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Queer in the U.S.A.

If you think the trendy popularity of Queer Eye for the Straight Guy means gays have arrived in mainstream America, think again. Think of those horribly unfunny "black" situation comedies on UPN and the WB Network. Think stereotypes.

On those UHF shows, we never get beyond the stereotypes of the sassy, all-wise mamma, the dumb black male hipsters who think with their genitals and the chicks whose most cogent comment is "You go, girl!" So it is, I’m afraid, with the "Fab Five" on Queer Eye.

Describe the most prominent gay stereotypes and you are describing the plot of Queer Eye. Note: "Queer" used to have a negative connotation when I was growing up. It meant "different," and not in any way we would talk about except in whispers.

Queer entertainment was The Jockey Club in Atlantic City, where straight adults went to laugh at the gay female impersonators. Any way you looked at it, the laughter was not with them, it was at them. Queer now has enough cachet in some parts of the gay community to be used in the title of a TV show. Queer Eye proves that so-called positive stereotypes are not exactly progress, but just another way to make superficial judgments about a whole group of people.

In the program, the Fab Five are five gay guys who are adept at various facets of personal grooming. A hapless straight guy is picked each week, a stereotype himself because everybody knows heteros don’t know how to dress and gays do. Aren’t all gay guys witty and well groomed, or do I know an obvious stereotype when I see one?

The Fab Five do a complete makeover on the straight guy, even giving him hints on what to eat, what to say and how to act with his lady love on the big night. It makes you wonder how we straight guys ever managed courtship without the assistance of some friendly, well-meaning gays armed with a camera crew nearby. Geez, in the heyday of the Hugh Hefner empire, it was assumed that straight guys could make their own way, without anything more than a yearly subscription to Playboy to tell them how to dress and act.

In the finale of the show, we see the Fab Five sitting around a TV set watching a tape of the straight guy’s inevitable success. This is TV within TV — remember the old film-within-a-film techniques used in art films? How avante garde! The gay guys all make what passes for witty remarks (remember this is still reality TV, where what usually passes for wit and humor is what you’ll find in any bowling alley on Main Street, U.S.A., on a Saturday night).

It’s all rather chaste and free of the good, smutty remark that has probably been edited if it were ever uttered. In fact, Queer Eye definitely needs some good smut to keep you awake. Instead, it’s the kind of show that is designed to attract the kind of mainstream gays who, I suppose, long for commercial acceptance, and the kind of straights for whom gays are as trendy as blacks once were. Question: Have gays replaced blacks as the guests to invite to your next straight white couples dinner party, or have we just expanded the guest list to include them?

Look, I’m all for gay rights — including gay marriage — but stupid gay-themed TV is still stupid. Real progress is doing away with stereotypes, even the so-called positive ones. No, Virginia, all gay guys are not good-looking and well dressed. Not all of them are hairdressers or interior designers, either. Some of them are in the football locker room or pulling guard duty in Baghdad or holding up liquor stores. Humanity is a lot more complicated than reality TV.

The advertising world seemingly has just discovered there might be some money to be made from pitching products toward a gay audience. We are already seeing ads with obvious gay themes. OK. I have no problem with that, or gay-themed TV even, but what it really takes for prejudice to disappear is for us to recognize a stereotype when see it. Stereotypes are a superficial substitute for a complicated world. Positive stereotypes, like all black guys are cool and can jump or all gay guys know which wine to drink with which food, substitute myth for reality and postpone accepting each individual as an individual without regard to the color of skin or which sex they prefer.

That’s undoubtedly why Queer Eye for the Straight Guy has made it to commercial TV, while Queer as Folk and Six Feet Under will always be stuff you need a cable subscription to see.

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