20/20 steals my bit
20/20 essentially made this blog into a segment over the weekend. They posed a “provocative question” that simultaneously made me roll my eyes and gag, which, believe me, is not a pleasant experience.
What was their “ethical dilemma”? Well, some people might not say it’s a dilemma at all, but more of a no-brainer. “What would you do if you saw a same-sex couple out in public?”
First, let’s practice the correct response: Nothing. Everybody say it with me! (The only possible alternative is, “tell them how cute and brave they are, and thank them for changing social norms.” That’s nice, but really not necessary.)
And some sarcastic kudos to the network for allowing for completely homophobic behavior as an “ethical” response. I don’t see them asking people if they like to burn crosses on their black neighbors’ lawns. It’s not an “ethical dilemma,” it’s called being a decent human being.
For those of you who don’t feel like watching the videos or reading the article (or can’t – I sympathize), let me sum it up for you: 20/20 got two real couples, one gay and one lesbian, who also actors to sit on a bench and be lovey-dovey. They tried it in Birmingham, Ala., and Verona, N.J. The reactions were about what you’d expect.
I wrote down my reactions as I watched the videos, but I’ve tried to blend the two files together and make it all readable for those of you who can’t watch the video. (As I said, I feel your pain.) That said, this will all make more sense if you do watch them.
First of all, what’s up with the military add before the video starts? Way to add insult to injury. I didn’t get it every time, but I did the first two or three viewings.
One of their big insights is that gay couples kissing in public are everywhere on TV. I guess that works if by “everywhere” they mean “something you can finally, at last, find if you try hard enough.” And I don’t think any of us count the Britney/Madonna kiss or that awful Superbowl commercial as real gay kisses. Those need gay people, or characters.
People treat lesbians and gay men differently! Shock! Really, ABC, haven’t any of you ever seen gay men or lesbians out in public? You must have an office in a big city somewhere. And you’d think they might have done some research – social psychologists certainly have, and I would link to it if I still went to school and had access to all those great databases. Really, that difference isn’t news to anybody who’s paying attention.
A bunch of men thought the lesbian couple was hot. Forgive my sarcasm, but: Straight guys think lesbians are hot? Really? Gee, I wonder if I could find that on the internet!
Actually, even though the guys who chatted up the lesbians were ubercreepy by basically hitting on them, at least they seem to respect their right to exist.
But what is it with straight men insisting lesbians are so hot? Are they really that into flannel and the equitable sharing of household chores? It’s painfully obvious, at least to me, that these guys feel like they have to act this way in order to be “guys.” Because dude, lesbians are hot, right? Everyone thinks so. People’s sexual tastes, like, never vary, ’cause that’d be gay.
The web story says “There were no extreme reactions,” but we obviously have different standards. Sure, nobody was physically assaulted, but they did show one man getting up in the guys faces and yelling at them to “Get a room!”, which, let me tell you, is very frightening and more than anyone should have to go through for expressing love in public.
And in Birmingham, a woman calls 911 on the guys within an hour.
One of Birmingham’s finest came to Five-Points and spoke with Kaolin and James. Though city officials and the police department signed off on ABC’s social experiment, this officer was somehow not in the loop. The officer told our couple that the police dispatch received a call because the two of them were making out.
“Just don’t do that in public,” he told them before leaving the scene.
If the police bothered us, they’d find themselves in court so fast it would make your head spin, because there is nothing illegal about being gay in public. They have no right whatsoever to tell them not to “do that” in public, because they’re not doing anything illegal. Cops do not have jurisdiction over everything.
I love that the show had to warn the police in advance. Because if they didn’t, you know, the SWAT team would have cuffed them in no time. But they’d probably like that anyway.
And way to call 911, lady. Because the non-emergency number just wouldn’t do.
One fact mentioned in the article but not the videos is people’s “for the children” mantra.
“I don’t really find it inappropriate, especially during the day when schoolchildren aren’t running around. They might get confused and want an answer for what’s going on,” bystander Mary-Kate told us. The majority of the people who spoke about children seemed to echo Mary-Kate’s feelings. They are indifferent to gay PDA but did not want to, or know how to, address homosexuality with children.
It’s because of that last line that I can’t rip them apart. I understand that some people just might not know how to address an issue that makes them uncomfortable, and I sympathize. But it’s parents’ jobs to educate themselves and then their children, so these people need to get over themselves and their prejudices before they pass them on to their children. (I can’t express how relieved I am they didn’t play the whole “it’ll destroy the children!” card, because really, what awful thing is seeing gay people going to teach them? Tolerance?)
They find “three generations of women” who turn and stare. The youngest one, who looks like she’s about my age, says she think it’s gross, while one of the wizened women she’s with, probably her mother or grandmother, discusses their diminished chances at getting into heaven. (Don’t get me started on the religion part – we’ll save that for another post.)
The implication is that this sort of disapproval cuts across generations, and so must have a just basis. But illiteracy passes from generation to generation too. And just like people can learn to read, they can learn to tolerate, respect, and understand.
ABC would like us to believe that attitudes are changing faster up North than down South, and that a good number of the disapproving people are old and will die out soon. While I won’t lie, and there are plenty of homophobic old people, it’s not like they don’t exist in my age bracket. Yes, people in the North are more restrained with their vitriol than they are in the South. Their discrimination is more subtle. That’s not news. Just ask anyone who’s non-white.
You just have to love their final conclusion: at least most people aren’t raging homophobes!
While I won’t deny I wouldn’t want to reverse the figures, they act like the fact that “only a few” people telling them to “get a room” or go to hell or whatever is okay. But guess what?
Gay people have as much of a right to be as free of harassment as anybody else. And not one single comment like the ones they got, or we get, is acceptable in a decent society.
Can you imagine saying racism is gone because less than half the passersby of an interracial couple told them they were dirtying the races? Or yelling racial epithets?
20/20 is only “In Touch” with the lowest common denominator. While I’ll admit that journalism absolutely needs to speak to everyone, it has to strive to raise the intelligence level of the dialogue. What they do is disgraceful, and there’s no quicker way to discredit yourself. It only serves to dumb down the overall discourse.
Check back soon for a reaction to The New York Times’ big gay marriage story.