A Response to Maria Papas’ Post “What Wall Are You On?”

I admit, Maria’s post “What Wall Are You On” piqued my interest because of the mention of the words “Queer Eye.” I’m a fan of this show because I enjoy seeing the Fab Five completely transform someone else’s life, especially someone who has not been taking care of themselves. Each Queer Eye episode is fairly formulaic, with a car ride, a brief description of the subject the Fab Five is making over, the Fab Five interacting with the subject and offering their advice, a party or reunion that’s planned for the “reveal” of the transformation, and the Fab Five cheering from their couch, watching their television screens.

Since I was able to sum up Queer Eye episodes in one (albeit long) sentence, I believe I can pinpoint a beginning, middle, and an end. Perhaps a transformation breaks up the recursive patterns of low self-esteem, low confidence, and insecurity. However, can transformation effectively conveyed in a format where there is a beginning, middle, or end, admittedly an evolution? Should a transformation need certain kinds of empirical proof (such as a weight loss, a haircut, a teeth fixing, a home renovation, a new job?) in order to be valid? Along with Parks’ work Imperceptible Mutabilities, I found that Frederick Douglass’ Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass had some informative tools with which to investigate these questions. As we discussed in class, Douglass’ work had a narrative arc in it. There was a beginning, middle and end, and we discussed that the audience for this narrative was primarily wives of abolitionists, who were moved by details of suffering but privileged enough to affect change. Those details of suffering included the physical torture of being whipped and the spiritual torture of longing to be free. Written down, this is in many ways empirical proof of suffering, in order for the transformation: from a person who was enslaved to a person who was not enslaved anymore (true freedom from racism and pervasive bigotry doesn’t really apply here.) 

In many ways, Queer Eye and Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass are very similar works. The cast of Queer Eye and Frederick Douglass are historically oppressed people, the cast identifying as queer (with two queer people of color), and Frederick Douglass identifying as African-American. The show and the slave narrative have been critically acclaimed, and rated the best in their respective categories. But with that attention comes closer scrutiny, and while that close scrutiny is entirely valid, open-ended, philosophical questions about the nature of transformation apply as well.

Maria–– Since you’ve reached your name, thank you for reading this (very lengthy) post all the way to the end! To everyone else: I hope this post helps you think critically about transformational narratives in popular media, even if this post has forced you to think during Queer Eye! I, for one, am excited for the new season when it comes out!

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