Tag Archives: homophobia

Big Brother 15: CBS’s gigantic disconnect

If you were ever tempted to believe that ‘reality’ TV accurately reflected the events that occurred during taping, this should fix that wagon.

In case you have better taste than I do, Big Brother 15 is the current season of CBS’ reality’ franchise, in which some 14-18 ‘houseguests’ take up residence in a sound stage mocked up to resemble a large ‘house.’ They get little to no news from the outside world except in the most serious cases, such as 9/11, when one contestant had a relative in the WTC (happily, the relative was uninjured). Each week, contestants compete to become Head of Household, which has perks, including nominating others for a live eviction vote. There are more twists and curves involved than a debate with my wife, but that’s the game in a nutshell. It lasts between two and three months, with taped shows airing twice weekly and a once-weekly live show. Live camera feeds are available for subscription, which makes it impossible for CBS to cover up the full story. Even when they cut all the feeds, contestants are sure to discuss events spontaneously after the fact.

Over the years, there has been plenty of drama on the sound stage. With dozens of cameras and microphones inside the residential portion of the sound stage, CBS has a vast surplus of footage available per week, compressible into about an hour and a half of TV time. You’d expect a lot to fall through the cracks, but you’d like to expect that you got a representative sample of how people acted.

Nothing of the kind.

We’ve had a few near-fistfights, a lot of tears, some sexual activity, plenty of nudity, shouting matches, outright delusions, meltdowns, ejections, a knife held on someone, vandalism, and quite a few objectionable comments. We got to see most of that unfold, most of the time, on some level–it was the sort of TV the producers love. (By the way, the production company is called Endemol. Who came up with that name? It sounds like a medication you’d hear about on pharmercials. “I was always listless and depressed. My spleen seemed out of whack. I had lost my sex drive and had a craving for raw leeks. So, despite never having heard of it before, I asked my doctor about Endemol.”)

This season, it’s gotten bad. One contestant, Aaryn from Texas, has behaved like a narcissistic ‘mean girl,’ throwing out ethnic and homophobic remarks that have earned her the nickname ‘Aryan’ from recappers. Another, Gina Marie from Staten Oiland, hasn’t been much better. Contestants have sarcastically ordered Helen, the affable Asian mom and political consultant from Illinois, to ‘go cook some rice.’ They’ve mocked Candice, a resilient African American speech therapist from Houston, for the size of her derrière (which isn’t even that substantial). Every season of BB has one visibly gay man; sometimes they also cast a lesbian, though it’s always a lipstick lesbian. This season’s visibly gay contestant is Andy, a witty public speaking professor from Illinois. It didn’t take the bigots long to locate the word ‘faggot.’ And none of the racism and homophobia is any secret to anyone in the house; Howard, a sincere, ripped African American youth counselor from Mississippi, has said on the live feeds that he has to bottle up most of what he feels in order to get through the game. I’m impressed that he can. There have also been anti-Semitic slurs. The more of this I learn, the more I respect the minorities in the sound stage, and the more I want them to win simply because their path to victory will be that much harder, thus more well deserved. I want to see them celebrate as, one by one, the bigots get booted.

And this brings us to the gigantic disconnect: the TV show has shown none of the bigotry. I suspect CBS was told by its advertising sponsors: “Do it and we’re done with you.” It’s not that the word isn’t out. Gina Marie (pageant production) and Aryan (modeling) have already been sacked by their real-world employers; the press release from Gina Marie’s employer was corrosive. Thanks to the live feeds, and those who recap them (my brain would suffer irreparable harm), the whole nation knows or can know the truth. Yet CBS refuses to show it, even though people using vile words like ‘nigger’ or ‘faggot’ would certainly spike ratings as people would watch in outrage. What cannot be hidden is Julie Chen’s obvious loathing for the cast. I’ve never felt much sympathy for Chen until now. I can only try to imagine how she felt when Aryan described Helen as the first Asian she’d ever met who wasn’t doing her nails.

Yeah. It’s that bad.

There’s a movement to have the bigots kicked off the show, and of course the usual “We Hate PC” counter-movement. Here’s the thing: if CBS did boot them, they’d have to field awkward questions about why they failed to televise the bigotry to begin with. That would prove to even the most gullible that what they see is not representative of reality. I myself don’t think the bigots should be ejected from the game, because then we wouldn’t get the joy of watching them crushed. I want the targets of their abuse to have the satisfaction and material rewards of well-earned victory. I also believe that it’s important for us to see that, while these attitudes may be in decline, they are not dead, and they still need to be countered and rejected by honest women and men. I do think it’s dishonest of Endemol and CBS not to show some of the despicable behavior, so that the casual viewing public remains hoodwinked, and so that they can duck some of the controversy–and, if my analysis is correct, keep the ad dollars.

Reality TV is unreal. Never forget that–or if you didn’t grasp it, know it now.

Update: one of my favorite blogs, angry asian man, seems to see this as I do.

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The day we faced down the Phelps gang

When thinking of people who have no purpose on earth but to hate and harm–real, true emotional terrorists–everyone but about fifty or so Americans agrees that Fred Phelps and his gang take the cake. Out of respect for my Christian friends, I’m not going to dignify the Phelps gang by calling them a Baptist church except in quotes (and tags). As much pain and indoctrination as real Baptists have inflicted on me in life while I was defenseless, even those involved in those abuses would not approve of the Phelps gang. Thus, I’m not cooperating with fake ‘Baptists’ in the effort to steal the title of authentic Baptists. I may not agree with much of anything that comes from the latter’s ecclesiastical leadership, but when it comes to Phelps, I’m okay singing a stanza of Onward Christian Soldiers with the real ones. (With my atrocious singing voice, they may not think of it as much of a joyful noise.)

Being a non-Christian here is actually pretty painless, because the Tri-Cities live by a quiet ethic of staying out of your face. It’s the same way with regard to homosexuality. If one doesn’t wash everyone’s face in one’s difference, and simply lives one’s life in peace, one is left in peace here. My gay, pagan and gay pagan friends living in other states tell me I shouldn’t take that for granted, and I believe them.

On 2 Feb 2007, Marine SGT Travis Pfister of Richland, WA died in Iraq. Always sad, but also an ever-present part of war. A memorial service was scheduled in early March for SGT Pfister at the TRAC (a trade show and expo center) in Pasco, to which one could presume his family, friends, and supportive community members might join in honoring his life and sacrifice. The Phelps gang announced that they were sending a picket.

Where there is a Phelps gang visit, counter-protests appear. For this one, attendance was triply obligatory. Phelps’s gang lives in my home state, in gutless Topeka which snivels and cowers before its barratry rather than taking concerted action to encourage them to find a new state. A civilized Kansan thus had to represent. Considering how many of my good friends are gayer than the 90s, I couldn’t look them in the eyes if I didn’t show up. I’m no patriot, but I respect service and sacrifice, and I don’t appreciate anyone–especially outside thugs–showing up to offend the family of someone who died keeping his oath of service. Deb, of course, was as dead set on attending as I.

We had company.

It was a pretty spring day, though I’m sure it didn’t feel springy for those who came to mourn. The law in Washington is that protests may not approach within 500′ of a funeral. The Pasco Police decided to confine the Phelps gang to a vacant lot across the street from the TRAC, well away from the main entrance and avenue of approach for mourners. A thin line of police officers manned the street with obvious reluctance, to prevent the crowd from physically tearing the Phelps gang to pieces. The air was filled with the sound of big motorcycles, for the Patriot Guard Riders had shown up with about 140 bikes. In most situations, to put it mildly, I am not a motorcycle enthusiast. For that day, I was happy to hear the rumbling sound. This organization travels around organizing counter-protests where necessary, and presumably doing other things associated with veterans’ causes. They do add a sense of muscle to the event, just by looking the way they look, not that we needed extra muscle. There were about two thousand people there, and it was a little difficult to get up the front of the police line. There was no way the family and attendees could see the protesters unless they worked at it. There was no way they could fail to see the rest of us, as there was barely room for cars to get around in the parking lot.

Across from us on the vacant lot were five pathetic individuals. I only remember a wild-haired adult male and a little girl. They were holding up their usual disrespectful signs, insulting military service, Christianity and homosexuals. What struck me was the great diversity of the crowd, a full representation of the Tri-Cities. Black, Hispanic, Asian, white; male, female, somewhere in between; straight, gay, still not sure; old, young, middle-aged; atheist, evangelical, Catholic, pagan, Mormon, Unitarian, agnostic; veteran, union, average joe or jane. At last, something we could all agree on and get together about! I am not a person for whom a sense of belonging or membership comes easily. I truly felt like part of the Tri-Cities that day, and proud to be so. We were supposed to turn our backs to them, or at least the Patriot Guard Riders tried to get us to, but not everyone did. I guess that’s the train wreck factor: it’s hard to look away.

In case you have never seen a Phelps gang protest, it works like this. They only send a small group (they’re a busy bunch, with a lot of people to offend nationwide). Their goal is to get attacked, or have some other event happen that will get them media time. If they do not get it, they lose. So they keep ratcheting up the outrage, in order to see what they can provoke, with increasingly offensive yells and signs. At the end, they had the little girl angrily stomp a U.S. flag into the dirt, which I gather is their ultimate step: if that doesn’t get them assaulted, nothing will. In this case, it didn’t. When it becomes obvious they won’t get what they came for, they leave. They may even have been gone before the family arrived at the memorial, which would be an added bonus. I think four squad cars of Franklin County Deputies escorted the Phelps gang’s car to the county line, off to whatever mission of antipathy awaited them next.

On the way home, I wondered if we’d done any good. I decided that we had. We couldn’t prevent the Phelps gang from doing what they did, but to whatever degree knowing of their presence made it worse for the family, perhaps a 400:1 support:hate ratio made it more bearable for the bereaved. It had gotten us all together, in all our different forms and ways of being and living, in good spirits. I didn’t see anyone showing disrespect for the police, who were doing a necessary and unpleasant job in a professional manner, and deserved cooperation from the good guys and gals. It must have been a moving experience for the gay counter-protesters, seeing so many of their neighbors so forcefully rejecting homophobia–which, after all, is the whole basis for this Phelps crap.

If nothing else, at least a few people learned that the Phelps gang is not representative of Kansas or Kansans. The heavy-bearded character in the KU t-shirt, looking like Gimli the Dwarf after a growth spurt, had something to say about that.

Fred Phelps and the anti-Vietnam War movement

Today I was reading that the Supreme Court upheld Fred Phelps’ right to picket and harass military funerals, part of their KKK-esque anti-gay crusade.  I don’t have a firm opinion about what the Supreme Court should have done, partly because I don’t have J.D. after my name and I understand my limits of understanding, partly because I don’t have any respect for the SC to begin with, and partly because I have zero faith in law and the rule of law anyway.  But having seen Team Fred in action from 40′ away myself, and being nearer fifty years old than forty, it did bring to mind one thing.

In our time, the military is openly, publicly and loudly glorified and adored; even a hint of anti-military scorn would get one a lot of angry reactions.  If you are young today, you never knew a time when the military was unfashionable.  I assure you that there was such a time:  my own youth.  Numerous reliable sources relate experiencing verbal abuse and degradation just for being in uniform, and especially for getting off the plane from Vietnam.  Evidently it was so common it came to be expected, coped with by service people, and socially accepted to a degree.  Which is not to say that the soldiers suffering it were unhurt by it; oh, no.  It did at least tip them off to the kind of reaction society had in store for them.  I was too young to have a view on this, but old enough to know of the social current.  It lasted into the early 1980s, when I did put on a uniform a few times and get some small tastes of it myself.  Imagine a ROTC unit that tended to de-emphasize uniformed presence on campus just to avoid stirring stuff up? I was in one.

Now, I am not sure that anti-Vietnam protesters ever picketed or disrupted an actual military funeral.  We have general consensus that disrupting anyone’s funeral is disgusting, at any time for any reason.  A lot of people found ways to oppose the Vietnam War without insulting Special Forces guys as “baby killer” in airports; fair enough.  (Some people are uncomfortable with homosexuality, too, yet don’t approve of Phelps on any level.)  But how different were the two extremes, really? How different were the fanatics in the airports, heaping scorn on some poor sod who got drafted and sent to the 1st Cav, survived and graduated, and then wanted to come home and get back to normal, from the Phelpsites I saw in a vacant lot in Pasco holding up signs advocating more military casualties? Fred Phelps and the airport harassers had more in common than I’ve heard anyone attest.  Motivated by pure hate, both asserted the right to pour verbal abuse on targets who could not effectively fight back.  The only difference today is that it’s no longer fashionable to abuse the military.  Sadly, if Phelps had stuck to just disrupting funerals of AIDS deceased, there would be nowhere near the backlash against him, even though his conduct would be just as contemptible.

I sit, and I watch, and I marvel how social currents change people’s ethical compasses without most people noticing.

© 2011, J.K. Kelley