It's a bird! It's a plane! Actually, it's a giggling gaggle of five fabulous, fearless flibbertigibbets armed with exfoliators, color swatches, thinning shears and creme brulee spoons.
Think of them as gay superheroes, lavender avengers, velvet Mafiosi. Their mission? Not so impossible: rescuing their hetero brethren from fashion / decorating / entertaining faux pas. That's the premise of Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, the new "lifestyle makeover series" that made its premiere on Bravo this past week.
In the first episode, the make-over subject was Butch (yes, his real name!), a carpenter / set builder / struggling artist, exceptionally challenged where his hair and wardrobe were concerned. The Fab Five, as they are called, swooped in and transformed Butch and his apartment. In the second episode (Tuesday at 10 p.m.), a chicken-wing-chomping unibrower from Long Island gets plucked, plodded, primped and pampered into semi-perfection in time for a crucial dinner with his girlfriend.
While the notion of snap queens making instant and definitive pronouncements on matters of fashion, beauty and home decor might tickle straights, Queer Eye's premise -- that all homosexual men have inbred fashion-accessorizing, flower-arranging and hair-sculpting skills -- might rankle gays. The show cleverly and dangerously flirts with the stereotype that every gay guy has great taste and every straight guy is a shlub in desperate need of help.
"I think there are negative stereotypes, and there are positive stereotypes," said Bravo president Jeff Gaspin. "I'd like to think Queer Eye focuses a little bit more on the positive stereotypes."
But some gays -- bigwigs of style and fashion -- aren't buying it.
"The worst thing is to assume that gay men live in a very contrived environment that is perfectly appointed, and that they have no obstacles except for style concerns," said Robert Verdi, the co-host of Discovery Channel's Surprise by Design and a fixture in Manhattan's fashion and interior design realm. "The myth is that we don't have elderly parents or siblings with children, that we don't have normal conditions of life. That's false.
"Gay men do have an opinion on style that is rather magnificent, but we also have an equal opinion on health care, war, education, the stock market -- anything that is the subject of ordinary living. We don't live in bubbles of perfection. ... We have to go home and pay the phone bills too, do the laundry and walk the dog."
Leon Hall, fashion expert on the Style Network's Fashion Emer-gency, also bristles at the stereotype of the gay style-superhero.
"A person's sexual preference doesn't have anything to do with whether they have taste or not. I'm sorry, sexual preference does not come with good taste. As a gay man, I find that offensive," said Hall. "Why does it need a gay twist? Some of the best hairdressers in the world are straight men. It's like saying all straight men have bad taste. They don't. It's like pitting the straight guys against the gay guys. Why? We're not fighting a battle. We're all the same."
'100 percent' comfort
Not so fast, girlfriend. Simon Doonan, creative director at Barneys New York and the author of the witty "Simon Says" column in the New York Observer, has no problem with the Queer Eye concept, and relishes the stereotype of a gay specialness.
"I am 100 percent comfortable with the stereotyping of gay men as life-enhancing style mavens. Only a total P.C. moron would claim that this was not accurate. Gay men have a unique and magical ability to swoop in and make everything fabulous. We are creatively fulfilled by this kind of work. Most importantly, we are paid well to do it."
Doonan, the author of the new book Wacky Chicks: Life Lessons from Fearlessly In- appropriate and Fabulously Eccentric Women, said the only problem he has with Queer Eye is that most straight guys don't need this gay style-attention.
"I find that many straight guys are, as per the stereotype ... slobs who lack finesse. However, I adore that side of straight guys and have no desire to re-style them. I find their inability to be stylish quite poignant. My main issue with the show is that the gay men are trying to fix something which is not broken. If everybody became Prada perfect, then the world would be a really pathetic place and the gay guys would be just the same as everyone else."
Queer Eye celebrates and, truthfully, exploits those differences, but not in such a way that groups such as the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation have a problem with it.
"Entertainment is really subjective. All stereotypes are based in truth, and humor, a little bit anyway," said Michael Young, Northeast regional media manager for the alliance. "The straight participants [on Queer Eye] are a stereotype as well, to say that straight guys have no fashion sense at all, or are all slobs. Aside from that, it's entertainment."
They're all just guys
So what do the Fab Five -- cast members Ted Allen (food and wine connoisseur), Kyan Douglas (grooming guru), Thom Filicia (design doctor), Carson Kressley (fashion savant) and Jai Rodriguez (culture vulture) -- have to say about the issue?
At some point, said Allen, "It really starts to transcend the whole gay-straight question because what we have here is: Who wouldn't want five experts in their field to come in and sort of help with all these areas?"
"The one thing about this show that we've strived for from the beginning," said co-creator David Collins, a gay man, is to show that "gay guys, straight guys, they may do things a little different in the bedroom, but in the end, they're just guys. They just want to feel good about themselves, and confident."
The Hartford Courant is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.