There they go – the fabulous 5 sprint into a car ready for their next “mission”. Upbeat music pumps (stuff you’d probably hear on a fashion runway) to enhance the quality of fabulousness this crowd embodies and immediately they get down to business. A mug-like shot appears to the left of the screen identifying the gang’s newest victim: Kevin Downey Jr. Kevin is portrayed in black and white, clearly at a place in his life with no color nor rightful “citizenship” (a little Weber coming out…). But the Fab 5 – in forty short minutes – will fix this.
In this mug-like shot (which he was clearly unaware was taken – most likely a still frame of a scene shot later in the episode) Kevin appears shaggy and scruffy. Immediately you hear remarks about Kevin’s exterior such as “AAAAH – OH MY GOD,” “He looks like an evil leprechaun,” “How do you feel about his hair?,” and “I’m not likin’ the hair.”
The remarks soon move towards Kevin’s career… “Switchboard manager by day, swinging comedian by night – says him,” “He’s been doing well with his comedy act. He’s been playing steady shows in Long Island and Ohio.” Another member of the Fab 5 laughs in mockery at this comment (amidst “Oh yeaaaah” in the background) as if the two “unclassy” locations are hardly evidence that he’s “doing well” with this aspiration. They are in no way fabulous.
The gang then comments on… “Guys, it says he was an awkward pimply teenager with OCD.” Three members of the gang break out into their best impressions of individuals with OCD. They start repeatedly opening and closing their books, repeating “I need to wash my hands” over and over, and looking towards the right multiple times.
They flash to a picture of Kevin’s girlfriend, Matilda, to which Ted remarks, “Why is she dating this man?!” Upon further investigation, another member of the Fab 5 remarks that Kevin would like to marry this girl but she won’t even come over his house because apparently it’s a “nauseating” household. One member immediately starts to doubt the possibility of a marriage stating, “If she doesn’t come over the house at all, odds are she’s not going to say yes.” Thankfully however some optimistic statements enter our earsdrum: ‘We gotta get him from being featured in shows to being a headliner, to propose to his girlfriend…” and “He needs a mentor”
Just then the mission comes up in big bold lettering. “CHANGE PAT RACK TO RAT PACK”
High fiving ensues and the show’s opening theme song comes on…”All things just keep gettin’ better…,” followed by the appearance of a cartoon sketched city with spotlights shining “QE”. We’re then introduced (officially) to the 5 professionals and their fields, i.e. grooming, food & wine (because well food alone just isn’t fabulous enough), culture, interior design, and fashion. The lyrics go on “You came into my life and my world never looked so bright…It’s true you bring out the best of me when you are around…all things just keep getting better.” All 5 members of the Fab 5 receive an alert on their cells that dire help is needed. They each stop what they’re doing, grab their tools (paintbrushes, blow dryers, shopping bags, whisks – you name it), slip on their black sunglasses and immediately head to their mission.
We’re then presented with images of men “Before” and “After”. The black and white figure in a plaid shirt and baggy pants (there’s that black and white again) transforms into the image of a man (this time in color) in a suit and tie – standing taller and more confident than before. Again, a billboard of a man with slightly long hair and, again, a plaid shirt (I’m sensing a pattern here) becomes an in-color image of a man now with glasses, a red tie and a suit, – just by the Fab 5 walking past it! Lastly, a perfectly respectable man lounging on a sofa now becomes a man (dressed in all black – specifically a black turtleneck) drinking a cocktail on his now leather seat in a room with artwork. We’re left with an image of the Fab 5 gang walking in unison, painting the black and white city with color with each step they take.
While there is a whirlwind to say about the remaining forty something minutes of this episode (including the gang of 5 rampaging Kevin’s apartment, touching his hair, “improving” him head to toe and nearly everything around him like his home, job, etc., and finally sitting back on a comfortable couch to watch all their work come together in the form of a proposal), I thought it’d be interesting to stick to a specific portion of the episode. I believe the first 2:25 of the episode exemplify so much of what was spoken about in Weber’s “Makeover Nation: Americanness, Neoliberalism, and the Citizen-Subject”.
As Weber states in her work, “makeovers put ‘ordinary people’…” aka aspiring comedians with messy homes such as Kevin “into contact with those who have touched, served, or represent the ‘extraordinary,’ creating an After-body…” aka a gang of fabulous professionals, each well experienced in their own specific field (50). Weber also remarks, “most men requiring transformation in style and body show have working class markers written on the Before-body” (42). Kevin is described as a switchboard manager but his real passion lies in comedy, a field Kevin personally feels he is modestly succeeding in (though the Fab 5 laughs his mild success off since the locations of his work aren’t too impressive in their eyes).
Weber notes that the idea that “good looks” and “a beautiful house” are required for “full citizenship in a larger dating, employment, and social culture” clearly presents itself in this show. As an audience our first view of Kevin is as a “criminal” – his mug shot appears in black and white and we’re supposed to be itchin’ for his hair to be cut off and face shaved… for him to be cleaned by the gang. The entire premise of the episode is based around the notion that unless Kevin cleans himself up, updates his wardrobe, and straightens out his home, he will have no chance at marrying the love of his life or succeeding in his path towards becoming a comedian. Weber also writes, “Indeed, the humiliating and shame-inducing makeover narratives are themselves hardly sites of democratic egalitarianism. At best, shows created mediated environments that are benevolent dictatorships, in which the demands of fitness coaches and style gurus must be followed…” (40). I would say that these 5 fabulous gay men are in fact benevolent dictators…each one immediately writing off certain portions of Kevin’s life within the first few seconds of the show (especially with the mockery of his childhood illness). But not to worry, benevolent enters the pictures as they exert some “positive forward-thinking” right before the theme song hits. This sets the stage for the power they are about to exert over Kevin to alter his image for the better.
I think Queer Eye interestingly fits into Weber’s notion that makeover shows make “masculinized women more feminine” and “effeminate men more masculine” because in this show’s specific case, it is making overly masculinized men, men who are shlubby and scruffy and clearly giving in too much to the notion that men “don’t need to try”, a tad more feminized by this group of gay men (39). However, the man still remains “straight enough” and we are able to clearly distinguish him from this group of homosexual mentors — as portrayed by the title “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy.”