Monday, May 25, 2009

Big stage, small stage

This post has been rattling around in my head for several days. The problem has been trying to distill it into what I think is the essence of the issue, and not get caught up in the details, or make it broader than the pop culture tag it deserves. So we're going to give it s shot.

Over the last few months, I've massively increased my intake of of television. Unemployment does that to you. I've found myself watching things I never cared about, or even actively hated. Even now, as I write this post, there's a soap opera keeping me company in the quiet empty house. And reality television has crept into my viewing schedule, which is something I always avoided like the plague. First it was American Idol, and I ran livechats of the shows on AfterElton celebrating Adam Lambert. I'd never watched the show before, but this season I was a regular.

One competition show I had always looked forward to though, was what came after Idol - So You Think You Can Dance (SYTYCD). Yes, it was dreck, but I've always been fascinated by people who could move gracefully when my gangly build made me look like an epileptic orangutan on a dance floor. The eye candy wasn't bad most years either.

I'd learned to put up with the executive producer, Nigel Lythgoe, and his mild homophobia to "effeminate dancers" - I knew it was wrong, that it was perhaps this most subtle and pervasive type of homophobia that was perhaps the most damaging to youth. It's easy to shrug off the Phelps clan and their God Hates Fags brand of hate - it's so blatant, I think it really helps the gay community more than it hurts. Nigel's comments hurt in a more subtle way though- making people question something that we're already unsure of as gay men, our "masculinity" our self image. And I could shrug it off because I don't like looking at my own masculinity isn't always pleasant. There are days when I'm the "average dude" whatever that is, whatever I grew into in West Virginia to protect myself. And there are days when I notice there's a definite "swish" to my walk. I try and make myself revel in whatever causes those "swishy" days, because I think it makes me more in control of my own issues. Who knows if that's true? Reality is deep down I'm just trying to navigate the world.

But back to SYTYCD. Thursday night, the guilty summer pleasure premiered. I recorded it to the DVR and watched another guilty pleasure, Ugly Betty, and intended to catch SYTYCD Friday afternoon. Problem was, I woke up to an Internet shitstorm about the show on Friday.

It seems the show had a same-sex ballroom couple (one gay, one straight) audition for the show. Certainly a first for the show, hardly a first for the world. Same-sex ballroom has been around for years, and there are major competitions for it. But the judges on the show, who claim 100+ years of experience in the dance world, freaked out. They giggle during the performance. They said they didn't know who was the male and who was the female (hint: they were both male). They were asked to come back and dance with female partners "you never know, you might like it."

The critique would have been bad enough, but the show took the further step of editing it by showing the dancers leaving the dressing room and superimposing "It's Raining Men" over their walk to the stage. To me this was worse than the critique. As bad as the judges were, they were speaking in the moment. The editing, and the soundtrack was a calculated move on the producers' part (Executive Producer? Nigel Lythgoe). Someone too the time to think about the homophobic joke, find the perfect song, secure a license to play that song during the show, and edit the sequence. Ugh.

It got worse - Nigel twitters and he went on to make cracks about "Brokeback Ballroom" and further about being upset he was being called a homophobe - suddenly he was the victim. Prominent gay sites like Towelroad, AfterElton, and Queerty were out for blood. I was ticked, but also bemused, as the day went on, watching Nigel Twitter on (no doubt unaware of the panic attack his publicist was having somewhere), trying to defend himself, and just being clueless about why what he said was wrong. Here's the rub: I really, truly, honestly believe he didn't find his comments about "men being men" and "effeminate dancers" homophobic. He honestly thought he was being unfairly attacked. He just didn't see the link between little boys being called girly or effeminate, and them committing suicide left and right, like has been detailed so well, and so sadly, by Anderson Cooper, Ellen Degeneres, and Oprah Winfrey. He doesn't see that those little slurs are what build up on the playground. He doesn't see it as death by a thousand cuts.

And that why I hate this type of homophobia so much more than Fred Phelps and Maggie Gallagher. Because nobody but a homo realizes what they're doing, and nobody ever gets called on it. Except when they go a step too far. On a stupid reality show.

By afternoon, GLAAD, had issued an action alert, and homos and their allies were besieging Fox and Nigel about the issue. Fox issued a non-apology. Nigel apologized for his "Brokeback Ballroom" tweet, but nothing else. EW, E!Online, and TVGuide had picked up the story. Even the New York Times isn't buying your apology. Come Saturday, of a holiday weekend, GLAAD come out with a press release saying they talked to Nigel, explained his wrongs, and he was so sorry he hurt our feelings. That he chose his words poorly. He'd learned, please forgive him, he loves us homos, he always did. And please turn into the next episode of SYTYCD.


GLAAD is happy. Nigel is off the hook. Everything is hunky-dory? I don't think so. I'm sick of homophobes, blatant or subtle, spewing their bile to millions (SYTYCD, Isiah Washington on the Emmys, etc) and then issuing a statement to the press, written by their PR person, and blessed by people like GLAAD, and we consider the issue over. No. You insulted us to 9.1 million people. You do not get to sit in the Hollywood Hills and issue a press release during a holiday weekend news cycle and consider the issue over. I want an apology in the same forum you used to insult us, not just last Thursday, but the last 4 years of subtle digs.

The show has a bunch of episodes of auditions in the can. They've taken the time to film them over the course of the last several months, in different cities. The auditions will range from breathtaking to comic. You want my forgiveness, Nigel and Fox? You take one of those canned episodes, and you edit it. Take some time to find another subtle dig about a dancer's masculinity in a critique (history shows that there will be one), and this time, instead of taking the time to pay a licensing fee for a fag joke song, edit in an apology from Nigel, just him and the camera, with him saying he was sorry, that he now understands how dangerous these comments are to questioning youth. Use 60 seconds of your precious air time to have a teaching moment.

Undo the damage you've done over the years on your show, in front of that huge audience. Use a stage the same size you used to make millions of people feel like they were less of a man, when you were really just showing how small a man you are.
Fairness West Virginia