A quick note responding to the YouTube "It Gets Better" campaign. I think it's great that social media could facilitate this sort of outreach. I'll leave social commentary for someone more eloquent and qualified, but I think it's interesting from a social media messaging standpoint; I can watch (and also hear) a video of Tim Gunn talk about a sexual-identity related suicide attempt / cry for help from his own youth and offer a heartfelt message of hope, while reading comment messages like "YO SOMEONE SHUT THIS FUCKING FAGGOT UP IT DOESNT GET BETTER WHEN U HAVE DICKS GOING UP YOUR ASS YOU SHOULD OF KILLED YOURSELF." And I can see responses to that message, like "wow, you're sick. go die" or "So don't partake in a homosexual sexual encounter. Problem solved." It appears this video/comment space is facilitating the weeding out of hateful tensions- assuming that commenter was expressing a serious belief and not just shooting off to get a reaction. But more importantly, I think even anonymous hate messages are useful to the speaker. I think it's safe to assume that messages like that reinforce rather than demean the message, especially in this context where it's clear who is speaking more sense and truth.  Seeing hate speech in a space immediate to the anti-hate messaging prevents viewers from ignoring the contrast, and underscores the urgency of (in this instance) Gunn's message.

It also brought to mind a bell hooks piece I was assigned for a different class. "Power to the Pussy: We Don't Wanna be Dicks in Drag," criticizes Madonna's transformation from female empowerment symbol to an artist who uses visual cues that promote sexually fetishized (not to mention demeaning) images of homosexuality, or at least promotes a patriarchal notion of sexuality for commercial reasons.

So I couldn't help but feel a little put off when I saw Ke$ha made a video submission.

Consider lyrics like: "I don’t really care where you live at / Just turn around boy and let me hit that / Don't be a little bitch with your chit chat / Just show me where your dick's at" and "I'm talking about everybody getting crunk, crunk / Boys tryin' to touch my junk, junk / Gonna smack him if he getting too drunk, drunk"

Ke$ha may not invoke the same level of visual prejudice as late-career Madonna, but she does contribute to the ever-growing cultural market for sexual objectification and erotic social capital that lead to a society that prioritizes a very specific type of sexually-charged and gender-related speech and action. These highly-visible and well known popular culture elements lay the groundwork for discriminatory evaluations and attitudes. It's completely inane to say that we, as a society, value a "be yourself" mentality when daily life is filled with increasingly tenacious and pervasive images of sexual behavior that not only favor, but elaborately celebrate heterosexuality. Am I saying we need more pro-gay imagery in the mass media? Not really, although it wouldn't be a terrible thing for heterosexuals to endure some discomfort over exposure to long-suppressed imagery if it meant a long-term cultural shift toward a more equitable 'normal' that wasn't so exclusive.

At the end of the day, I lean toward the realist notion that market power determines mass media imagery, and heterosexuals have more market power than homosexuals. It would be worth exploring whether homosexuals are suppressed in their ability to express themselves in the marketplace, and whether advocacy from heterosexuals could help correct that. I wouldn't be interested in buying gay visual art, for example, but I think it's a civil right for gay people to have access to it.  When heterosexual consumers overwhelmingly respond to sexually charged messaging, sexuality becomes the central feature of the art, and therefore a central criteria in its admission to the marketplace.  It might not seem like a great social advocacy plan - "correct for marketplace inhibitions" - but frankly in the United States, market power reigns supreme, and empowerment in the marketplace is essential to the resolution of social inequality. Just ask African Americans who weren't allowed to buy homes in certain neighborhoods. Next to the right to vote, access to an equitable share of the market serving your interests is a key civil rights issue.

So if Ke$ha really wants to help, maybe she should turn her attentions to producing music that doesn't celebrate an aggrandized conception of heterosexuality. An unrealistic expectation? Maybe, but I'd like to see someone besides people like Elton John, Ellen DeGeneres, Adam Lambert, or Rufus Wainwright try. You know, maybe an artist who isn't actually gay themselves could use their content to speak to equality. "Your Woman" by White Town is a good example.  Maybe it's happening on a larger scale; I'm not really that in-touch with the pop music scene. Anyone know of artists who do that ?

Maybe I've given Ke$ha an unfair shake, after all, in interviews she says she isn't gay or straight. Then again, as Katy Perry knows, it's ok for a girl to kiss a girl and like it. But as I'm sure someone else has asked - is it ok for a boy to kiss a boy and like it? More importantly, would we allow that sort of talk into the marketplace unchallenged? Lambert's AMA experience and the recent outcry against including homosexual teasing as part of anti-bullying campaigns (http://www.outloudopinion.com/2010/10/05/cnn-conservative-anti-gay-groups-are-part-of-the-bullying-problem/) tell me no.

10/18/2010 08:22:15 am

Very interesting post! Lily Allen is another good example of an artist who is heterosexual but speaks and campaigns for gay rights.

Looking forward to seeing more posts in the future!

10/18/2010 11:39:22 am

Ah, good example! I definitely dig Lily Allen. Thanks for the comment.


10/27/2010 10:16:53 am

What a phenomenal post! Glad I stopped by. I am glad somebody is pointing to the hypocrisy that pervades pop culture, where social activism is often cool but not understood

10/29/2010 01:25:08 am

Thanks for the comment Suzan

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