Making Americans Great Again
Spoiler alert: plot details for Episode “Dega Don’t” from Queer Eye (Netflix Season 1) revealed in this article.
It was one in the morning and I couldn’t sleep, so I rolled my laptop onto my bed and logged into Netflix. The new Queer Eye trailer started up on the home page, and with some interest, I watched the cast and make-over subjects (the show call them 'heroes') cycle through funny anecdotes that spoke warmly and passionately about self-worth, health, family and making change. The trailer wound down with, “a common thread that holds everyone together is—”. By that point, I didn’t care how the sentence was going to end because it was clear that the show was about the power of positive human connection. I clicked into the first episode, stayed up watching the show ‘til three and then woke up later that morning to finish the series.
This is why I think all of us need to be across the reboot of Queer Eye:
In Dubai, schools were often split up by nationalities. There was a French one, a Modern Indian High, an American high-school a couple of blocks from where I lived, and several British schools too. At 13, I studied at Jumeirah College, which was under the UK’s education system. Our student body was pretty multicultural but most of the kids were from (or around) England, and so were most of the staff. The jokes about most Americans being backward hicks started there and I never had any mates from the US to counter my English friends’ rhetoric.
This unfair stereotype was, unfortunately, compounded by several unfortunate experiences in Japan. One particular evening, I was chatting to a military man at a bar in Nichiome — our encounter still sits at the top of my mind.
“So you’re from India, right?”
“No, I’m not.”
“Yeah you are!”
“No, I’m not, I’m from Sri Lanka.”
“That’s the same thing!”
“No, they’re two different countries.”
“So, what’s India doing with all its nukes?”
“Your nukes! Where are you keeping them? They’re all hidden, right?”
“I’m not from India!!!!!”
Now in the Trump era, my heart is constantly splintering from the stories we’re hearing about the dreamers’ fight to live in their own country, the insane push against immigration, this stupid Mexican wall and the black men being terrorised by an unjust and insane police system. Lately, as an Editor-in-Chief who is working hard to promote diversity and understanding, I have really been struggling. It feels like I’ve been clawing to keep my mind open while biting back a new bitter taste in my mouth: are white, American men going to keep steamrolling over our cultures with their incorrect ideas about who we are and how our differences could harm them?
Queer Eye is a reality tv series that makes over a hero per episode (health, wardrobe, hair, home — the works) and helps them achieve a mammoth personal goal by the end of the week, run by a team of specialists called “The Fab 5”. One of the most striking episodes is ‘Derby Don’t’, which starts with the Queer Eye crew chatting about Cory, who they’re driving to makeover in Atlanta. A few minutes in, without any warning, a police siren cuts through the air and red and blue flashes through the back window of their jeep.
Whilst watching, I found that I was bracing myself for the Fab 5. It seemed there was no way this team would emerge from this episode unscathed, especially since they’re in the bowels of America with a culture specialist who is black (Karamo Brown) and a fashion expert who is a Pakistani and British TCK (Tan France). The whole crew is also gay (which is where the title ‘Queer Eye’ comes in).
Almost as if reading my mind, Tan jokes, “it’s not you guys,” as the Fab 5 glance wearily at the cop car behind them, “they saw me in the back of the car and they’re concerned!” Karamo starts to pull over and his jaw sets with apprehension. Tan, in a mock-southern accent adds, “there’s some coloured folk up in here!” to try and lighten the awful tension that’s clouded up the screen.
Through this incident with highway patrol, we find out that their guest Cory was a Marine who is now a cop and that Karamo has to confront the unthinkable: he must continue to be a professional and spend the entire week pouring his heart into Cory’s very personal makeover after a difficult history and present with the police.
All I could think was, “Here we go.”
The first thing that blew my mind was Karamo, who chose to approach this nightmare with class and grace. Halfway through the episode, on another drive back from a styling session in Atlanta, he chatted to Cory about sports, signing up for the marines, their childhoods and the music they were listening to, and finished with, “I think we’d have hung out in high-school, seriously!” Cory laughed in agreement before Karamo admitted candidly that he wasn’t comfortable with the situation he was currently in on the show. “My kid did not want to get a licence. He was scared he was going to get pulled over and shot by a cop.”
I could see Cory listening attentively and with concern. He told Karamo he didn’t agree with the use of excessive and deadly force.
“There’s pain on both sides,” Karamo replies.
They speak about how important it is to have conversations in order to really make change. “Everybody wants to talk, nobody wants to listen,” Cory concludes and Karamo reaches over and shakes his hand.
The scene transitions to Karamo in front of the camera alone, in his studio. “I’m open and I’m going to stay open, because I need to learn from him and he needs to learn from me.” My heart agreeably ba-dhumped in my chest at his words. Karamo’s generosity was inspired and mirrors an ethos we try to practice here at TCK TOWN.
What made me believe-believe, though, was the last few minutes of the show when the team were saying goodbye after a very successful makeover, and Cory begins to cry as he addresses Karamo.
“Riding back from Atlanta, with you, was probably one of the best parts of all of this.” He takes a big breath, “and I really embrace it.”
The two stand up, hug, wipe back tears. Jonathan the Stylist hoots “bro-stars!” and I find that my cheeks are wet as well.
Yes, these barriers breaking down can be considered a small triumph, but it should be noted that there are many more wins like the one between Cory and Karamo throughout the series. When you watch Queer Eye in its entirety, what this show is doing is huge. Most of the episodes are creating opportunities for white, southern American males to open up their lives to a complete overhaul by a multicultural (and cross-cultural) team of strangers that don’t look anything like they do. What is wild — what is really wild — is that most of these men take this first step unreservedly as the episode starts. This act of vulnerability to me is astounding, and the fact that they are willing to stay open while continuing such a personal makeover (on camera!) is unfathomable and completely heroic. Eight episodes down and it’s clear that Trump’s America may not exist in the way I thought it did, and there are truly wonderful folk with big hearts and open minds who want to change and learn more about themselves through culture and diversity.
It’s midnight following the evening I discovered this new season of Queer Eye. I’ve just finished watching ‘Dega Don’t’ for the second time. Exhaling slowly as I key the last few words into my article, I feel like a weight has been lifted. After a worrying few months of wondering if I was really suited to lead a cross-cultural team while feeling so angry about certain parts of America, I can now honestly say that my heart is full again.
There are so many extraordinary people creating meaningful change, and the power of digital content magnifies their actions so they are felt around the world. Put them together and you have a show like Queer Eye, which has helped me become a better editor and which will, no doubt, be instrumental in Making Americans Great Again.