Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Continuing Mainstream Media Silence about Gay Stories: Two Recent Cases

After my high school best friend Joe came out of the closet in the late 1970s, he told me that his family would probably never understand his life as a gay man—the particularity of his everyday experiences—because they were deprived of information about the lives of anyone who was gay. Like my family, his lived in small-town Arkansas. They relied on the local news channels, the local newspaper, Sunday School lessons and weekly sermons to provide them with information to make informed decisions about the world around them.

What Joe taught me—and I didn’t know this at the time, hadn’t thought about it—is that there has been a longstanding blackout in the mainstream media in the U.S. about gay stories. That blackout assures that stories detailing the particularity of the gay experience—stories about what it means to live as a gay person in the U.S. on an everyday basis—seldom reach the pages of major newspapers. And certainly not the pages of small-town papers.

The period I’m talking about here is the period of the late 1970s and the 1980s. And admittedly, much has changed in the intervening years.

But much remains the same. As I have followed Joe’s lead over the years, as I’ve watched how the media treat “gay” topics (and gay lives, in all their diversity and particularity), I’ve noticed how seldom even essential points of information about gay contexts of major news stories reach the news. If people get news today about what it means to be gay in the U.S., about the particularity of gay experiences, they are far more likely to do so from blog sites and alternative news sites online, than from the mainstream media.

Two cases in point lately: the first is the discovery that a friend of one of the men who nearly beat a gay man, Jack Price, to death in Queens, NY, recently sports a tattoo from Leviticus—a man shall not lie with another man as with a woman. This discovery casts doubt on the claims of the two men who savagely beat Jack Price that they did so because they were responding to advances he made against him, and that they have nothing against the gays.

Gay news sites and many blogs have been all over this story. I don’t find it highlighted in mainstream media reports of this gay bashing, however (and it’s worth nothing that they are sparse to begin with).

You’d think the public would need to know this piece of information. If nothing else, it illustrates how certain interpretations of the bible are routinely used to justify reprehensible violence towards people who happen to be gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgendered.

Reporting about this tattoo—reporting stories like this in general—might allow mainstream America to stop and think a moment about the strangely selective way in which we use the bible nowadays to harm an already vulnerable minority. If we’re going to take the bible literally, and if Leviticus is going to be a mainstay of our ethical rules for civil society today, what are we to make of Leviticus’s statement (Leviticus 19:28), “You shall not make any cuttings in your flesh for the dead, nor tattoo any marks on you: I am the Lord”?

We don’t have cultural conversations about the obvious silliness of the fundamentalism that underlies much of our homophobia—the noxious silliness—because we aren’t informed. The media collude in keeping us uninformed about these issues. They collude in making us react, rather than in making us think.

Another subtext to a major recent news story that seems to be getting no play at all in the mainstream media, while it’s all through gay news sites and blogworld, is the discovery that balloon boy Falcon Heene and his brother have starred in a video decrying the “pussification” of American men and talking about bashing faggots.

It seems to me as if this information is important for mainstream America to know, as we assess the balloon boy story. This is, after all, a story about a normal American family, an American family doing things God’s way, with a mother and a father raising their biological children, where something has gone terribly awry.

If it were a story about two same-sex parents raising children, who colluded in punking the world by inventing a tale of a son whisked away by a balloon, you can be sure the media would be all over the sexual orientation angle. As it is, though, the revelation that a mother and a father—a normal family doing things God’s way—raised sons who could create the kind of video to which I have just linked, is not to be found in the mainstream media’s coverage of this story.

I wonder why not.