Sunday, January 5, 2014

Idea Garage Sale: Constructive Responses

So I don't pay much attention to tempests in teapots, but sometimes they force their attentions on me, and I became aware that some reality show on A&E (about makers of duck calls? Seriously?) was having one when one of the actors/subjects made some ignorant remarks and A&E suspended him and then fast food chain Chik-Fil-A got involved somehow (good heavens, my burning need to Make Things Up can readily be understood as an attempt to live in a world that makes some kind of rational sense) and apparently now the ignorant have won and whats-his-name is back on air. Or something. Excuse me for not researching details more; I can contemplate frog falls, time travel, and dragons, but this kind of nonsense bends my brain too much, and the details are not relevant to the main topic here today.

This is not, technically, a censorship issue, since A&E is not a government body. Whats-his-name has a Constitutionally-protected right to say bigoted ignorant things, and A&E has an equally Constitutionally-protected right to disassociate itself from his bigotry and ignorant, and other bigoted and ignorant people have a right to rally behind him and none of it addresses any important issue, but rather distracts from them. You would think that we, as a species, would have learned by now that telling people to shut up makes them talk louder, and moreover gives them grounds on which to feel aggrieved and persecuted - even, or especially, when, as in this case, the speaker belongs to a powerful group and has been abusing his free speech to denigrate a less powerful one. When we tell such people to shut up, we make them stronger and don't help matters any. The constructive thing to do is to attempt to educate them. You can't force someone to become educated, but you can use the attempt to generate fruitful discussions and do good things all around him - and that works (albeit slowly) and has other incidental benefits - specifically, in actually lessening the oppression of an oppressed group.

I'm not a filmmaker or screenwriter and have no basis for pitching any of the following ideas to A&E, but any one of them would be more fruitful than trying to silence anyone, in that they expose more people to the denigrated group, decrease the level of ignorance, give members of that group a validated media presence, increase the diversity of media representation, and provide a potentially fruitful stage for demonstrating (rather than merely talking about) the humanity and legitimacy of different lifestyles and interpretations of basic values.

1) Recruit homosexual members of the subcultures addressed in the show to appear on a regular basis, generating both the personal conflict people who like reality shows appear to enjoy, and the softening-by-exposure that regularly happens when bigots meet the objects of their bigotry in the flesh and begin to perceive them as human beings rather than abstractions. Any decent person who, raised with a prejudice, meets on terms of equality - in which common courtesy is demanded of them - with those against whom he is prejudiced, will learn better if not subject to enough authoritative pressure to counter it. Even Hitler said that "everybody has his 'one good Jew,'" which was why the first step in the Final Solution was to separate the victims from the general population.

2) Start a new reality show, scheduled immediately after the one in question, following the fortunes of a group of Christians who interpret the Bible very differently from the folks who think God's love is conditional. I bet the Metropolitan Community Church could hook them up with any number of active, inclusive Christians living their faith in ways at least as interesting as the vicissitudes of the duck call business. A ministry to "thrown away" teens booted out of their homes for no reason other than an unacceptable gender identity and shunned by standard modes of public assistance (which treat all homeless teens as either delinquents or runaways) would be compelling enough for any audience.

3) Screen movies by members of neglected subcultures. Actively solicit the work of gay, bi, and transgender artists covering parts of life usually considered from heterosexual points of view: love stories, obviously, but also family and workplace dramas, animal stories, tales of midlife crisis or personal disaster, science fiction, mystery, and so on. Ditto, of course, work by and about people of color. By the way, did you know that it's possible to be a person of color and queer? Feminist and Mexican and Protestant? Mix it up, for pity's sake!

4) Seek out and develop properties which actually examine, rather than perpetuating cliches about, the lives and opinions of religious people. There is nothing vague, wishy-washy, or boring about the ways in which people interpret whatever scriptures they use, nor how they go about reconciling their imperfect selves with their principles. Yet serious treatment of religion in fiction is often left up to the most narrow, least talented artists who can't produce anything better than a tract. I would point you to The God Box, by Alex Sanchez, as the sort of thing that is ripe for a wider audience; featuring a closeted gay boy involved in the cruel lie of a relationship with a girl because he believes the prejudices he's been raised under, and an uncloseted Hispanic gay boy who is willing, even eager, to debate scripture with all comers. We could also use more ecumenical works illustrating in a realistic and engaging manner how the practical ethics of all the major religions align so much better than you'd think from the savage ways people fight over dogma. Most dogmas, looked at objectively, are simply silly; but the Golden Rule is sensible, practical, and universal.

5) Hunt up the overlooked queerness of history, and build entertainment properties around them. It's great that we're finally getting a star-vehicle biopic about Alan Turing and his unjust persecution; but how many similar stories lurk in the unjust corners of history? Did you even know that the first American soldier wounded in our interference in Iraq was (and still is, I'm happy to say) a gay man?

Representation is important. We all look for our reflections; we all model ourselves on those we recognize as similar to ourselves; we all feel oppressed and repressed and lonely if we can't find such models; we all mutilate ourselves when we try to change ourselves to match existing models that don't quite fit. Giving space on the cultural stage to as many different models as possible is much, much more productive than trying to hustle bad models off the stage.

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