- A Metrosexual Eye on Queer Guy
There are several ways we can understand Queer Eye for the Straight Guy. The program can be seen as
1. the culmination of a surge of U.S. television programming that presents a sanitary, white, middle-class queer urban world in which queerness is fun and gays and lesbians are to be laughed with, not at;
2. an indication of the degree to which queer difference is a new commodity of pleasure that is safely distant from, but compatible with, heteronormativity;
3. a sign that queerness is, indeed, a lifestyle of practices that can be adopted, discarded, and redisposed promiscuously—in this case, disarticulated from its referent and resignified as metrosexuality;
4. the professionalization of queerness as a form of management consultancy for conventional masculinity, something that can be brought in to improve efficiency and effectiveness, like time-and-motion expertise, total-quality management, and just-in-time techniques; and
5. an endorsement of the spread of self-fashioning as a requirement of personal and professional achievement through the U.S. middle-class labor force.
I believe that a political-economic shift is pressuring middle-class straight men in the United States to conform to norms exemplified in Queer Eye, even as a new demographic targeting makes queer viewers attractive to television advertisers.
The male body is up for grabs as sexual icon, commodity consumer, and worker. This has been most recently signaled by the emergence of the "metrosexual," a term coined by the queer critic Mark Simpson and joyfully embraced by Western European, Australian, Latin American, and U.S. marketers.1 The metrosexual is said to endorse equal opportunity vanity through cosmetics, softness, hair care products, wine bars, gyms, designer fashion, wealth, the culture industries, finance, cities, cosmetic surgery, David Beckham, and deodorants. Happy to be the object of queer erotics and committed to daily exfoliation and Web surfing, metrosexuals are feminized males who blur the visual style of straight and gay in a restless search "to spend, shop and deep-condition."2
The gay men in Queer Eye offer a makeover for straight men under the sign of metrosexuality, indicating that the field of the metrosexual reaches far beyond [End Page 112] Manhattan wine bars and clubs. The key to the program is that the potential metrosexual can be found in the suburban reaches of the tri-state area (New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut), awaiting his transformation from ordinary man into hipster. Essentially, Queer Eye's queer management consultants descend on him from Gotham, charged with increasing his marketability as husband, father, and (more silently) employee. What were the preconditions for the emergence of the metrosexual, of Queer Eye, and of such makeovers?
The 1980s saw two crucial conferences that helped shift the direction of global advertising: "Classifying People" and "Reclassifying People." Traditional ways of understanding consumers—by race, gender, class, and region—were supplemented by categories of self-display, with market researchers dubbing the 1990s the decade of the "new man."3 Lifestyle and psychographic research became central, with consumers divided among "moralists," "trendies," "the indifferent," "working-class puritans," "sociable spenders," and "pleasure seekers." Men were subdivided into "pontificators," "self-admirers," "self-exploiters," "token triers," "chameleons," "avant-gardicians," "sleepwalkers," and "passive endurers."4
These new ways of thinking about consumers and audiences were linked to new ways of thinking about—and policing—employees. By 1997, 43 percent of U.S. men up to their late fifties disclosed dissatisfaction with their appearance, compared to 34 percent in 1985 and 15 percent in 1972. Why? Because the middle-class U.S. labor market now sees wage discrimination by beauty among men as well as among women, and major corporations frequently require executives to tailor their body shapes to the company ethos, or at least encourage employees to cut their weight in order to reduce health care costs to the employer. In 1998, 93 percent of U.S. companies featured fitness programs for workers, compared to 76 percent in 1992.5 A third of all graying male U.S. workers in 1999 colored...