to the heart of Queer Eye’s enduring appeal
When I heard TV’s Queer Eye For The Straight Guy was being rebooted on Netflix, I admit to a brief moment of eye-rolling. The original show might have pushed the envelope back in 2003, but in these more gender-fluid times, do we really need to perpetuate the old stereotype of gay guys being exclusive arbiters of taste, style and cool?
Hell, yes. After inhaling season one of the new version, called simply Queer Eye, at a single sitting, I am now hooked on season two. I love these guys. Hopefully I’ll never need their services, but they are welcome in my lounge room any time.
While they were in Australia earlier this month for a whistle-stop promotional tour, I caught up with the Fab Five – Tan France, Jonathan Van Ness, Bobby Berk, Karamo Brown and Antoni Porowski – in Sydney and grabbed a few moments on the couch with Berk, the show’s interior design expert. I asked him why the title of the reboot series was abbreviated. What happened to the Straight Guy?
“The original series was right for the time, but straight guys, for the most part, have got their crap together now,” Berk told me. “We wanted to do things in a different way and not shy away from social issues – or from talking about ourselves.”
Berk is at pains to point out that true transformation is “from the inside out, rather than the outside in”. State of mind is more important than well-cut jeans or a fridge full of kimchi. He denies it, but I believe Berk has the toughest job of all, making over an entire home in just five days. Where does he start?
“I find one thing that I know the guy will connect with to make it feel like home and not a set on TV.” As for his one fundamental to live by: “Keep your place tidy. When you wake up in a tidy, uncluttered space, you start your day happy.”
I asked him what he loved most about being part of Queer Eye. “I love being able to help people. Going into the show, I wasn’t sure if the ability to help was real, but we go in there and we make a difference to these guys’ lives.” Of course it’s an answer other writers in other cities have heard before me, but that’s fine. My instinct tells me Berk believes it.And I’m more than happy to buy it.
“Hopefully I’ll never need their services, but they are welcome to visit any time”