Wednesday, January 26, 2005

After Electoral Win, "Moral Values" Takes a Backseat to Economics

from The New York Times
A coalition of major conservative Christian groups is threatening to withhold support for President Bush's plans to remake Social Security unless Mr. Bush vigorously champions a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage.


Sheryl said...

My brother was homophobic till he had a gay roommate. I had so many gay friends in college that sometimes people assumed I was gay just because of who I hung out with. But I think there are some problems in the way the gay community promotes itself.

Like with all battles against bigotry, it helps to have good role models in the spotlight. In the same way that Bill Cosby and Martin Luther King Jr have evolved people's ideas of "black." Artists like Oscar Wilde that could be promoted more in terms of homosexual role models (to break stereotypes.) He was openly gay, so it's not like some of these t-shirts where they say everyone under the sun were really gay.

You had that actress Ellen Degeneris come out, but I can't think of a lot of high profile gays out there changing mainstream attitudes. Maybe I just don't pay enough attention though.

Anonymous said...

Well, you've got Ellen, and k.d.lang, Melissa Etheridge, and Rosie O'Donnel as well Pablo from the Real World 2. All of them are (were in the case of Pablo who died a few years back) actively representing the gay community in positive ways. You've got non-gay male actors playing gay roles for televisions and movies which hasn't hurt either, though for the most part they serve as comic relief.
The problem lies in people who aren't willing to open their minds, not in the lack of positive role models. There will always be people worrying if Sponge Bob is gay, and whether it's safe to let their children watch "Sugartime!" (a trip to Vermont with Buster Baxter, which will not be aired on PBS due to Education Secretary Margaret Spellings. As I understand it, the row was over the fact that a lesbian couple are the parents of the children he visits, and although the focus is on how the children live, it's objectionable because of who the parents are.)And hopefully there will always be people willing to come forawrd and protect the rights of others to be differant, or to be specific to the topic, for people to be homosexual and still enjoy all the same civil liberties enjoyed by heterosexuals.

Sheryl said...

Hi Anonymous,

I don't mean to argumentative, but I could play a gay woman in a movie, but that would not make me a role model for the gay community like Ellen Degeneres.

Basically you named 5 gay role models out of a nation of what? -- 250 someodd million people? I admit I live a in a vacuum, but only two of the names mentioned even ring any bells. If you asked me to list minority role models, I could go on for pages. The same thing for female role models.

The problem is that whereas I can't hide being female very easily and minorities can't hide being minority, gays can hide being gay. Consequently, there is less public exposure to real down to earth homosexuals. And it is easy to marginalize people when you don't think you know anyone in a particular category. That's why foreigners are frequently targets for persecution.

My gay friends were always talking about the importance of coming out, and I think they were right. I think people are just more tolerant when they realize that their friend down the street is gay because after all, there is nothing wrong with Tom. I've known him for years.

J.R. Boyd said...

I think the gay community has all sorts of role models, but the odds are you aren't going to learn about them watching TV. That's true for any group, as far as I'm concerned. If it's true that there aren't "a lot" of "high-profile" gay personalities influencing the mainstream, I can't believe it's for lack of trying, but rather of access. One can argue about what needs to change in order for that happen; but given the caliber of "role model" for other groups in the mainstream I have to wonder whether it's even very desirable. The people doing the most important work aren't celebrities anyway; they're ordinary people. It's the work they do everyday that lends any legitimacy to what the more well-known personalities are doing. If the gay community waited until Ellen Degeneris came out on network television before anyone made a move, it would be a deeply impoverished community indeed.

Sheryl said...

The problems is that most cultures are built around cultural magnets. It's no accident that Austin, Texas was a blue city among a sea of red cities in our last election. It's no accident that I am living in a red city and rarely interact with non-progressives here.

It's not an accident that a large percentage of San Antonio's blacks live in the East side. That hispanics live in the West and South side, and the whites live in the North side. It's not because there are any legal obligations for that.

It's not an accident that in college the gays stuck together in groups like the Lambda Alliance.

To me the importance to the role models on television and movies and the arts is that they can transcend these groupings. People will watch tv shows that go beyond the categories they identify with.

Sheryl said...


Out of curiosity, how would you undermine bigotry if not by changing quality and quantity of mainstream exposure to people who identify themselves with the group being prejudiced? Goodnes, that was a mouthful. X)

J.R. Boyd said...

I don't know how you undermine bigotry except to say the "quality and quantity of mainstream exposure" changes in conjunction with the general culture. And the culture changes in conjunction with its dominant institutions. The question is: who is in a position to influence these institutions? If the answer is the public, then the institutions, culture, and their most popular expressions will reflect public concerns and interests. In that case, undermining bigotry would be a matter of confronting it within the public arena. If on the other hand the society's dominant institutions limit participation to some specialized class, whether they are managers, executives, investors, technocrats, etc., then undermining bigotry is much more difficult because it is institutionalized. The public would have very little to say about the internal operation of things like the workplace, universities, hospitals, prisons--let alone what kind of programming is slated for mainstream consumption--and so the challenge would have to come from the outside, either by building alternative institutions or by co-opting existing ones that are potentially influenceable (e.g., the federal government); or, more precisely, working at the former in order to achieve the latter.

It's my opinion that celebrities and high-profile personalities--in fact, "leaders" in most capacities--reflect very late-stage developments in what's already happening in the culture. Martin Luther King Jr. didn't create the civil rights movement; it was organized by the kids in SNCC and thousands of others who got beat up and arrested and killed, and so King gained significance as a focal point for what was already happening. And so it goes with anything else. Ellen didn't change the culture; that was already happening behind the scenes, thanks to everyone dedicated to that cause. We only notice the TV side of it, and then mistake the effect for the catalyst. So I think the whole focus on what some prominent person is or isn't doing is crucially besides the point. What matters is what we're doing in our own spheres of influence, in conjunction with other people committed to that cause. That's the way history happens.

Sheryl said...

Hmmmm....I'll have to think about this one. Interesting thoughts...

On the one hand, I imagine you are correct that that cultural minorities have less power when the resources are being hogged economic minorities (the "upper class".) I mean, we all do.

On the other hand, it seems like this upper class would also be product of their culture, just like the actors and whatever.

I'll have to think about it. :)

Anonymous said...

Anonymous, to defend herself...
Sheryl, I won't take it as argumentative, the fact that of the 5 names I listed that I thought might be recognized, you only knew 2 speaks volumes. Also, the fact that you don't see how important it is that people are willing to play gay roles in television shows how far we've come.
Television says a lot about culture, for example "Queer eye for the straight guy" is still popular, yet it's sister show for the straight girl recieved poor reviews because it's painful to watch women be slobs and be made over by gay men (which raises alot of feminist issues in my mind, especially since most clothing to be worn by women are designed by men, for men to watch women wear). Anyway, for a show to get to television and to stay on televsion, society needs to want to watch it (which means that there are still people out there watching reality television, and that although I loved Capt'n. Hotpants, "Firefly" will never return to televsion). Which further illustrates that the positive gay role models need to be real life people, so that they can finally launch the gay cable channel.

Anonymous said...

Sheryl said...

For me not to be aware of certain actors probably doesn't mean as much as you might think. I don't watch television, and I don't get out to see movies much either. And when I do see movies, they tend to be disproportionately british.

Nonetheless, you see the same damn people all over the magazines in the grocery stores again and again and again. Those are the people you know, like it or not. If I see the Olsen girls anymore, I am going to throw up. Brad Pitt Angelina (Joelie???) Whatsherface (the one with the collagen lips.) OK, never mind.

Anyway, I don't recall denying that you need everyday role models. In fact, I distinctly recall discussing the importance of coming out.

That brings me to another point. If you are going to imply that my ignorance of the gay role models is somehow "telling," you should probably not be posting anonymously. If I don't inundate myself in pop culture sufficiently to know all the shows you mention means nothing more than that I have better things to do with my time than watch tv. But I do know who's names are spilling over into the magazines and newspapers, and the ratios are just not the consistent with the real world. That's all I was saying. Make of it what you will.

Anonymous said...

I post anonymously because I'm not a member, nor do I wish to start a blog spot. My name's Susie, and I wasn't trying to get you upset or defensive. You didn't need to tell me that you watch neither much t.v nor american movies because I've visited Ryan's site enough to know that, and by pointing out that you only knew 2 of the 5 I listed I was acknowledging that without saying as much. The comment regarding staight actors playing gay characters was meant to show that if you aren't seeing it as important, then the acceptance of homosexuality is gaining ground. I'm not a very good writer so the fact that I couldn't convey myself well doesn't really surprise me.
Anyway, sorry to make you mad, and for not signing my posts at the end,