What if We Could All Finally Agree That Equal Opportunity Joking Does Not Exist?

Tracy Morgan’s apologies regarding his homophobic rant a few weeks back littered the web (as here and here), as did reactions to his anti-gay routine. However, most of the condemnation of Morgan has circulated around his framing of homosexuality as a “mistake” as well as his failure to take gay bullying seriously. Additionally, Tina Fey was been singled out with calls that she needs to fire Morgan (a move that Melissa McEwan of Shakesville aptly described as “an echo of the age-old stereotype that boys will be boys and it’s up to women to soften them and control them and deliver consequences for moral failures”).

In contrast, what received scant attention was Morgan’s anti-lesbian rantthat there is no way a woman could love and have sexual desire for another woman, that’s just a woman pretending because she hates a fucking man.”

In a move that is far from new, Morgan denied lesbians even exist, then went on to make many homophobic jokes about gay men. The blogosphere largely responded to this story in kind, leaving out (or not mentioning) Morgan’s anti-lesbian joke.

Here I am reminded of Adrienne Rich’s classic essay, “Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Existence,” in which Rich eloquently and exhaustively examines how the denial of sexuality for women is a means to control and suppress ALL females, not just lesbians.

Rich’s key point that male (hetero)sexuality is forced upon women can be linked to Morgan’s rant, which itself can be read as a comedic enforcing of compulsory heterosexuality. As Morgan’s “joke” suggests, women only “pretend” to be lesbians to get back at men. Yes, Morgan, because all desire revolves around the mighty phallus.

Apparently Morgan fails to appreciate that without his gay and lesbian co-workers, he, as Tina Fey put it “would not have lines to say, clothes to wear, sets to stand on, scene partners to act with, or a printed-out paycheck from accounting to put in his pocket.”

“30 Rock,” in contrast to Morgan, does recognize lesbians exist and does a good job of joking about lesbian identity without offense (as Fannie’s Room argues here).

As noted at After Ellen, “It’s no secret lesbians love Tina Fey” and, to her credit, Fey seems to understand that there is no such thing as equal opportunity joking.  In her GLAAD award acceptance speech she noted “so much what makes the difference between a joke being offensive and being funny is the context it is in and the intention behind it.”

In regards to Morgan, the intention was clearly not to promote acceptance or to breakdown stereotypes. Instead, it was hate speech masquerading as comedy. As Renee of Womanist Musings argues,

“Morgan like many comedians believes that comedy is specifically designed to be a shield that makes hate speech acceptable. Instead of claiming to be ‘an equal opportunity jokester,’ what he should have said is that he is an equal opportunity bigot.”

Tami of What Tami Said echoes this sentiment, noting “No comedy is really equal-opportunity. Why? Because our society is not equal opportunity. We are not all the same.” To illustrate her point, she argues that jokes about those who have privilege in society are not going to have real world consequences in the same way that jokes about marginalized groups are, that “No matter how many stupid jokes you tell about George Bush, none of this is likely to change for him. Nor will things change for people like him. Put it this way, no one is likely to stop hiring heterosexual, Christian, rich white men, because of George Bush.” No, nor is anyone likely to try and claim that heterosexual, rich, white men don’t exist.

You know what doesn’t exist? Being an equal opportunity jokester.” You know what does? Women loving and having sexual desire for other women.

What if Female Toys Got Equal Play? A Review of Toy Story 3

Toy Story 3 opens on a female-empowerment high, with Mrs. Potato-Head displaying mad train-robbing skills and Jessie skillfully steering Bullseye in the ensuing chase. From there though, the bottom drops out of the film’s female quotient.

Out of seven new toy characters, only one is female – the purple octopus whose scant dialogue is voiced by Whoopi Goldberg. This is far worse than the one female to every three males ratio documented in children’s media by The Geena Davis Institute on Gender and Media.

The film revolves around now 17-year-old Andy leaving for college. His mom (who has yet to be given a name) insists (in rather nagging fashion) he store or get rid of all his “junk.” The bag of toys containing Woody et al mistakenly ends up in the trash, resulting in the toys landing in a prison-like daycare (way to turn the knife on working parent guilt, that one).

In typical Pixar fashion, male characters dominate the film. Though the film ends with young Bonnie as the happy new owner of the toys, making way for more sequels, Woody would have to become Wanda and Buzz become Betty in future films in order for the series to break Pixar’s male-only protagonist tradition (as in Wall-E, A Bug’s Life, Cars, Monster, Inc, The Incredibles, How to Train Your Dragon…).

Bo Peep is inexplicably missing in this third installment, leaving even fewer females. Barbie has a larger role this time around though, as an overly emotional, often crying girlie-girl. She is also a traitor of sorts, breaking away from the gang to go live with Ken in his dream house.

As for Ken, he is depicted as a closeted gay fashionista with a fondness for writing in sparkly purple ink with curly-Q flourishes. Played for adult in-jokes, Ken huffily insists “I am not a girl toy, I am not!” when an uber-masculine robot–type toy suggests as much during a heated poker match. In the typical way homophobia is paired with misogyny, the jokes about Ken suggest that the worst things a male can be are a female or a homosexual.

Admittedly, Barbie ultimately rejects Ken and is instrumental in Woody and Co’s escape, but her hyper-feminine presentation coupled with Ken’s not-yet-out-of-the-toy-cupboard homophobia make this yet another family movie that perpetuates damaging gender and sexuality norms.

While the girls in the audience are given the funny and adventurous Jessie, they are also taught women are coy and  talk too much (as with the flirty Mrs. Potato-Head, who, according to the new character Lotso needs her mouth taken off), that when they say something smart it’s so rare as to be funny (as when Barbie says “authority should derive from the consent of the governed”), and that even when they are smart and adventurous, what they REALLY care about is nabbing themselves a macho toy to love (as when Jessie falls for the Latino version of Buzz – a storyline, that, yes, plays on the “Latin machismo lover” stereotype).

As for non-heterosexual audience members, they learn that being gay is so funny, that the best thing to do is hide one’s sexuality by playing heterosexual, and that it’s quite normal (and humorous) when others mock homosexuality and/or non-normative masculinity.

Yes, the film is funny and clever. Yes, it was enjoyable and fresh. Yes, it contained the typical blend of witty dialogue coupled with a virtual feast for the eyes. But, no, Pixar has not left its male-hetero-centric scripts behind. Nor has it moved beyond the ‘everyone is white and middle class’ suburban view of the world. As such, it’s associations with Disney, the mega-animated-instiller of gender and other norms (as so well documented in Mickey Mouse Monopoly) indicates that animated films from Pixar will not be giving us a “whole new world” anytime soon…

What if Homophobia was Resisted Twilight style?

The following piece is cross-posted here. As it argues, Twilight is a rampantly heteronormative series. Yet, given its concurrent rampant popularity, why not seize the opportunity to consider the ways  the Twilight cultural phenomonon can be used to furtheer discussion about gender, sexuality, racism, classism, etc? This is the aim of my forthcomign book, Seduced by Twilght (which, by the way, I just secured an agent for yesterday — woo-hooo!)

Ah, more proof that the U.S. is still a homophobic nation. Just what we don’t need. Maine’s rejection of a same sex marriage law earlier this week means that  attempts to legalize gay marriage have now been shot down in 31 states. As such, I thought it fitting to post a few thoughts about heteronomativity, homophobia, and Twilight.

Poking around Google, I found almost no posts that consider the heteronormativity of the series. One exception is Emily Rutherford’s “Heteteronormativity, Again; or, the Experience of Reading Twilight.” As Rutherford writes, “…there is no homosexuality in Twilight. Despite the obvious ambiguity of Edward’s sexual appeal, there are no gay couples in Forks, WA. There are no explicitly gay vampires. Bella herself doesn’t experience same-sex attraction.” As she further argues, “For all that it confuses clear-cut sexualities; for all that it builds upon and complicates our traditional notion of the innocent love story, it is still profoundly and aggressively heteronormative.”

As for the widespread heteronormativity the book upholds, all characters are represented as heterosexual and hetero-monogamous marriage is presented as ideal. Amongst other types of diversity depicted in the series – race, class, age, (dis)ability – there is not one single non-hetero character nor even a nod to the fact that not everyone on the planet is hetero. Given that Meyer’s is Mormon, a belief system that is notoriously heteronormative, it is hardly surprising that heterosexuality is represented as the unquestioned norm.

In addition to the series’ seething heteronormativity, the practice of buying the books and related products results in profits for those institutions that want to bolster heterosexism. Profits from the series are funneled to the Mormon church through the practice of tithing – such funds are used in various ways, but one of them is to prevent same sex marriage laws from passing (as with California’s prop 8). Here are some relevant portions of a piece I wrote on this topic:

Meyer has on multiple occasions stated that, in accordance with her Mormon belief, 10% of all  her profits for all things Twilight go to the Mormon church. (See, for example, The Advocate).

While she has not made any public statement regarding Prop 8, her tithing to the church supports institutionalizing discrimination against those who are not heterosexual. By extension, a percentage of the multi-billion dollar Twilight industry went towards the Mormon Church, an institution that played a huge funding role in initially getting Prop 8 on the ballot, and then kept the funding in plentiful supply in order to grow support for the Yes on 8 camp. The success of this campaign, which relied on dollars and dogma, would not have been possible without the big money that came from the Mormon Church and other religious donors.

….

Meyer’s silence about the issue of homophobia in her church in general, and Prop 8 in particular, comes across as deafeningly loud –it speaks volumes, showing support for discrimination via economic buttressing of an institution that helped California, the state I live in, to etch inequality into law. So much for the sunshine state – so much for dazzling, sensitive vampires…Guess it’s ok for a lion to love a lamb, but not for a man to love another man.

Unfortunately,  such homophobia does not only exist in the USA, but plagues the globe. As evidenced by a Twi Crack Addict piece posted last week, Wales is one such place. The piece, “Wolfpack Poster Removed from South Wales Cinema for being Homoerotic,” reports that a theatre in Cwmbran, South Wales, removed the wolfpack poster because it was “too homoerotic.” Given the rampant heteronormativity of the series, this accusation seems a bit ironic, especially given that the wolf characters are the only ones to give voice to their homophobia in the texts.

For example, in Breaking Dawn when Quil says to Jacob “I don’t notice girls anymore,” Jacob jokes ““Put that together with the tiara and makeup, and maybe Claire will have a different kind of competition to worry about.” Here, Jacob insinuates that Quil’s tiara-wearing antics might lead to some non-hetero ‘competition.’ Quil laughs in response, making kissing noises at Jacob and asking, “You available this Friday, Jacob?” Ah yes, homosexuality is SO FUNNY – especially in a book that presents heterosexuality as the ONLY option with a message that screams “Be hetero! Get married and have babies!”

In Breaking Dawn Leah also teases Jacob about his heartfelt goodbye to Quil, snickering “Thought you were going to make out with him.” Yeah, cuz it’s so homo-esque for a male to care about his guy friends. Leah might as well have said, “Hey, wolf boy, grow some hetero balls and put your focus where it should be – on the ladies!”

The inclusion of various homophobic sentiments from the Native American characters seems to go above and beyond Meyer’s staying true to her Mormon roots into the territory of actually mocking and deriding homosexuality. Further, the fact that the Quileute characters are the only characters to voice their homophobia is ironic given that native culture is historically far more accepting of diverse expressions of gender and sexuality. Such sentiments would be far more realistic out of the mouths of Meyer’s demi-god Mormon-esque vampires.

I am wondering if the above poster would have been removed if it featured shirtless white men instead — if it depicted the Carlisle, Edward, Jasper, Emmett pack? (Who are of course not referred to as a pack – think about the racial implications of that!) I would venture a guess that the poster would be less likely to be accused of homoeroticism if those pictured were white – partly because hegemonic, normative masculinity is linked  to whiteness, and partly because (due to a global system of racism) it’s easier (and more common) to discriminate against non-white men.

The ubiquitous shirt-lessness of the “wolf pack” (written about in my earlier post here) is linked to this notion of hegemonic masculinity and whiteness. White males, more often associated with mental activities and acumen, are often less sexualized (as explored by scholars such as Jackson Katz). Raced, or non-white men, and working class men, are more associated with their bodies and bodily activities. The fact that the male Quileute, as both raced and working class, are often depicted without clothes accords to this sexualization of males who are deemed as “lesser” – either due to race or class. Yes, I know they “run hot” in the books because of their wolf identity, but this alone does not explain why all the actors portraying them are photographed shirtless far more often than their white actor counterparts…

Finally, the removal of this poster due to its “homoerotic” message is ridiculous and repugnant. It smacks not only of homophobia, but of sexism (if those pictured were half naked women, there would not be a problem) and racism (speaking to the fear of the “Other” and of women or men finding raced Others attractive). As you go about being repeatedly seduced by the series and its offshoots, I hope you will once in awhile pause and think about these more troubling aspects. By voicing our discontent about those aspects of the book, the fandom, and the franchise that trouble us, we can bring homophobia (and other discriminatory ideologies) out of the closet. And, by discussing such regulatory ideals often and vociferously we can bring some progressive sparkle to the Twilight table.

This is partly my intent with the parodies from Twi Kids Trio – many who wrote to me thus far about the first skit noted their favorite scene was Jacob sitting on Edward’s lap (and, by the way, if you watch the skit, please leave comments or feedback on You Tube!). Future parodies will continue to mock the cult of masculinity and nod to the latent homoeroticism that heteronormativity attempts to deny. As per the theories of Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, homoerotic elements pervade the majority of literary texts. They may be deeply hidden and denied in Twilight, but often that which is most strenuously resisted is also ardently, if shamefully, desired. Don’t know about you, but I find it quite fascinating to ponder a queer version of Twilight… doing so makes the hand-holding abstinence and virginal purity message seem all the more antiquated, and, yes, discriminatory.

What if porn makes you gay?

As reported as Salon.com, the “Values Voter Summit” this past weekend (you know with a name like that this has got to be a scary meeting of ultra-right, ultra-white, hetero-loving nuts), a panel entitled “The New Masculinity” discussed how “feminism has wreaked havoc on marriage, women, children and men” in an attempt to get “the principles and ideals for a new ‘masculinism’ right.” Hmmm, sounds like this “new” masculinity is not all that new—rather, it’s the same old “blame women while keeping all our privileges” tactic. And, who deserves the most blame? Those nasty, evil, turning-your-kids-gay-and-away-from-god feminists of course!

But, there is a remedy—at least for sons. Tell them pornography will turn them gay!

With references to homosexuality as a “malady” that is “inflicted on people” Michael Schwartz, the chief of staff for Senator Tom Coburn (of Oklahoma), shared that “All pornography is homosexual pornography, because all pornography turns your sexual drive inwards.” Whoa, now there is some brilliance of the magnitude that if you touch yourself, your hands will fall off and you’ll be headed straight to the devil. Brilliance such as this harks from the Victorian age, that era of sexual repression that brought us circumcision as a “cure” for masturbation. It is also the era, of course, of thriving not-so-subculture porn and erotica. Surprisingly enough, with all that “smut” circulating in society, not all boys were “turned gay.”

That these conversations took place is not surprising given the right-wing homophobic bent of our nation, but it is still incredibly disturbing that leaders frame homosexuality as a disease, using tired ideas that you can be “infected” with gayness. Ah, if only the world could be “infected” with the idea that policing sexuality is not the answer to any of our problems. Rather, such rigid constructions of sexuality create a multitude of harmful practices and beliefs.

More generally, if we could “infect” the world with feminism, perhaps homophobic, misogynist leaders such as Schwartz would have to hide in the closet, masturbating to images of Dr. Laura or Rush Limbaugh.

Hmmm, how best to infect the world with feminism? We need some summits longer than a weekend to figure out our plan for transmission… Maybe we could sneak a dose of feminism into the swine flu vaccination?

What if god hates fangs?

I just finished the first season of True Blood and am kicking myself for not jumping on the fan-wagon sooner. Now I have to wait for season 2 on DVD! This will be more tortuous even than hearing the thoughts of Andy Bellefluer…

I am impressed that the series brings the themes of social oppression even more into the foreground than the Sookie Stackhouse book series on which it is based. Touching on racism, white privilege, homophobia and prejudice against non-humans, the show offers an intriguing, culturally aware, satirical take on the various ‘isms’ our world labors under.

The “God hates fangs” sign, present in the opening montage, is indicative of this titillating look the privileged/oppressed matrix. Yet, “vampire privilege,” written about here, is more “vampire oppression” in True Blood, with vamps representing the non-heterosexual, the non-Christian, and, ironically enough, the non-white.

What if same-sex marriage were given the same cultural backing as arranged-marriage reality-tv style?

As we so value traditional marriage, the moral and upstanding purveyor of cherished culture traditions, Fox, is developing a new series called I Married a Stranger.

According to RealityTV World, each episode of I Married a Stranger will follow a woman willing to marry a man she’s never met. The groom-to-be will be chosen by friends and family of the bride-to-be from a pool of six bachelors chosen by the shows producers.

Wow! Now if that doesn’t say sanctity of marriage I don’t know what does. Well,  except maybe yet another reality marriage series in development from CBS:

ARRANGED MARRIAGE is a series that brings the tradition of arranged marriages, which is still practiced successfully by many cultures throughout the world, to the U.S., where it is virtually an inconceivable option for most single Americans. Three adults who are anxious to get married, but who have been unsuccessful in their own search for a mate, choose a life-altering path. They rely on their closest family and friends, those who love and know them best, to choose someone for them to marry based on shared goals, values, experiences and the commitment to make it work. The series intimately documents these three arranged marriages, starting with the first meetings of the families and the wedding day; and then follows the couple through the day-to-day joys, challenges, and emotional tumult that results from their arranged union.

Cool! “Intimately documenting” a practice done by those OTHER cultures that are, according to the condescending tone, way less enlightened than US culture. So, not only is CBS developing a reality show that is gag-inducing on so many levels, but they also manage to be cultural elitists in their description of the show. Way to belittle other cultures while profiting from them, CBS!

In our “sanctity of marriage” culture, it seems anything goes as long as its one man, one woman.

If same-sex marriage were given the same cultural (and monetary) backing of these quadruple icky reality shows, perhaps Prop 8 would haven been driven back into the dungeons of evil from which it sprang…

What if we are a fanpire nation, allowing the passage of Prop 8 via our Twilight obsessions?

I have been absent from blog-land for some time now, immersed in teaching, grading, research, parenting, etc. I was spurred to post today due to the appalling decision yesterday regarding Prop 8 that has blighted the sunshine state in which I reside.

Part of what has kept me from blogging is my current research/writing project – a feminist analysis of the Twilight phenomenon in relation to girl culture, abstinence-only education, the hyper-sexualization of females, and our corporate capitalist patriarchal world of Christian, white, male, hetero privilege.

This project was born via the intervention of one of my very favorite feminists – my ten-year-old daughter. She wanted to read the series and find out what all the fuss was about, so we read it together. I expected to be disturbed by it, I expected to hate it, yet I was surprised on both counts.

I was DEEPLY disturbed by it – but not only or mainly for the reasons I expected (more on this later).

And I did hate the series in many ways– but I also became fascinated by it – I could not put the damn books down!  (more on this later, too)

For today, I want to focus on Prop 8 and what it represents – the continuing homophobia and heteronormativity of our culture– and how the mega-profitable Twilight franchise helped to enshrine such hatred into law.

As Dancin With Your Mouth Open posted back in November of 08,

With the huge boxoffice success of “Twilight,” it grossed over $70M domestically, this past weekend, not only is Stephenie Meyer making tons of money so is the Mormon church. Stephenie Meyer, described as the “the Mormon Anne Rice,” does what any good Mormon does which is called tithing. Tithing is a requirement in the Mormon religion and it’s usually 10% of their earnings. So, with all the talk about the Mormon church being a huge supporter of Prop 8, it seems like “Twilight” and Stephanie Meyer are contributors as well.

Meyer has on multiple occasions stated that, in accordance with her Mormon belief, 10% of all  her profits for all things Twilight go to the Mormon church. (See, for example, The Advocate).

While she has not made any public statement regarding Prop 8, her tithing to the church supports institutionalizing discrimination against those who are not heterosexual. By extension, a percentage of the multi-billion dollar Twilight industry went towards the Mormon Church, an institution that played a huge funding role in initially getting Prop 8 on the ballot, and then kept the funding in plentiful supply in order to grow support for the Yes on 8 camp. The success of this campaign, which relied on dollars and dogma, would not have been possible without the big money that came from the Mormon Church and other religious donors.

Can we finally admit that rather than a separation of church and state we have a MARRIAGE between church and state – they are like the perfect couple, supporting each other via campaign contributions on the one hand and tax exempt status on the other.

In terms of the fanpire’s role, their obsession with all things Twilight has further lined the pocketbooks of a Church that is unashamed of its homophobia. Even those of us who are not members of the growing legions of fanpires, those of us who merely read the series and watched the movie and yet can still somehow sleep at night without dreaming of Edward, have contributed to Meyer’s tithing, and, by extention, to the success of Prop 8. To be honest, I didn’t consider this component of purchasing the books until a friend mentioned it to me, and I feel the fool for NOT realizing it. (Then again, it seems even going to see Milk helped those in support of prop 8).

How in a world where homophobia is the norm can one NOT contribute to it? I think not contributing at this time is an impossibility  —  our culture has it set up so we all must contribute, even if only subconsciously.

Yet, I find tithing, from whatever religion (as not only Mormons tithe), particularly abhorrent when used in such ways. Not only is it tax-exempt but it  is used (as in this instance)  to turn prejudice and discrimination into law in the name of religion. How ironic given the frequent complaint from the Mormon Church that they are discriminated against for their religion, that they are the Christain ‘Others’!

Meyer’s silence about the issue of homophobia in her church in general, and Prop 8 in particular, comes across as deafeningly loud –it speaks volumes, showing support for discrimination via economic buttressing of an institution that helped California, the state I live in, to etch inequality into law. So much for the sunshine state – so much for dazzling, sensitive vampires – instead, we have Prop Hate funded in part by Ms. Meyer and her adoring fanpire. Guess it’s ok for a lion to love a lamb, but not for a man to love another man.