Tuesday, December 2, 2008

"Fun" With Over-the-Top De-Humanizing Headlines

How do you know when a headline is de-humanizing and sensationalistic?

When it brings up irrelevancies like, oh, a woman's sexual orientation in the title of an article mentioning her death. Observe, from Fox News:

"Search On for Teen Son of Dead Lesbian Fugitive"

See, what's really important to some in the media is the capability to draw readers in, not with the content of the article, but with the most over-the-top headline possible. And what Fox News is telling us is that not only is a woman dead and her son missing, but that the woman was also a LeSbIaN who had LeSbIaN SeX!

Indeed the article synopsis goes on to state:

"Police were searching the Northwest and Arizona Wednesday for the teenage son of a woman found dead over the weekend in an apparent suicide pact with her lesbian lover."

I've already discussed how those who still use the phrase "lesbian lover" signify themselves as being of a certain age, homophobic mindset, and/or prone to redundancy. Seriously. Contrary to what some people clearly think, homosexuality is not all about having teh gay sex with gay "lovers." It's about having romantic, multi-faceted relationships with human beings just like how heterosexuals have romantic, multi-faceted relationships with other human beings.

Really, I know of no lesbian who uses the phrase "lesbian lover" in reference to a partner or girlfriend. Yeah, those opposed to LGBT rights can call us whatever they want, and they usually do. But their adamant refusals to call us by our preferred terminology often builds more walls between their side and ours even though it would be a quite simple concession to make to call someone what he or she prefers to be called.

But anyway, back to the de-humanizing headline. This sort of I-think-of-gay-people-as-gays-first-and-humans-second mindset is done all the time by people opposed to LGBT rights. I sincerely believe that they see us as fundamentally very different and less human than they themselves are. What should be an irrelevant side detail, our sexuality, to these people is always front and center and deserving of a headline. In their eyes, our sexual identities are always relevant to whatever it is we do or say.

While it's true that the woman in the article was a lesbian, that she preferred to form relationships with women as opposed to men is simply not germane to the suicide pact and her missing son. For the sake of comparison, let's just say that the woman was heterosexual. In that case, her sexual orientation would not have been mentioned and it certainly would not have been in the headline of the article. Why not? It wouldn't be titillating. It wouldn't be sensational. And, most importantly, it would be taken for granted that it wasn't relevant to the story!

When someone has the privilege of not being seen as the "other," their "normality" does not require mentioning when articles are written about them. To many in our society, the default human being is heterosexual (and probably white, male, and Christian too), and thus stories do not require mentioning their sexual orientations. But when something happens to the "other," or especially when the "other" commits "immoral" behavior of some sort, mention must always be made of this person's "otherness." Implicit in this tactic is that the "other's" behavior is indicative of the general immorality of all of these "others." The "others" are never just representing themselves, they are representing all "others" who share their particular identity. And that's what's wrong with these de-humanizing headlines.

They tell us that some people count, and some people don't. Some people are worthy of being seen as individuals, and others are just representatives of a lesser, general class of immorals. While those whose identities place them within the "normal" in-crowd have the privilege of being viewed as individual human beings, those who are "others" are viewed as their "otherness" first and as a human being second.

And yeah, I know. It's FoxNews we're talking about in this specific case. You'll just have to excuse me for expecting all people to treat others with respect for human dignity.

My condolences go to Tina Rose Loesch and Skye M. Hanson and their families and friends.

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