Thursday, February 16, 2012

On the Subject of Media and Stereotypes

I figured out this morning how incredibly incensed I become by stereotype in media. In this case, it was a Bounce fabric softener commercial and the stereotype they were propagating was gay men.

In this commercial, the OVERTLY gay man in question is heavy-set, has the stereotypical gay "lisp", and is carrying a little white purse/designer dog, and is (of course) worrying about his black shirt becoming unsightly with white dog hair, because fashion is to gay men what water is to fish-- necessary.Or so the media would like you to believe. Of course, Bounce saves the Fashion Day by keeping fur from ruining this man's otherwise pristine black shirt and now he can go about his day being overtly gay.

Anyone who knows me personally knows that I stand up for LGBTQ rights. I stand for equality and fairness for everyone and that includes the way that everyone from all walks of life should be represented in the media. Yes, I acknowledge the fact that gay men out there look and act and speak like this man does. That doesn't mean that every gay man out there appreciates being represented by this particular stereotype.

In movies, in television, and music we are saturated with the stereotype of what "gay" is meant to be. If a man isn't gay and man-hungry, conscious of fashion, limp-wristed and shouting "Haaaaaaaaay!" all over the place, then they won't be put into movies or television as the "gay best friend". We are all left to assume that gay equals men clad in tiny underwear, covered in glitter, and robed in a gay pride flag because that's what the media shows us. The fact is that that is just one genre of gay person. It's not an embarrassing genre, but it's only one. I think that this stereotype is largely what puts a block in the way of Gay Acceptance. Because the media only thinks of this particular type of gay person as fit for entertainment, we are left missing out on the huge sub-culture that makes up the entire fascinating LGBTQ community and homophobes are able to use this exact stereotype to "explain" why being gay is a bad thing.

I had a talk with my fiance about why the media does this and he suggested that perhaps if gay men were shown in the media as being "normal", then straight men would have no idea who was gay or straight. He posits that that line in the sand, that stereotype, allows some people to sleep better at night; knowing that they will always be able to tell when someone is gay and when someone is not. The fact is that I have gay friends who you would never guess are gay. This isn't some badge of honor, this isn't some redeeming quality they have, that they can "hide it"-- the fact that they are gay is a small, sexual-preference part of who they are. It doesn't make them who they are.

A friend of mine recently spoke about how far the world has come along for "those of us that are different". That one piece of their statement broke my heart. That LGBTQ people still have to consider themselves "Different". The difference between gay people and straight people isn't anything more than a sexual preference and culture-- something in their bones, their body, their DNA that tells them that they desire one type of love over another. That shouldn't make you "different". That should make you the same as every other human being on the planet with the human right to pursue those things in life that make you feel safe, feel loved, and HAPPY.

I understand the humor they were trying to put forth with this commercial, and in other media. I appreciate the attempt at showing and asking for acceptance of gay people by saturating the market with this kind of stereotype. The problem for me is the focus the media puts on things, and the bias we are left believing at their hands. They focus on a show like Jersey Shore and people who don't know better assume that people from Jersey must be orange, ill-educated, and foul-mouthed. The same follows for every stereotype of every kind of person from every race, culture, sexual preference, and religion-- and the worst part? The American masses buy into it. They believe in it, and they buy merchandise and Facebook about it and they Tumblr it and they tweet about it and I am left with #embarrasment. Embarrassment that as a species, we can't just exist and allow others to do the same without buying into these stereotypes.

Every time a celebrity "comes out" by thanking their partner in an acceptance speech I feel a pang of embarrassment for that person. Not because they have come out, but because it must immediately become the talk of the internet, magazines, and television and then they must either defend a choice that is so miniscule in who a person is in the long run or be thought of as brave for "coming out" and then explain themselves. A person should not be measured by the person they love. They should be measured by the love that they share with the world. A love choice should not subjugate a person to a media firing squad. A love choice should neither help nor hinder endorsements, success, or safety. The media makes these things happen, though.

There is more to every person in this world than the skin they exist in, the person they choose to love, the religious beliefs they follow, or the niche they fit into culturally. Every person deserves love and respect and the right to exist in this world and be whoever the hell they want to be while doing it.

I implore you, the reader, to believe in equality. To DEMAND it. I also ask that you remember not to propagate hurtful stereotypes by sensationalizing small things that do not make up what an entire culture, race, gender, or religion really is. I am not saying it's not okay to laugh about life, to accept that certain stereotypes can be used as comedic as long as they aren't hurtful. We all need to laugh. But do not accept those things as truth and keep those stereotypes where they belong then move on and realize that it's a speck in the large scope of things.

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