The Queerness of Zapping

By perceiving the zapper as a cruiser who moves across the television channels in search of a gaze that will meet his own in mutual recognition, the in-between places where queerness is found can be made explicit, thereby inviting alternative interpretations that may alter or counter conventional conceptions of television watching. Rather than being contained within the boundaries of specific gay and lesbian programming, or specific gay and lesbian channels, the zapper as cruiser can move throughout the televisual cityscape, recognizing queerness in particular fictional and non-fictional programs, television personalities, the "collage" of different images within the flow of television, advertising, etc. However, the difficulty obviously lies in the subsequent articulation of such moments. Whereas the call for gay and lesbian visibility can be translated into explicit political action (as the work of GLAAD and other organizations shows), the recognition of queerness by the zapper as cruiser remains an individual act, which may result in alternative interpretations yet does not alter the acutal televisual cityscape itself. The control that the individual zapper may execute through the remote control is limited, perhaps presenting a false sense of control that does not reach beyond the power of not watching at all. Yet that is too cynical a view on how television works. Although undoubtedly not as politically effective as organized activism promoting gay and lesbian visibility (which, although not always intended, often results in the cultural mainstreaming of queer identities), recognizing the queerness of television through zapping as cruising can at least provice a critical stance, a qyeer zaptitude, thereby helping to prevent the reduction of the "LGBT world" to just another commercial niche market.
(from my essay "Cruising the Channels: The Queerness of Zapping," in Queer TV: Theories, Histories, Politics, edited by Glyn Davis and Gary Needham, Routledge 2009, pp. 159-171)

Another Fashionable Assessory

When Queer Eye for the Straight Guy was introduced, there was a lot of discussion in the mainstream and queer media about whether or not the television show perpetuated negative stereotypes of gay men. Ironically, if the show can be accused of negative stereotyping at all, it is the stereotyping of straight men as badly dressed, culturally illiterate, unhygenic slobs. Only with a queer touch can these pathetic heterosexual men look and smell good, take their girlfriends on a romantic picnic, and maintain a clean household. This is not to say that Queer Eye is unproblematic. What is most problematic is how it appropriates the term "queer," depoliticizing it by turning it into a commodity. While "queer" in itself denies any essentialist categorization, its juxtaposition with "straight" makes it the equavalent of the "(openly) gay male" category. Moreover, the way the program uses "queer" is nothing more than a fashionable accessory. Qyeer is hip, queer is fashionable, and thus queer is just another gay male sense of style, similar to what typified the urban post-Stonewall gay male culture of the 1970s. Back then, as Andrew Ross argues, "the gay male became a model consumer, in the vanguard of the business of shaping and defining taste, choice, and style for mainstream markets." Queer Eye takes this role a step further by showing the stores where this queerness can be bought. Like most lifestyle television programs, Queer Eye is heavily sponsored and should be considered as a major advertisement for the program's sponsors. Moreover, in this fashionable queer corporate world, there is not place for alternative lifestyles, sexualities, or critical politics.

(from my essay "They're Here, They're Queer, and Straight America Loves It" in GLQ 11:1, 2005, pp. 106-108)