THE REGENERATION OF LGBTQ+ T.V.
The entertainment industry has been awash with remakes recently, and thankfully queer culture has jumped on the bandwagon. With hate crimes on the rise, the increase of right-wing politics and concerningnews stories, such as Bermuda being the first country to rescind same sex marriage, it’s no wonder we’re drawn to the comfort of nostalgic TV shows. Whilst they were culturally significant in their day, it’s a question of whether they’re still relevant or if they’re an easy money-maker for the production companies.
The new series of Queer Eye begins, ‘the original show was fighting for tolerance, our fight is for acceptance’. Although it’s frustrating that we’re still fighting for anything, there are factors of the reboot serving as nice reminders of the progress made, such as how two of the new Fab Five are married – a reality not possible when the original show began fifteen years ago.
More than just a makeover show, Queer Eye champions feeling good about yourself. However, whilst the messages of self-care and confidence are important, it’s the way they tackle subjects such as politics, religious attitudes to homosexuality and internalised homophobia that make this show stand out. Highlights include Karamo, the proud black gay man, connecting with a white Trump supporting police officer; Tan helping AJ to come out to his family whilst exploring why he doesn’t want to look too ‘feminine’; Bobby bonding with a contestant over their Christian upbringings; Jonathan patiently explaining why questions such as, ‘are you the husband or the wife?’ are offensive. The way they assist and educate the men – and the audience – is the heart of the show.
It’s true that some of the conversations are too idealistic (Tan claiming that ‘being your true self isn’t going to offend anybody’ is not a level we’ve reached yet), but it’s hard not to be touched by the positivity of the show. When they spread messages such as ‘there is no right or wrong way to be gay’ and ‘my goal is to figure out how we’re similar, as opposed to how different we are’, it’s clear that the series is about more than a new wardrobe or haircut. It’s about talking and realising our shared humanity through topics such as family, love and happiness. Instead of just trying to teach straight men, it’s a dialogue in which the Fab Five gain deeper knowledge of the bases of some people’s misconceptions, so they can encourage them be more tolerant and understanding. It successfully builds bridges by acknowledging, embracing and challenging assumptions about queerness, whilst showing that we’re all human.
Will & Grace
Twenty years ago, Will & Grace made history as the first prime-time US TV series to have openly gay protagonists. Whilst it was celebrated for bringing LGBTQ characters and issues to our screens – to the extent that Joe Biden claimed it made him comfortable with same-sex marriage and ‘did more to educate the American public than almost anybody’s ever done’ – it was not without its problems. Creators Mutchnik and Kohan received death threats, whilst actor Sean Hayes (Jack) was too worried to come out whilst the show aired, waiting until it was over to announce his sexuality.
Fortunately, times have moved on. Whilst it took two series for the original to air its first same-sex kiss, the reboot has one in the first episode. For a sitcom, it does tackle some heavier issues, such as Grace’s breast cancer scare and Jack’s grandson being sent to a conversion camp, but it’s welcome to view these through a lighter lens in today’s climate. It’s also refreshing to see a show address issues for middle-aged LGBTQ people when most TV and film focus exclusively on younger characters.
However, whilst the original Will & Grace was heralded for its handling of gay issues, the new series falls short in places. In particular, it disregards some of the struggles we still face: a 23-year old character claims that ‘everything’s good now’ and has never experienced any issues regarding his sexuality, prompting Will to ‘educate’ him on, ‘the struggle that came before you, so you can walk down the streets in skinny jeans with rights you never knew you never had’. To pretend that millennial LGBTQ people have no knowledge or respect for the fights that have gone on before and continue today is dismissive and patronising; it could encourage a divide between generations.
The cultural and political impact these shows had when they originally aired is undeniable, but it’s important to acknowledge that they are no longer as groundbreaking as they once were. Both Queer Eye and Will & Gracefocus exclusively on the cisgender gay male experience. For shows that have always been considered political, perhaps in today’s society of call-out culture, social media and criticism of shows like Friends, they are not political enough. It would perhaps be too difficult to portray the vast array of LGBTQ experiences within only one show, which is why we need new shows to take the helm on broader inclusivity. Whilst it would be lovely to be living in an era where LGBTQ characters are the norm instead of politicised, for now the truth remains that more needs to be done. With recent figures from YouGov polls showing that only 48% of 16-24 year olds identify as exclusively heterosexual, it’s time for popular culture to reflect these figures and normalise every part of our community, instead of a small percentage.