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20/20 steals my bit

April 28, 2008

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.

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7 Comments leave one →
  1. saperle permalink
    April 29, 2008 12:21 am

    Ha! Don’t even get me started on the big gay marriage story.

  2. saperle permalink
    April 29, 2008 11:10 am

    Someone else blogged this as well, here: http://shakespearessister.blogspot.com/2008/04/take-my-arm-my-love.html

  3. proventialdandy permalink
    April 29, 2008 12:53 pm

    Rather insightful if maybe just a teensy bit over-affected (but hey, this isn’t the Times). Though I can’t comment on the nature of homophobic behaviour in the US (being from Australia), I think I can see what they’re getting at and how they reach their conclusion. What I mean is this: While it’s fair to say that there is a disparity in how people react to homoerotic behaviour compared with their reaction to homophobic behaviour there is a much greater disparity in the way in which Queer society is treated now compared with, say the 50s. If you view the LGBT(&c) movement as progressive, this is really just placing attitudes regarding homosexuality on the map between point A and point B. That’s how I read it, anyway…

  4. charlieg permalink
    April 29, 2008 4:24 pm

    I think the only truly effective response will be organizing large LGBT disapproval mobs to track down straight PDA wherever it rears it’s ugly tongue, stare directly at it, and go “EEEEEEEEW.”

    That’ll teach ’em.

    In all seriousness, though – the media’s handling of sexuality has been about as clumsy and apologetic towards the willfully ignorant as can be. As if “Look! We’re not beating them with sticks anymore (mostly)” should earn us a cultural blue ribbon that says “#1 Society Grrrreat Job!” on it.

    I have the same frustration with race politics (and I guess the election is bringing that out in me) – the way that the media kid-gloves around “rural white working-class values” without mentioning that that there might, you know, be something a little bit not quite OK about it. The deference to “values” (re: prejudices) and peoples’ right to have them has, in many ways, become the new political correctness. “I’m allowed to have my values and I just don’t think it’s (homosexuality/interracial marriage/whatever) right!”

    “Yeah well, you can have that value, but you’re a dick.”

  5. charlieg permalink
    April 29, 2008 4:24 pm

    PS. Apologies for totally infiltrating your blog. I figured it would be OK since it’s all up on your facebook and whatnot. How’s life?

  6. Eva permalink
    April 29, 2008 7:22 pm

    I also find it “funny” that they scenes from TV shows depicting gay couples were mainly from the L Word and Queer as Folk, both of which are on showtime, so you have to have super-special cable to see them, they aren’t on network TV (and they show a lot more than just kissing)… I dunno if I was offended by it, I just thought that it was shallow

  7. nadine permalink
    May 1, 2008 9:43 am

    have you seen the commerical by chemistry.com? it shows two guys in a supermarket making googly-eyes and touching hands/holding hands. pretty tame, yes, but i couldn’t believe they were showing it; i kept waiting for a girl to walk up and put her arm around one of the guys. but then the commercial ended. i was like “whoa! i can’t believe they just showed that!” (my parents, who were watching tv with me said the same thing, but i have a feeling our meanings were slightly different.)

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