Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Brody's Scribbles... Gay Liberation Front: Manifesto. Have We Made Progress Since 1971? (Part 5)

By Tim Trent (Dartmouth, England) MAR 8 | Today's article on the Gay Liberation Front Manifesto moves into the huge area of the media and how Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Trans folk are represented in it, and how that has changed since 1971. As usual the segment of the manifesto is reproduced verbatim. The article is intended not to be the handed down wisdom of a minor deity, but to cause the reader to think and consider what changes have taken place and what more should happen.
The press, radio, television and advertising are used as reinforcements against us, and make possible the control of people's thoughts on an unprecedented scale. Entering everyone's home, affecting everyone's life, the media controllers, all representatives of the rich, male-controlled world, can exaggerate or suppress whatever information suits them
Under different circumstances, the media might not be the weapon of a small minority. The present controllers are therefore dedicated defenders of things as they stand. Accordingly, the images of people which they transmit in their pictures and words do not subvert, but support society's image of 'normal' man and woman. It follows that we are characterised as scandalous, obscene perverts; as rampant, wild sex-monsters; as pathetic, doomed and compulsive degenerates; while the truth is blanketed under a conspiracy of silence.
I'm truly disappointed here. The original authors seem to have lost the plot somewhat. Instead of being a manifesto [A manifesto is a public declaration of principles and intentions, often political in nature.], we have a wishy washy emotional statement of 'poor us'. The first paragraph says that things represented in the media come into our homes. The second says that the media is controlled by defenders of the status quo and thus they defend it. Nowhere does it declare an intent.
In 1971 the Gay Liberation Front was not a whiny 'poor me' organisation. It was colourful, brave individually, and bold collectively. Very much like the segment on the church I covered yesterday, today's segment on the media looks very much like a teenager rebelling against its parents. It's a wet and pathetic standpoint that looks as if it might be about to ask for a big favour instead of demanding equality of human rights. And this gives us very little to base changes upon.
A useful manifesto segment might have said:
Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Trans people are a recognised minority section of society, existing in every demographic group in broadly the same proportions. The incidence of LGBT people should be shown in drama in the same proportion to their true proportions in real life. Their behaviours should not be portrayed as adhering to some form of stereotype. In comedy their characters should not be portrayed as funny because they are LGBT, rather they should be portrayed as funny because the situation or the personality of the character is funny.
In news articles care must be taken not to introduce either negative or positive bias because a person reported upon is LGBT. This must extend beyond the words used to the vocal tone and, on television, the body language of the broadcaster delivering the news item.
Documentary material, especially when focussed on LGBT people, must not display them as a curiosity or an exhibit. Where their sexual nature is discussed this must be done in an objective and language neutral manner.
That would have given us somewhere to hang our hats. Regrettably The Gay Liberation Front failed to set its stall out clearly here.
In 1971 the media enjoyed homosexuality in a salacious manner. I covered Messrs Wingarde and Bramble in part 2. That ground need not be covered again. The news side of the media was and remains instrumental in setting public opinion. The term 'Predictive Programming', much beloved of conspiracy theorists is relevant here. The attitude of the news outlet can make the unthinkable become normal and the normal become abnormal. News media, print and broadcast, in 1971 was still enjoying the post 1967 frisson of taboo after the legalisation of homosexual acts in the UK in private provided each was over 21 and there were only two people present.
Documentaries avoided homosexuality. Society was 'polite' back then. Mary Whitehouse was active in patrolling the UK's airwaves to ensure that nothing offended the twinset and pearls middle England attitudes that were still prevalent.
[Whitehouse] became a public figure via the 'Clean-Up TV' pressure group, established in 1964, in which she was the most prominent figure. Mrs Whitehouse particularly found a lack of accountability in the BBC, an organisation pursuing radical changes in its broadcasting policies at this time. At the beginning of the 1970s she broadened her activities, and was a leading figure in the Nationwide Festival of Light, a Christian campaign which gained mass support, and initiated private prosecutions against Gay News and the director of the theatre play The Romans in Britain.
The word 'Christian' (my italics) is bandied about today by those who wish to impose their views on others. This wielding of religion as a sword detracts from the true morality displayed by Jesus Christ. Nonetheless, the UK was and remains a Christian nation, and Christian Values, however distorted, are oft wielded as the sword of reason.
The main area where homosexuality was covered, arguably in a poor light, was comedy. And yet one might argue that anything shown in a comedic manner makes it friendlier. The humour of a situation detoxifies any nastiness. This is a paradox and is often hotly debated.
Did the portrayal of Julian and Sandy on Sunday afternoon radio harm or further the cause of equality? Did John Inman's camp portrayal of Mr Humphries in Are You Being Served create a climate of ridicule or assist with a climate of tolerance?
Soap operas are both mirrors of and have an interesting effect on real life. The long running BBC radio soap, Mrs Dale's Diary (1948-1969), treated homosexuality well when it was revealed that Sally's husband was to leave her for a gentleman.
The programme is thought to be the first British mainstream drama which depicted a character known to be homosexual sympathetically in a leading part – Sally's husband. It was a brave move to feature a gay man, especially when homosexuality was still illegal in the United Kingdom. The way this material was handled contrasted with elsewhere: for example, the contemporary radio comedy programmes Beyond Our Ken and Round the Horne featured homosexuality as a cause for ribald mirth, as did the Carry On films. Clearly the programme's makers considered the time was right for the subject to be featured. Richard Fulton, however, was an odd character to use, in several ways. Not least is that (though apparently based on the homosexual writer Patrick White) Richard's history in the serial was heterosexual. He was in fact a character who had developed a lot, having been presented in the early days as a monster of petulance.
It was some time later, in 1986, that soap history was made with the character Colin Russell in Eastenders, a grittier than reality urban soap, both having a younger boyfriend, and the couple kissing on screen. Eastenders went on to handle heavyweight LGBT issues
Barry and Colin remained an on-screen couple until the end of 1987. Their characters were used to highlight many other gay issues, such as homophobia, gay bashing and gay legal inequality — i.e. the legal age of gay sexual consent (which at the time was 21 instead of 16 as it is today). Eventually, the differences between Colin and Barry became too great for them to overcome, they split and Barry left Walford for a job on a cruise ship.
The two tined fork of comedy and drama struggled in the 1970s, and to some extent the 1980s, to bring homosexuality to the quiet attention of the majority of the population.
US television at this time was a steady diet of wholesome pap. Homespun feel good philosophy such as The Waltons aired in 1971, a series overburdened with good Christian attitudes, and other virtuous shows such as Little House On The Prairie followed. Wholesome viewing is entertaining and brings in advertising revenue. More difficult themes deter advertisers.
Bringing this to the present day in the USA, in June 2008 a US christianist pressure group caused H J Heinz not only to withdraw a UK TV advert said to include a 'Gay Kiss', it then apologised to those who complained abut the withdrawal for airing it in the first place!
Heinz Says Its UK Ad for Deli Mayo Was Not in Accordance with Corporate Policy
Heinz has confirmed that it withdrew a UK TV commercial for Deli Mayo last week because it was not in accordance with Heinz’s long-standing corporate policy of respecting everyone’s rights and values.
"Heinz pulled the ad in the UK because our consumer research showed that it failed in its attempt to be humorous and offended people on all sides," said Michael Mullen, Director of Global Corporate Affairs for Heinz.
"Heinz apologizes for its misplaced attempt at humor and we accept that this ad was not in accordance with our long-standing corporate policy of respecting everyone’s rights and values," Mullen said.
Media is now affected by consumer power. But that consumer power is not always wielded by individuals acting as individuals. Social Media is a new force and a firestorm can be whipped up almost by accident. I've referred in Part 3 to the It Gets Better Project, for example.
Returning to mainstream TV, the UK is very much further forward than the USA in meeting the objectives I set earlier in this article. Here we have characters who happen to be gay as well as gay characters. We accept with ease media personalities who are openly homosexual. The USA, too, has folk like Ellen DeGeneres and Rachel Maddow who have shows and are also Lesbian. Gay men with significant US TV positions are harder to find.
The US is moving forwards. When it does so it does it in large jumps. It aired Queer As Folk, a huge extended version of the original UK series, and went on to create the enormously popular cult classic, Glee, with a hugely likeable, albeit stereotypical, gay young man in it.
Setting this against the huge alleged moral outrage created by the US christianists during the latter part of 2010 during the political fight to get the US law known as 'Don't Ask Don't Tell' affecting the service of GBT folk in the US military it is almost ironic that Glee and the gay character exist at all.
So, all in all, we have moved on, and moved huge intellectual distances in many leaps, some large, others tiny. LGBT people are better treated in the media in the Western World. News items now cover queer bashings in a manner that treats them like any other crime against a person. Soap operas are including LGBT characters in a natural way, not as exhibits. I haven't even attempted to look at the world of film, but Captain Jack Sparrow in Pirates of the Caribbean looks pretty gay to me, yet it is not remarked on.
Perhaps it's been predictive programming, but it is working. Society now expects LGBT people to be portrayed as ordinary, as mundane. That is, after all, what we are.


Trab said...

This whole discussion is really good.

As for Jack Sparrow, I did read that Disney was appalled by the interpretation of him as gay...thankfully they left alone and have a superbly fun set of films as a result.