February 01, 2008
Posted by: Chris
There's never been any shortage of ego or chutzpah among the leaders of the national gay rights groups, but the essay today on Logo's Visible Vote by ex-GLAAD director Joan Garry was still a bit of a jaw-dropper.
Garry stepped down a couple of years back after almost a decade at the helm of the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, during which time she successfully grew the organization and put it on strong financial footing -- much like her contemporary Elizabeth Birch did at the Human Rights Campaign, albeit on a much larger scale. At the same time, her tenure was marked by near-invisibility by GLAAD in the trenches of actual activism, as the lobby group was reinvented as a black-tie fund-raising machine. (Again, very much like HRC and Birch.)
Garry is apparently undecided thus far in the Democratic presidential primary but in the Visible Vote essay suggested we consider her own history when weighing Clinton and Obama on experience vs. change:
I moved from corporate America to running a national lgbt organization (GLAAD). I had absolutely no non-profit management experience and I had never asked a soul for money for a worthy cause.
The truth is this lack of experience was not a disadvantage; it was in fact key to what many saw as my success. I didn’t know that our movement’s politics can crush people; thus I wasn’t watching my back – I was looking ahead. I knew none of the players, but my relationship skills held me in good stead. I knew how to manage people and run a business. And I had good instincts.
Of course, the folks with the best instincts in 1997 were the members of the GLAAD Board of Directors. The board’s instinct was to define experience in its broadest terms.
As someone who sat on the GLAAD board in 1997 and voted for Garry to be the group's new director, I can say that many of us did view it as a positive that she came from outside the non-profit activist world because at that point in the movement too many top leaders couldn't stand to be in the same room together, much less work cooperatively. Her primary competitor was, much like Hillary Clinton, from the heart of the gay establishment and promised -- for better or worse -- more of the same.
The risk with Garry, and I have heard this criticism of Obama from Clinton supporters, is that she would not have the belly to fight for the cause. In my view, that turned out to be the case. She was so focused on co-opting the entertainment industry from the inside that she abandoned public activism and criticism and completely ignored the group's watchdog role with the nation's journalists.
I doubt share those doubts about Obama; obviously he and she are two very different people. But I think Garry's analogy was undercutting her ultimate viewpoint.
April 15, 2007
Posted by: Chris
It's time for a new Sunday Survey, and before I introduce a new topic, let's look at how the last poll turned out. Well it was up for several Sundays, but it looks like almost a bare majority of you (48.8%) agree that the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation should respond to the recent criticism it's received by creating special categories for "niche media" aimed at a gay and lesbian audience.
I like that approach because it preserves the primary purpose for the awards (outside of raising money for GLAAD), which is to influence and recognize non-niche media to present fair and inclusive representations of gay people. At the same time, gay media — whether it's here! TV, Logo or the gay print press — can also be recognized for its outstanding work. That said, I think editors who work within gay journalism should guard against being compromised by the awards process. The watchdog role played by the gay press, including over movement organizations like GLAAD, is much more important than any award recognition.
Coming in second in the poll at 29.3% were those of you who preferred to see gay media included in the same categories as "mainstream," non-niche media. This is the approach called for by here! TV and others who claim they've ghetto-ized by being excluded. Finally, 22% of you preferred to see the awards remain as they are currently, open only to non-niche media. On the one hand, that's less then one-quarter of you for the status quo; on the other hand, almost three-quarters of you accepted GLAAD's explanation of why full inclusion of gay media would conflict with the organization's mission.
GLAAD President Neil Giuliano has said the board will be reviewing the policy after this year's awards, and I wouldn't be surprised if some sort of change is instituted. Speaking of the awards, the Los Angeles ceremony was held this weekend and the big surprise was that "Grey's Anatomy" received honors for "outstanding episode." The show has very gay-friendly content and has been very supportive of actor T.R. Knight, who came out last fall. But GLAAD was vocal in criticizing actor Isaiah Washington after he called Knight a "faggot" during an on-set feud.
More surprising to me was that Jennifer Aniston received the "Vanguard Award" for her work on GLBT visibility. The GLAAD website doesn't explain why, though a bit of on-site sleuthing suggests it was because of her "girl-on-girl kiss" with Winona Ryder on "Friends" and again with Courteney Cox on the TV show "Dirt." According to Hollywood.com, "Aniston also appeared in lesbian rocker Melissa Etheridge's 'I Want To Be in Love' video and was the first guest on gay comedienne Ellen DeGeneres' talk show." I'm not exactly sure all those snippets add up to a Vanguard, but it's more than Lance Bass had done before being honored by HRC. Too bad Aniston locked lips with presenter Jake Gyllenhaal (above) at the ceremony. Query whether either would have greeted a same-sex presenter the same way — now that would be Vanguard territory.
OK now for this week's survey. I posted yesterday about a New York Times report on the difference between gay male and lesbian sexuality. The article relied on the controversial research of Northwestern University psychology professor J. Michael Bailey, who concluded that men are either straight or gay, while most women are bisexual.
What do you think? Register your answer on the poll to the right. And as usual, clicking on the poll won't take you away from the site or subject you to any annoying pop-ups.
March 26, 2007
Posted by: Chris
First off, the more we learn, the less sympathetic here! TV is sounding. The GLAAD policy of limiting its awards to non-niche media is long-standing, yet here! waited until the eve of the ceremonies this year to go public with its complaint. That seems timed not only to benefit here! but to hurt GLAAD — not something that should give gay cable TV consumers much of a warm fuzzy.
Stephen Macias, the somewhat shrill here! TV exec who penned the nasty public letter to GLAAD, told the Times he was "flabbergasted" by the policy, which is a bit surprising since it's not new and certainly defensible, if not unassailable.
Anne Stockwell, the executive editor of the Advocate, said her magazine’s staff members have been bewildered that GLAAD has chosen not to honor their work at the awards.
“Everybody feels it would be great to see GLAAD take a forward-looking position and be assertive in coming to some kind of a sensible way to recognize all of us,” Stockwell said. “I do think it can feel frustrating to do all the reporting that we do, and break all the stories that we break, and not feel that there is a path to recognition.”
It's surprising to me the Times didn't go on to ask Stockwell why it wouldn't create a conflict of interest for the Advocate to cover GLAAD while also seeking its recognition. After all, the Times won't let its own editors and reporters accept awards from GLAAD or any other advocacy group because it creates the appearance of a conflict and the potential for bias.
I was at the Human Rights Campaign black-tie dinner in New York a few years ago when Stockwell's predecessor, longtime Advocate editor Judy Wieder , received a special award. In her acceptance, Wieder spoke proudly of how in her first days at the magazine's helm she adopted a policy that gay rights organizations were not to be criticized in the magazine's coverage.
Now that's the kind of "journalism" that HRC particularly likes, and the temptation at GLAAD would be similar. Would award-caliber journalism get the same consideration if it comes from a gay media outlet that has asked tough questions of GLAAD and other gay rights groups?
(It's also worth noting, as an aside, that GLAAD does hand out the Barbara Gittings Award, named after the recently deceased, groundbreaking lesbian activist and publication editor, to an individual, group or publication that made a pioneering contribution to the gay media. The Advocate received the award in 2002.)
Finally, the Times also talked with gay advertising agency head Howard Buford, who served on the GLAAD board in the late '90s, about the changing definition of "gay media":
“Is it gay ownership? Is it predominantly gay content? Is it a gay target audience? It’s not as easy a definition as it was at the beginning.”
Buford is right about that, especially in the TV industry, where Logo is owned by media giants MTV and Viacom. But still, I think "gay media" can be fairly reliably defined by the content and the target audience. Adding "gay media" categories to the GLAAD awards in the entertainment realm would recognize that changing landscape while not presenting a conflict of interest the same way handing out journalism awards would.
(Top photo: "Dante's Cove" — pioneering programming at here! TV ineligible for GLAAD Award recognition)
March 25, 2007
Posted by: Chris
In a blistering blog post (is there any other kind?) over at HuffPo, gay jouralist and author Gabriel Rotello weighed in against the long-standing policy of the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation not to consider work by gay TV and media for the organization's Media Awards.
GLAAD and its awards focus on "those whose attitudes about our right to fairness, dignity and equality we must work to transform."
In other words, GLAAD sees its awards as a way of cajoling mainstream media types into treating gays better. If you're a straight producer who has accepted a gay award in front of hundreds of cheering queers, the idea goes, you will be less likely to dump on those same people in your next broadcast.
By that reasoning, GLAAD doesn't think it needs to cajole the gay media into doing the right thing. The gay media do the right thing by dint of their very existence. So why waste awards on them?
Exactly. Couldn't have said it better. So why isn't that enough? Again, Rotello:
GLAAD was founded to advance gay visibility and fairness in the media, and to reward excellence in the coverage of lesbian and gay issues. Excellence is excellence, even if it springs from outlets run by and for gays. You'd think a gay group would not just know that, they would celebrate it.
For a gay media group to reinforce outdated divisions, and shove into the shadows those who do the most to advance visibility, is archaic, absurd and insulting to its own community.
As someone with a decade of experience in the gay media, I have to disagree. Gay media should have its own, built-in incentives for portraying gay lives in a fair and inclusive way. And it's a clear and dangerous conflict of interest to set up a system whereby a gay rights group covered by the gay press also decides when their work is worthy of commendation.
The biggest challenge facing the the quality of journalism in gay press today is the pressure to accede to the A-crowd within each gay community, abdicating our watchdog role so as not to anger potential advertisers and win plaudits at black-tie dinners. As pointed out before, GLAAD is not the gay TV and motion picture academy or the queer Pulitzer Prize committee. The National Lesbian & Gay Journalist Association, for one, already hands out awards from peers to reporters and editors in the gay press and general circulation media.
The point of the GLAAD awards is to incentivize the mainstream media and raise money for the organization. That should be enough.
What do you think? Be sure to vote in my Vizu Poll (to the right) on the topic. As always, voting does not transport you off the site or subject you to annoying pop-ups.
March 24, 2007
Posted by: Chris
It’s been a rough 2007 so far for gay rights groups, and much of the flak has come from friendly fire.
The Human Rights Campaign, flush with optimism after the Democrats took control of Congress, has faced a storm of scrutiny from the blogosphere and the gay press calling for greater transparency in its operation and a more independence from the Democrats.
Now it’s the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation that’s in the crosshairs. Just days before the group’s high profile Media Awards, the gay cable network here!TV released a blistering letter withdrawing sponsorship of the GLAAD Awards because gay-specific media isn’t eligible to compete.
Steven F. Macias, senior vice president at here! Networks, castigated GLAAD for failing to notice that “media has changed dramatically over the years because of the blood, sweat and tears of brave LGBT activists.” With the advent of here! and Logo, among other gay media outlets producing higher quality content, Macias argued that gay media should no longer be considered outside “the mainstream.”
“Gay networks are raising the bar around what mainstream media should consider fair, accurate, and inclusive work,” wrote Macias. “No longer is the LGBT community beholden to ‘mainstream’ media as the only place where we might catch a glimpse of ourselves.”
In some cases, like Logo’s ground-breaking series “Noah’s Arc” that tells the stories about a group of black gay and bisexual men, gay media is pointing the way for a broader and more diverse characterization of gays generally.
So with gay media leading the way in portraying gays fairly, visibly and accurately, argued Macias, why shouldn’t they be recognized and encouraged by GLAAD for their good work?
The GLAAD policy not to considering gay media in its award categories isn’t new, and applies not only to entertainment but to print and broadcast journalism as well. For years, the gay press has done ground-breaking work covering gay lives and issues, only to see mainstream newspaper reporters and TV news celebrities get all the credit for following our lead.
But does that really make the GLAAD policy wrong-headed. After all, GLAAD is not the gay television or motion picture academy or the queer Pulitzer Prize committee. It’s an advocacy group with a mission: to push for fair, accurate and inclusive portrayals of LGBT people in the media.
Macias took special umbrage at the idea that the good work done by here!TV isn’t covered by that mission, but why should he? A gay TV network is primarily gay people portraying gay people for the viewing pleasure of other gay people. Why should they require an advocacy group to give them credit for doing that job particularly well? It is fundamentally what they do.
The same goes for the gay press, whether magazines or newspapers. The largely gay staff is reporting gay and lesbian stories for largely gay and lesbian readers. That should provide more than enough “check” on the system for them to do the job right. And given the watchdog role the gay press ought to play over gay groups like GLAAD, there’s an inherent conflict of interest in gay newspapers and magazine asking GLAAD for praise and golden statuettes.
GLAAD President Neil Giuliano, who I should disclose is a friend (though that hasn’t stopped me from criticizing him on more than one occasion), answered here!TV by promising to revisit the issue again after this year’s award ceremonies. A special GLAAD board subcommittee convened last year to hear all the arguments pro and con, and ultimately recommended the categories stay defined the way they are for now.
“Personally,” Giuliano wrote Macias, “I think we should work to create a way to recognize LGBT-focused media, and am hopeful someday we will do so.”
One obvious solution would be for GLAAD to create new categories especially for gay TV and journalism outlets, though that’s unlikely to satisfy here! Networks since it chafes so much at not being considered “mainstream.”
There’s too much focus on semantics here. Whether called outside “the mainstream” or just “niche media,” here! Networks, Logo and the gay press have a gay-specific audience and shouldn’t be so focused on integrating queers into American culture generally that they no longer recognize and celebrate our difference.
Ideally, here!TV would sponsor the GLAAD Media Awards because they support the organization’s overall mission and, of course, want visibility among the entertainment industry generally.
The Media Awards, on the other hand, exist to give non-niche, “mainstream” media an additional non-commercial incentive to portray our lives in a fair and inclusive fashion — and, of course, to raise money for GLAAD.
If the need for praise at here! Networks outweigh its support for GLAAD’s mission, so be it. But GLAAD shouldn’t be distracted from its primary mission to placate its gay media critics.
March 07, 2007
Posted by: Chris
Pretty much everything I would say about the Anne Coulter's fetish with calling Democrats "fags" has already been said by The Nation's resident faggot, Richard Kim:
So Ann Coulter called John Edwards "a faggot." All this proves is that the woman's gaydar is seriously on the fritz. Last year she diagnosed Bill Clinton as a "latent homosexual" whose "promiscuity" is "reminiscent of a bathhouse." Then on Hardball she called Al Gore a "total fag." Meanwhile, Ted Haggard and Mark Foley stage 120 Days of Sodom right under her nose, and all she can say when confronted with the goods is "who knew Congressman Foley was a closeted Democrat?"
Ann Coulter couldn't find a homosexual at a Barbra Streisand concert, in San Francisco, on gay pride, if Elton John bitch slapped her in the face. I shudder to think what would become of her on "Gay Straight or Taken?"
What really has me peeved though is not Coulter's misfiring gaydar, but the histrionic response from Democrats and gay leaders alike. Here's HRC head honcho Joe Solmonese:
"To interject this word into American political discourse is a vile and disgusting way to sink the debate to a new, all-time low. Make no doubt about it, these remarks go directly against what our Founding Fathers intended and have no place on the schoolyard, much less our country's political arena."
Likewise, DNC chief Howard Dean called Coulter's remarks "hate-filled and bigoted." "This kind of vile rhetoric is out of bounds," said Dean while calling on Republican presidential candidates to denounce Coulter's remarks.
Howie, Joe, listen, don't get your panties all in knot over this Coulter-faggot business. What's so "vile," "disgusting," and "low" about being (called) a faggot in the first place? …
In Coulter's twisted little mind, "faggot" is an insult, not necessarily because it's true, but because "faggot" is so radioactive that even to be called one is damaging.
But this homophobic logic is exactly what Dean and Solmonese recapitulate in their over-zealous response. One can only believe that being called a faggot is "vile," "digusting" and "low" if one believes, as Coulter might, that being a faggot is vile, disgusting and low. Do Howard Dean and Joe Solmonese believe that?
That said (and said so well!), I do see justification for the campaign by Solmonese and my friend Neil Giuliano at the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation to move the "F word" into the same culturally "banned" category as the "N word."
For me, it's all about the kids. If there were some other way to get school officials and parents to get serious about stopping the use of anti-gay slurs among kids, some way that didn't involve censoring adult speech, then I'd much prefer that course. But it does seem the quickest avenue to protecting kids, whether gay or effeminate or just different, from bullies is to teach the adults — though in Coulter's case I use the term loosely — the lesson first.
February 24, 2007
Posted by: Chris
A recent column I wrote about the Snickers ad controversy has Human Rights Campaign director Joe Solmonese spitting mad. In an angry letter to the San Francisco Bay Times, one of several gay papers that published the piece, Solmonese claims I suffer from "clear manic bias" against…him:
While I fail to understand it, I’m beginning to view his fascination with me almost as a badge of honor. In his most recent article, "No Snickers for Snickers" Bay Times, Feb. 8, 2007), Chris Crain, once again, misses the bigger picture.
The Human Rights Campaign and other gay rights organizations complained not about the ad that aired but about the online campaign which featured homophobic football players and alternative endings to the ad that depicted violence in reaction to two men kissing. The complaints raised were not exclusive to the original ad that aired during the Super Bowl. Chris would be more credible if he commented on the facts rather than contorting them to suit his clear manic biases.
Two problems with Sloppy Joe's criticism: (1) HRC's attack on Mars, the maker of Snickers, was never limited to the online campaign., and (2) I never said HRC's criticism was limited to the ad that aired during the Super Bowl.
First, the HRC press release I quoted from attacks "the ad campaign launched yesterday during the Super Bowl," and then describes "the ad" that aired:
The Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender civil rights organization, is calling on the makers of Snickers, and its parent company Mars Inc., to pull the ad campaign launched yesterday during the Super Bowl. The ad features two presumably straight men who accidentally engage in a kiss and then try to distance themselves from any perception of being gay by “doing something manly.”
While HRC goes on to criticize "Wrench," one alternative ending for the ad online, no fair reading of the press release suggest HRC's "condemnation" was limited to that one ending and the football players' reactions.
Second, I wrote in the column and in a blog post here that HRC condemned "the ads" and the player reactions, not simply the one from the Super Bowl:
The Human Rights Campaign was quick to condemn the ads, although they ought to be busy protecting our interests on Pennsylvania Avenue, not Madison Avenue.
HRC chief Joe Solmonese was characteristically patronizing, chastising Mars for not “knowing better.”
“If they have any questions about why the ad isn’t funny,” finger-wags Solmonese, “we can help put them in touch with any number of GLBT Americans who have suffered hate crimes.”
Well I, for one, am a gay American who suffered a broken nose and two black eyes for holding my boyfriend’s hand in the street. If that somehow qualifies me to speak, then let me say I am much less disturbed by Snickers’ goofy ad than by the gross overreaction of our overly earnest activists.
It's striking to me that Solmonese somehow teases a "manic bias" out the hairs he splits here, when I make clear in the rest of my column that I thought criticism of even the "Wrench" version and the NFL player reactions was also overwrought.
The only real substantive point raised by Solmonese in the letter was about whether HRC was in fact guilty of "issue-creep," as I had suggested in one aside. Again quoting from Joe:
[Crain] writes that HRC, “ought to be busy protecting our interests on Pennsylvania Avenue, not Madison Avenue.” Unfortunately, it is this “criticize for the sake of criticizing” mentality that shadows way too many of his columns. Does he not understand that our work to change hearts and minds in America is connected both politically and culturally?
When a major American corporation depicts in their advertisements, violence against gay people and reactions of homophobic football players, which many kids hold up as role models, then it is the responsibility of groups like HRC to stand up and demand change.
Of course Solmonese knows I am well aware we need to "change hearts and minds" both "politically and culturally." Solmonese also knows the movement already has not one, but two, organizations whose missions are directly related to bias in media: the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation and the Commercial Closet, the latter of which is devoted specifically to watchdog Madison Avenue's depiction of gays. Both zeroed in immediately on the Mars campaign, so it's not as if it wasn't being addressed.
HRC piled on Mars for two reasons: First, HRC is need of victories, since decades of untold millions in donations, from gay communities around the country, has produced a shiny HRC headquarters but not even a single piece of basic federal gay rights legislation. Second, battling corporate America is fairly easy, given today's politically correct environment, and to the victor go the spoils, in the form of corporante penance for its wrongs. Note the language from the HRC press release after Mars caved and pulled the Snickers campaign:
“While we are pleased with the initial response from Mars, this is not the time to spike the ball,” said HRC President Joe Solmonese. … “After speaking with company representatives today, we hope to continue a dialogue and establish a working relationship with Mars Inc., as we have with the majority of Fortune 500 companies, about responsible marketing and fair workplace policies for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Americans.”
I don't begrudge Solmonese, or Neil Giuliano at GLAAD — query how it is that I bear "manic bias" against Solmonese when I spent more of my column criticizing an organization run by one of my best friends — for their shakedown. The more money invested in the movement, the better. But from those to whom much is given, much is expected, and whether Solmonese likes it or not, the role of the gay press, and gay people generally, is to make sure HRC is a good steward of those precious resources.
In fact, it's a bit mind-boggling to me that the head of "the nation's largest gay rights group" would claim a gay newspaper had "set back the entire movement" by "giving a platform" to me to "spout" my "misguided rhetoric." The tight-ship HRC communications department from the Elizabeth Birth era would never have allowed the E.D. to go off such half-cocked.
Nonetheless, Solmonese can rest assured that the Bay Times and more than a dozen other gay newspapers, as well as this blog of course, will continue to be a forum for those of us willing to take issue with the direction he steers the HRC ship.
(Hat tip to activist-blogger Michael Petrelis for alerting me to the Solmonese missive and for defending my honor. I have to admit, after years of being on the receiving end of Petrelis' sharp tongue — now there's a man with a "manic bias"! — it's a bit odd to see him write fondly of my years at the Washington Blade.)
February 07, 2007
Posted by: Chris
Fresh from its "victory" over a candy bar, the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation is now trifling with a two-bit drag act that isn't even anti-gay.
My good friend Neil Giuliano, GLAAD's president, issued a press release yesterday condemning Charles Knipp, the white gay man in blackface drag who for years has been peddling his racist, misogynist comedy act as Shirley Q. Liquor.
"While our work at GLAAD is about promoting fair, accurate and inclusive media representations of the LGBT community, this issue has risen to a level of visibility and importance that we feel compelled to add our voice to those speaking out against this awful portrayal," Giuliano said. "Based on what we have heard from community members and read about this character, we are joining those taking a stand against Knipp's offensive caricature. …
"This performance perpetuates ugly racial stereotypes that are offensive, hurtful and simply unacceptable, and we are urging our constituents to visit glaad.org so that they can express their concerns to the venues at which Knipp is expected to perform in the coming months."
Neil says that "recent email communications by several community members" brought Knipp's act to GLAAD's attention, but it was really black lesbian activist Jasmyne Cannick who pushed GLAAD into action. As I relayed in a previous blog post, Cannick somehow excuses Isaiah ("Dr. McHomophobe") Washington for calling openly gay colleague T.R. Knight a "faggot" because — and the connection still mystifies me — the "white gay media" has ignored Knipp a.k.a. Liquor.
Never mind, as my previous blog post pointed out, a number of articles in just the gay publications I've edited have covered Knipp, including one story that led to a prominent appearance in Atlanta being canceled. Now that Cannick said "frog" and GLAAD jumped, is Cannick finally taking Washington to task, rather than organizing signatures for an online petition to help him keep his job?
Not exactly. She issued a statement (available on her website) that commends GLAAD for condemning Knipp, but she damns with faint praise: "It's a small step from GLAAD, but it's a step and I'll take it," she writes. "What's the old saying…better late than never."
GLAAD's decision to step outside its mission — which is to respond to anti-gay defamation — was transparently political, though likely without long-term effect except to open the door for complaints that GLAAD hasn't responded to any number of "ist" and "phobe" activities by gay folk. At least it puts the lie to Cannick's silly contention — reprinted in a number of prominent African American newspapers nationwide — that gay activists leapt on Washington because "they smelled meat, dark meat." As if gay (white) activists ever sought out battles with African Americans, prominent or otherwise.
Since the Human Rights Campaign ventured onto GLAAD's turf in Snicker-gate, we'll have to wait to see whether Cannick lobbies HRC to slap down Shirley as well. My guess is she'll steer well clear of publicly pressuring the Stonewall Democrats, since she co-authors the group's blog.
I am happy to join Cannick and GLAAD in condemning Knipp's silly racist banter, even though RuPaul and legendary (black) drag queen Ella Fitzgerald defend him/her and even though his/her fans include quite a few black gay men. My (few) (white) gay friends who love Shirley Q. give the crystal clear impression they're laughing at, not with, the targets of her comic slings. And they often take pleasure in mocking black people (and Latinos, and Asians, and lesbians and so on) in ways that would make any redneck proud. (Yes, I tell them so.)
But the failure of gay groups in the past to go outside their mission statements to campaign against Shirley's sad little minstrel act hardly justifies excusing an A-list black celebrity on a top-rated TV show who called his gay colleague "a faggot" and then used the word again at a press conference, lying about it.
What's the old saying…two wrongs don't make a right.
February 06, 2007
Posted by: Chris
Gay rights groups are up in arms about an ad for Snickers that aired during the Super Bowl on Sunday, and even more so about three alternative endings for the spot made available on the Mars web site.
All four versions of the ad feature two middle-aged mechanics working closely under the hood of a car. One unwraps a Snickers bar and begins eating it while the other gazes longingly — at the Snickers.
The second mechanic begins eating the other end of the candy bar, leading to the inevitable, "Lady & The Tramp" kiss in the middle. The two men jump back, shocked that they've just kissed, then come the four different endings:
- Chest Hair: In this ending, which actually aired in the Super Bowl, one of the mechanics says, "Uh, I think we just kissed." The other says, "Quick, do something manly," to which the other response by ripping open his shirt and ripping out (with a shriek) a big wad of chest hair. The first responds in kind amid screams.
- Monkey Wrench: In response to "Quick, do something manly," the first mechanic grabs a monkey wrench and clobbers the other over the head. The second mechanic throws the first one under the hood and slams it down. The violence is clearly intended to be comic. In the trailing seconds, the mechanic now slammed under the hood says, "OK, that's good."
- Motor Oil: In response to "Quick, do something manly," one mechanic grabs some motor oil and begins gulping it; the other does the same with windshield washer fluid. Both men scream (in manly fashion) as they do it.
- Love Boat: In this version, both men jump back from the kiss but before either can say anything, a third, long-haired and older mechanic walks up, tosses his hair and says, "Is there room for three in this love boat?"
In addition to encouraging visitors to the web site to vote on the four different endings, Mars posted video reactions from players from the two Super Bowl teams as they watched the commercials. The response from the two Indianpolis Colts — linebacker Cato June and wide receiver Marvin Harrison — were low key and non-descript.
But the three Chicago Bears showed a good deal more enthusiasm. Mushin Muhammad, a wide receiver for Chicago, had an exaggerated facial reaction to the kiss, while tight end Desmond Clark laughed in a "no they didn't" style. Quarterback Rex Grossman covered his face with his hands. Clark, in particular, seemed shocked the two male actors actually had to kiss to make the commercial. When told it took 15 takes, he laughed, "I hope they got paid a lot of money!"
The Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation "strongly condemned" the ads in a press release issued yesterday, calling on Mars to pull the "Wrench" ad and what the gay groups calls the "offensive" player reactions from its web site.
Judy Shepard goes so far as to claim in the GLAAD statement that the Snickers campaign "encourages the same type of hate that lead [sic] to the death of my son Matthew. It essentially gives 'permission' to our society to verbally and physically harass individuals who are gay, lesbian or bisexual." Shepard reserves particular "dismay" for the players, who she said are "perpetuating such discrimination and prejudice."
The Human Rights Campaign also condemned the ads, calling on Mars to pull the "Chest Hair" version that aired during the big game. HRC's Joe Solmonese says in the release that Mars "should know better. If they have any questions about why the ad isn't funny, we can help put them in touch with any number of GLBT Americans who have suffered hate crimes."
Well I, for one, am a gay American — how, exactly, can one person be G, L, B and T anyway? — who has suffered a hate crime, and I am more disturbed by the gross overreaction of these overly earnest gay rights groups.
The version of the Snickers ad that aired during the game was funny, if not exactly guffaw-inducing. Funny, as in funny ha-ha. Remember that, activists? This isn't Isaiah Washington cursing a gay colleage or Michael Richards unleashing a torrent of angry "N-words."
This was a silly ad for a candy bar in which two unattractive, middle-aged mechanics accidentally kiss and then have a comic overreaction. Do we really believe impressionable youngsters will learn life lessons from these two? They are the butt of the joke, after all, not gay people.
Let's not forget, too, that this same-sex kiss didn't just run in prime time, but on Sunday afternoon in the most-watched television event of the year. Long after the short ad spot is forgotten, a taboo has been broken, the "shock value" of a gay kiss has been lessened, and that's ultimately of more cultural influence than the mechanics' macho morality.
The only version of the ad that troubled me was "Monkey Wrench," since it did show the two men whacking each other in the head to prove they were still "manly." But the "violence" was of the slapstick, comic-book variety, about as real as that inflicted on Wile E. Coyote in his pursuit of the Roadrunner. And let's not forget, each clobbering was invited by its recipient, as we're reminded at the end, when one mutters humorously, "OK, that's good."
Viewers are about as likely to respond the same in real-life situations as they are to use a real rock to bash in their opponent's head the next time they play "rock-paper-scisscors," as portrayed in a hilarious Bud Light ad.
An even bigger head-scratcher was the GLAAD/HRC condemnation of the NFL players' reactions. These poor sobs were videotaped as they saw the commercial for the first time and, truth be told, I had the same facial reaction as Mushin Muhammad when I saw these two unattractive guys lock lips. Does that make me a look-ist? Should I sign up for counseling along with Isaiah Washington?
GLAAD accuses two of the players of "overt expressions of prejudice" — Clark presumably for believing the two actors ought to be paid handsomely, and June for explaining how the two guys reacted to kissing, "Nah this ain't right." (Hello, he was explaining what was in the minds of the two men; not his own personal morality.)
C'mon, GLAAD. Are we this hard up for "overt expressions of prejudice"? I understood, in the Isaiah Washington incident, how his celebrity contributed to pushing "the F-word" off the cultural lexicon. But all this type of hypersensitive overreaction does is push gay lives back into taboo territory, too controversial to touch.
Like it or not, one price of coming out of the closet is that we are fair game for cultural jibes as much as anyone else. We gain nothing by proving we are too sensitive to take a joke.
Unfortunately, lost in the dust of outraged press releases is the "Love Boat" version of the Snickers ad that, by any interpretation, was funny and not homophobic. The Mars web site promised that the version that got the most votes would air during the Daytona 500, and the "Love Boat" version was running second, behind "Motor Oil," after I voted.
But in response to the gay groups' press releases, Mars has how pulled all four versions and the players' reactions from its web site. No doubt the controversy has scared the company away from using any version, including "Love Boat," during the Daytona 500 or anywhere else. Is that really a victory?
Decide for yourself. You can view all four versions of the ad and the player reactions by following the jump: