Queer Eye, Happy Endings and Real Life
Why ‘Love is Dead’ headlines need to stop
The new season of ‘Queer Eye’ has been an absolute joy to watch. The original series never appealed to me, but people online talking about how the new season was unexpectedly emotional and joyful in the way it treated toxic masculinity meant I gave it a shot. I’m very glad I did.
The opening episode, titled ‘You Can’t Fix Ugly’ is pretty much perfect. It’s about a guy who believes he’s ugly and not worth much, and the crew basically just helps him believe he’s worth an effort. It’s lovely and emotional, especially when he reconnects with his recent ex, and they seem to be about to give things another shot.
As feel-good television goes, it works. A likeable guy gains some self-belief, makes an effort and gets a happy ending. Plenty of people have been ugly-crying at it.
Then, because it’s real life, it didn’t quite work out that way. Tom and Abby (the couple from the episode) appear to have been off-and-on for a while and have split up and got back together since then.
Here’s how Buzzfeed covered them splitting up.
“Tom From “Queer Eye” Is Single Again And no. YOU’RE Crying.
Love is dead. Goodbye.”
I get why this approach is taken — because a lot of news and social outlets try to sound like they’re your friend telling you on social media. But this is an attitude towards covering real relationships that needs to stop. For a couple of reasons.
I always get uncomfortable when I see elaborate public proposals.
I’m talking about the kind you see in occasional viral videos, where someone proposes with a violinist surprising someone in a shopping mall, or arranges for the pitcher at a baseball game to help out, or even just on the kiss-cam at various public events.
These videos usually go one way, where the woman (because it’s almost always a guy doing this) says ‘yes’, they kiss and embrace, and everyone’s happy. But every now and then, they don’t. It’s awkward, and you can tell a lot of the people around feel like the woman should have played along.
They sometimes happen because, for heteronormative societal reasons that are worth considering, weddings are often seen as ‘the woman’s’ day. Whereas the proposal… that’s the guy’s chance to be romantic.
But, and I’m aware I’m preaching to the choir here, public proposals can be really manipulative. Through years of Hollywood, television and romantic stories, we’ve been conditioned into looking for the happy ending and looking for the guy — who has put himself out there with the risk of rejection — to get his reward. So the crowd is amped up and expecting the big cheer and applause.
If it doesn’t go ahead, if the hero fails, it’s because SHE has ruined it. She’s denied everyone the satisfactory closure to the story, and on top of that, she’s humiliated the hero in public.
In our own stories, we’re always the hero. And it’s easy to identify with rejection. And we all want to believe in true love and fairytale endings. ‘And they lived happily ever after’ is a powerful narrative.
Relationships break up sometimes. I’ve been through long-term relationship break-ups before, and it’s not easy to be on the receiving end of one, especially when it’s unexpected. Your life plans suddenly change enormously and you somehow weren’t part of the discussion. And on top of that, you’ve been rejected.
It’s not easy to be the one breaking up a relationship either. But it’s a much better thing to do than to be in a relationship that isn’t right for you, just because the other person believes it’s right for them. Their plans aren’t more important than your plans. And their happiness isn’t more important than your happiness.
Break-ups suck on both sides, but they’re often healthy. Certainly healthier than being in the wrong relationship, or, even worse, an abusive or manipulative one. It doesn’t mean that love is dead. If anything, it gives a chance for future love that may end up in a relationship that works better.
The last thing we should be doing is adding more pressure to the situation. There’s already a lot of pressure on the person breaking up (and, again, because of the way we prioritise and normalise sex and gender roles, even more pressure on women who break up with men).
And yet, we’re ending up with ‘Love is dead’ headlines when well-known relationships end. The ones put on here are just a selection, by the way — sites like EW, MTV, VH1, Jezebel, Cosmopolitan, the Daily Mail, Buzzfeed are guilty, but so are many more.
When celebrities are involved, it can be difficult to remember that they’re real people and these are real relationships. They’re not scripted and we don’t know what’s going on in that real relationship. They may just not be right. They may even be toxic.
When there are fans, not just of those celebrities, but of the relationships, all that pressure I described above is even higher. Headlines like these just add to that pressure. They help create an environment where someone could feel they’re letting people down by not staying in a relationship.
That line between reality and celebrity is difficult enough. At least celebrities have some more power in society. They have PR, they have more projects… that’s not the end of their story as far as the general public go. I still think that the pressure from the media should stop, but at least they have some strength in this situation.
When we’re doing this to people like Tom and Abby because they turned up in a make-over TV show? That’s not the case.
These are just a small selection of headlines from the last two weeks about this relationship.
This relationship may work out. It may not. But we don’t know if it’s a good one or if it’s a healthy one. All we know is that it makes Tom happy.
But this is a show that Tom was on because he explicitly did not have his shit together. This is also a guy who has been married and divorced three times. And after they broke up, he posted repeated pictures of the two of them together, talking about how much he loved her. This is not necessarily unusual — we all know people who have used social media as an emotional outlet at times — but it’s not necessarily healthy either.
It may be that they’re great together. It may well be that he’s the great guy he comes across as. And it may be that she loves him just as much.
It also may be that Abby never expected to be in the middle of this much pressure with regards to her decisions on a relationship.
They signed up to be part of a TV show, which unexpectedly became a hit. So now, we’ve made Tom the hero. Which means, if he doesn’t get the happy ending we’ve decided he deserves, some people may make Abby feel like she’s being the villain.
I’m not trying to paint Tom as the villain here, any more than I believe anyone is intentionally trying to portray Abby as such. But the more public pressure that is put onto a relationship, the less fair it is on both the people in it.
These aren’t the Kardashians, and they haven’t intentionally made their personal lives into entertainment. They turned up on one episode of a show. Neither of them owe us anything, and they certainly don’t deserve or need our pressure just because they’re inconveniently real rather than fairytale characters.
If they’re back together, that may be a fairytale ending. It may not. To be honest, this is less about that specific case and a more general point. Neither of them should have to deal with public pressure, just because we have difficulty distinguishing between real life and entertainment when we see something on a screen.
If anyone should bear that in mind, it’s media outlets. Bringing this story to the attention of millions and millions of people, with the aim of clicks, is just contributing to a toxic environment.
Being that influential is powerful, and that power should damn well be treated responsibly.