A brewsky for Gay America? Please...
I very frequently get messages asking me to call American Airlines or ABC or Anhaeuser-Busch or HBO or MTV or whomever asking me to say "thank you" because I'm being included and represented. The latest one is this whole Annhaeuser-Busch hoopla about them putting out an ad in Out and The Advocate showing two (male) hands holding. I less often get messages asking me to call Wendy's or Cracker Barrel or Coors or JC Penney because they're pulling away from anything associated with Queer.
For some reason, I always respond to the Cracker Barrel sort and skip the "thank-you so much" calls.
I believe this is because companies that pull sponsorship are asserting that somehow my life is not legitimate.
This, as you can imagine, pisses me off.
However, companies that are targetting me as a consumer are acknowledging that my life as a queer man is legitimate. Big whoop.
You see, I know my life is legitimate. I'm glad these companies have decided to get their heads out of their collective corporate butts and have decided to acknowledge it. But they're not doing me a favor.
My life is legitimate whether or not they acknowledge that my boyfriend and my landlord and my lesbian friend who graduates this weekend could potentially buy their products. I've never been a believer that corporations decide to make political statements out of the political activist in them.
They simply get to a point where they realize that they can market to the queer community because it ultimately won't have a negative impact on their business. There are counted few examples of corporations making unpopular political or social statements just because it was the proper thing to do. There is a point when it is the ONLY thing they can do if they want to expand, and they will usually do it due to pressure.
I do not believe in the concept of the Corporate Good Citizen.
There are a few other reasons why I am reluctant to embrace this model of legitimacy-through-advertising that some of our fellow folk in the qglbt (sounds like quigglebutt) community are happy to embrace. Of course, there's nothing that says that advertising does not have a greater cultural effect of putting queer folk in a different light than Mainstream America might be used to seeing. But somehow, this image is not even realistic. Most ads I see that purportedly portray "the gay community" somehow only portray some version or combination of the well-toned, well-tanned, upwardly-mobile, under 35, gin-and-tonic-sippin' furniture-buyin' disco-dancin' male guppie with Mucho Dinero. Perhaps they may toss in some people of color for sake of providing that "exotic" or "mysterious" feel, but these images are predominantly of the same kind(s) of urban gay males. The one exception I can think of which I would highlight is the make-up company that used RuPaul as a spokesperson, and even there they were banking on an image created by RuPaul herself rather than on deciding they should use a black drag queen to market make-up.
I've always wondered where they put the older lesbian couples, or the single old gay men, or the overweight gays, or the dykes with kids, or the PWA's on food assistance or my activist shaved-head friends. I mean, I've never felt that the community that embraced me when I first arrived at Cornell could be represented with the Marky-mark-as-fag image that Madison Avenue tosses at me with consistent regularity. So, if I'm asked to thank them for representing the qglbt community, I'll brush it off because they're not representing it, only a subset that I don't particularly care for.
Which leads me to one of the other reasons why I don't thank these supposed corporate homophiles. Advertising is not a reflection of reality, nor do I believe it is designed to be such. It is a reflection of the buttons that are pushed on a perceived demographic by certain images. So, A&F shows youngish boys-next-door wrestling with each other on the beach in their boxer shorts because they're trying to sell an image of carefree homoerotic youth to the fags who dig their catalog and their stuff and an image of carefree heterosexual youth to the straight boys who buy their clothing. I've never actually heard of many people seeing a gaggle of post-pubescent teens in a happy game of underwear wrasslin' out on the beach.
This whole issue sponsored a barrage of messages on a listserv I belong to, most of them on this same wavelegnth. "Why is it such a big deal that a beer company sponsors an ad selling things to a community ravaged by alcoholism?", asked someone. Someone else replied that corporate acknowledgement wasn't necessarily good. To which a third person replied, asking to see the ad, and then saying:
Second, what is WRONG with you people? I agree with whoever said that we're all our own worst enemy. First, lets call the gay community alcoholics and drug abusers. THAT'S PRODUCTIVE. Hey, even if we do have a higher ration than the "straight community" (is there such a thing?) so what? Maybe its for other reasons? Am I the ONLY one that went to Cornell?? Second, AB for those of you who don't know...and something tells me I'm the only one reading this that ever worked in an AB PLANT...AB has been gay positive for as long as I know. I started working there in 1991...worked with manly men...and guess what...gay positive all the way...so this is not some vane attempt to win kudos. Has anyone else noticed that AB has been supporting Pride FOREVER? (oh yeah, and if you wanna see, "just a marketing gimmick" lets target COORS, shall we?) ...
the gay community has this negative image of a bunch of people who find fault in the world around them to the point where they can't be happy and therefore have to be "militaristic" and "in your face"...hell, we can't even get along with EACHOTHER much less with the world at large...
take a pill ya'll ... support gay positive everything...and don't look for the devil inside all that you see...sometimes being naive and a bit lemming-ish can lower the blood pressure and make you (us all) a much more enjoyable person.
This struck many a chord in me. I could hear this man's tone when speaking, and it sounded fresh out of Sweet Valley. When someone tells me "support gay positive everything," I ask the person to define positive and brace myself to hear me and most of my good Queer friends disparraged and called weirdos, perverts, sickos and all that other stuff that was flung at anyone who may have been considered faggy in grade school. When someone asks me to "take a pill" to relax, I answer that that's not the preferred behavior of my target demographic. I came out of the closet greatly as a result of my refusal to be a lemming and follow the patterns of sexual behavior that had been ascribed to me because of the facial hair I would one day be able to grow; I find no comfort in being thought of as a lemming.
Naiveté is no source of pride.
I find no joy in being liked just because I don't speak out against what I think is wrong.
Unfortunately, we've been pushed towards a perspective of our community that emphasizes consumption over compassion, complacency over conscience and apathy over action. Unfortunately, this perspective has also been mostly advocated by the same people who want to convince us that being thought of as a target market with lots of money to toss around is a good thing. I got a message over our corporate LBGT list that said the following:
Hey there -- This is no secret, but we are here to remind you that the ever-expanding and increasingly OUT Gay Community holds mucho dinero power and expendible income.
In the spirit of outreach, education, and community we invite you to consider participating in West Hollywood's GAY PRIDE WEEK - Friday June 11, Saturday June 12, & Sunday June 13.
We are looking for headliners, cool bands and DJ's to play the Main Stage or Talent as MC's to perform that weekend. FYI - press and merchandising opportunities abound!
I don't know why pride is nowadays so inextricably tied to how many Rainbow Calling Cards and Triangle Beers we can sell.
I don't know when it is we forgot that there are queer folk on welfare, lesbians and gays facing brutal assault, couples whose kids are taken from them because they're queer, and that we should be proud that, despite all the crap we have had to overcome we're still a pretty decent bunch of folk.
I say we scrap the sponsors and just have a picnic somewhere to celebrate our pride rather than expect beer brewers to tell us what we should be proud about.