Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Thinking Bigger Picture

[TW: Homophobia]

What's a nice, civil Family Scholars Blog (FSB) doing promoting a piece like this?


Over at FSB, where I sometimes comment (and genuinely enjoy interacting with some of the bloggers, who tend to lean towards opposing marriage equality), blogger Karen Clark recently posted a link, without commentary, to a *clears throat* problematic piece over at conservative Christian news source OneNewsNow.

In the OneNewsNow piece, entitled "Don't Drink the Kool-Aid**," Marcia Segelstein bemoans the fact that LGBT characters get to be on television too. She says that it's "not enough" for parents to homeschool to avoid having their children become "infected by the culture." No, what is essential, according to some book she's read, is that anti-LGBT parents "staunch the flow" of shows like "Glee," "Modern Family," and The Kids Are Alright that observe the reality that LGBT people actually exist in reality.

She offers no concrete suggestions for how to staunch this alleged flow of "infection," but she promises her readers that further advice would be forthcoming.

In the comment section at FSB, I noted that it was difficult for me to see the piece as anything but bigoted. The piece's premise was that the representation of people like me on television was an "infection" that needed to be stopped. Frankly, most of the blogposts over at FSB are not as blatantly or virulently anti-LGBT as this piece was. I was surprised to see it promoted there.

Karen Clark quickly responded to my comment by citing a quote from the OneNewsNow article and adding her own defense of the piece:

"'[Segelstein's quote from OneNewsNow:] Yet the media endlessly mocks traditional families (to say nothing of traditional values) by providing entertainment that, as Hicks writes, 'relentlessly promotes the idea that traditional families are obsolete, unnecessary, hypocritical, and even a little absurd.'"
[Karen's quote:] "I think this is the main take-away point from this article but of course it all depends on a lens we are reading though. 'Bigotry' can go both ways but it’s really a useless word when thinking bigger picture."

Here, Karen seems to suggest that from her point of view, shows like Glee are actually bigoted toward "traditional families." But, really, it's not entirely clear what she means here, especially the part where she says that bigotry is a "useless word when thinking bigger picture."

Nonetheless, it was a somewhat informative exchange.

Some Christian "traditional family" folks believe, however ignorantly, that shows featuring "non-traditional families" are totally centered around mocking "traditional families." Yes, this claim feels a little project-y to me. At the very least, it is inaccurate. Having watched all three of the programs Segelstein cited, I suspect that Segelstein has not actually watched any of them if she thinks they "relentlessly" promote such horrible notions about the "traditional family."

While these programs depict a handful of lesbian, gay, and bisexual characters (and no transgender characters, to my knowledge) and non-traditional families, this depiction in and of itself doesn't "mock" traditional families. So, I noted that in my reply to Karen:

"....'Modern Family' certainly depicts non-traditional families, but in so doing, it doesn’t mock traditional families or paint them as absurd. If anything, the show depicts all types of families as being absurd at times. All of the characters in the show are caricatures (eg 'the flamboyant gay,' the 'young, hot Latina 2nd wife,' 'the bumbling hetero man,' 'the nerdy daughter, v. the popular daughter' etc.). The show is hardly a celebration of anyone or any single family form. It simply depicts the reality that different types of families exist.
And, rather than The Kids Are Alright being a celebration of sperm donation, the show itself actually raises the question, 'Are they really alright?' Both kids in that movie sought out the identity of their biological father, without their moms knowing, and established a relationship with him because they yearned to know him. It depicts the messiness of such situations, and that’s pretty evident to anyone who watches it."

Another commenter then politely asked Karen to further clarify her "bigger picture" comment in light of the apparent bigotry of the piece she was promoting.

Karen's response? An unfortunate, dramatic, and defensive accusation:

"Who the heck cares what 'Karen Clark' thinks – really. Who cares? Other than ppl who want to spin my words and intentions to their benefit."

Er... okay. That came from left field. I thought we were just having a convo.

Karen then threw a grammatically incomprehensible word salad into her comment and several (unformatted) links intended to be "thought food" for her critics to gain "a better understanding of 'the bigger picture'" (Note: One of these links was to the highly-problematic National Organization for Marriage's so-called Marriage Anti-defamation Alliance, which I've already written about).

She then she promptly closed down the comment thread, as though it somehow would constitute her "winning" the "conversation" if she got the last word in by throwing a bunch of even more bigoted links at us, putting her fingers in her ears, and ordering everyone else to become more educated by reading her hardly-impartial sources.

So yeah. I found Karen's behavior to be really problematic.

For one, it seemed to fall into that classic, pearl-clutching How dare you try to talk to me about spreading bigoted propaganda about you!? category of Internet discourse. That's always fun. Good on you, Karen, for having the privilege to just walk away from hostile conversations you initiate that end up making you feel like you might be acting problematically.

Two, Karen has a history of linking to bigoted or provocative pieces, but she often keeps the comment section following such promotions closed. Or, as in this case, she will quickly close down a thread when people are like, "what's up with that bigoted piece, Karen?"

Three, about those links she threw in to "educate" her critics about "the bigger picture." As a lesbian blogger, yep, I'm pretty sure I'm already familiar with what NOM and company are saying and accusing equality advocates of. While many of us are highly familiar with NOM's theatrics re: How The Big Bad Mean Gays Are Oppressing The Nice Marriage Defenders, Karen seems to have chomped down on that hook, line, and sinker.

In her efforts to bring it to the attention of LGBT people, she assumes ignorance on our part, rather than considering that maybe it's she who needs to "think bigger picture" than what NOM and company are telling her. For instance, while I regularly and deliberately put myself in hostile anti-LGBT blog territory, how many LGBT-written blogs does she regularly read and comment on? Does she listen to LGBT people at all? Can she adequately and informatively explain our viewpoints, fears, and concerns? Or, is most of her information coming from groups like NOM?

Four, I found it strange that Karen backed up with her hands in the air and demeaned herself by asking, "who the heck cares what 'Karen Clark' thinks"?

She posts at Family Scholars Blog, a project of the Institute for American Values, which is an institution opposing same-sex marriage and that, presumably, runs a blog for the purpose of an intellectual exchanging ideas with others. I think the bigger question is why Karen Clark, the Family Scholars blogger, would think people wouldn't care what she thinks? I mean, is it really fair or realistic of her to not expect debate about what she posts?

And really, my beef is not even about her, it's about the hostile pieces she (a) promotes and (b) then proceeds to shut down conversations about. The OneNewsNow piece she promoted, to me, looked less embiggening to a scholarly discourse, and more about a propagandic attack on LGBT representation in the media. A good conversation could have been had about it by people of differing viewpoints and yet, Karen acted as though it was totally out of line that people might take issue with the piece she promoted.

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about the Internet 'Asplosion with Stacy, the Catholic woman who wrote a cruel, intolerant, and hateful screed about how awful it was for her to see a same-sex couple at a public park. Later, Stacy too, reacted with that "why does anyone even care what I think anyway" attitude. Stacy, too, reacted to polite criticism by perceiving it and framing it as a violent infringement on her rights.

So, here I would encourage Karen to stop reactively framing every bit of criticism or requests for clarification as an aggressive, hostile attack on herself. When I noted that, as a lesbian, it seems bigoted toward me when someone writes about what an awful "infection" it is that there are lesbian characters on television, it is a strange thing to be told that bigoted is a "useles word" and that I should, instead, focus on an alleged "bigger picture"- especially when that "bigger picture" is painted by a group like NOM.

When we truly think about the bigger picture, I will against suggest that some anti-LGBT people have fundamental misunderstandings of (1) the aggression, cruelty, and hostility inherent in their words; and (2) the fact that when one person shares their opinion in public, other people might then share their opinions about that opinion.

[TW: suicide]

** Regarding the title of the OneNewsNow piece, "Don't Drink the Kool-Aid": Not only is Segelstein's article bigoted in its content, her title wantonly compares LGBT representation in the media to an unbelievably tragic instance of cult-induced mass suicide. First, can we please stop with the metaphors that trivilialize tragedy? Watching Kurt Hummel sing stupid showtunes on Glee is actually nothing at all like drinking cyanide-laced sugar water.

Two, the phrase is used in the article to imply that believers in LGBT equality have an unquestioning adherence to some ideology. In this instance, it implies that the larger society uncritically accepts LGBT people as "evidenced" by the fact that 35 LGBT characters exist on TV out of, like, thousands.

Could anti-LGBT Christians be any more project-y here? Not only do many of them have an unquestioning, uncritical, and unwavering religiously-based devotion to the idea that being LGBT is horribly wrong, homophobia and transphobia are still incredibly pervasive in society. As evidenced by Segelstein's article, which somehow gets promoted even on nice, civil, "scholarly" blogs.

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