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Wednesday, June 28, 2006

The Backlash 

Tom Spurgeon recently had a piece up on the not so subtle homophobic subtext of recent comics coverage in the mainstream news. And, really, it's a hard premise to argue against. Much of the coverage of the new Batwoman in 52 seemed to veer strongly towards the "is this bad for children" angle. Because, as we all know, learning of the very existence of homosexuals makes children gay. On top of that we had quite a bit of anxiety and hand-wringing over the fact that Superman Returns was certain to bomb because it had a (semi-openly) gay director, which would mean he would have Superman acting "gay" in the movie, which means teenage boys wouldn't go see it. And the ongoing "do you know what your children are reading" coverage of manga seems to have finally reached the "ew, yaoi, gross" stage as well.

Now, all of this is noteworthy in and of itself, though not terribly surprising given the fact that most comic fans tend to display homophobic attitudes. So, naturally, when the mainstream news comes to the comics world for a story, it's only natural that those attitudes translate into the stories. But, in terms of the larger picture, of how the mainstream media has been discussing gay issues of late, the homophobia of comic themed stories is really unsurprising. There's been a strong thread of anti-gay attitudes in entertainment and news coverage of the last few years. For awhile there lip service was being paid to "diversity" but as the political rhetoric has shifted towards extreme conservatism and venomous punditry, that no longer seems to be the case.

From "silly fairy" commercials to the media's utter unwillingness to challenge right wing politicians "gay marriage will lead to bestiality" rhetoric, the media narrative regarding homosexuality that appears to be dominant is that gay men and lesbians are, at best, objects of ridicule, and at worst a distinct threat to the American way of life. Within the last month a homophobic slur by a sports figure was treated, not as an opportunity to engage in a discussion of homophobia in sports, but as an opportunity to further trash the object of the slur, and gay baiting political ads are dismissed as simple campaign rhetoric. When these stories received any mainstream coverage at all, the tone was "how dare homosexuals get upset." Meanwhile, globally anti-gay violence appears to be on the rise, but very little coverage has appeared on the issue. The message that's coming through is that this is not a good time to be a gay or lesbian American.

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