28 January 2014

Whatever Happened To Mary Tyler Moore? (Part Two)

Mary Tyler Moore

Pride Parades no longer serve their original purpose. They're clearly not political statements now. They're nothing but festivals! They feature celebrities and comedians and Pop singers. They provide sales and advertising venues for vendors. They've become little more than excuses for people to dress up in crazy costumes, feed their faces, guzzle beer and gyrate to dance music!

Over the years, they've grown increasingly decadent, too. Today, the typical Gay Pride parade features lots of banners emblazoned with the word "queer", contingents of leather and discipline fetishists in full regalia, drag performers (usually not Transpersons) dressed strictly for flamboyance's sake, sexually suggestive float themes, and frequently, more nudity than can legally be gotten away with! Some parades feature a Lesbian procession billed as a "d*ke march"(sounds similar to a death march, doesn't it? Whenever I hear about this event, I can't help but imagine the Cherokee Trail of Tears)!

Every now and then, you might see a voter registration booth on the sidelines. Overwhelmingly, though, the organizers of Pride celebrations value entertainment over empowerment. Hedonism over activism. Frivolity over profundity. Shock value over shared values! They couldn't care less about stereotypical imagery and behavior. What message are they sending to Straight society? That Gay people are all about parties and sex? Unfortunately, our enemies are sending out the very same message, and it works to their advantage much more than it works to ours!

The current generation of Gay activists doesn't understand that stereotypes are a double-edged sword. Sure, they're entertaining (up to a point), but they also limit the upward mobility of a minority group! They make very powerful first impressions. When we constantly present ourselves as hedonistic and frivolous, guess what? Millions of Americans who know nothing else about us think we're hedonistic and frivolous! What we consider edgy and exciting they often find threatening and contemptible, and they act out those feelings in the most inconvenient places, like the voting booth!

Back in the 1950s and '60s, African-Americans understood the great harm stereotyping can do. They knew better than to embrace negative characterizations at the same time they were fighting a battle for equality! Do you think they'd have tolerated a Black equivalent of "Queer Eye For The Straight Guy", "The L Word" or "Queer As Folk"? Get real! They wouldn't have, and they didn't. Organizations like the NAACP attacked demeaning images of Black women and men wherever they found them. They successfully drove stereotypical comedies like "Amos And Andy" off the networks, and demanded more dignified TV portrayals.

Half a century later, some people argue that those shows don't look so bad in retrospect. What they fail to consider is the historical context! Fifty years ago, African-Americans were legally segregated, systematically discriminated against, and lynched with shocking regularity. All the while, White Americans viewed them as sources for amusement. They laughed at rampant media images of grinning Uncle Toms, folksy Aunt Jemimahs, and lazy, irresponsible n'er-do-wells. Neither the Black community nor its entitlements of citizenship were taken seriously. The situation was very similar to what LGBT Americans face now!

Oh, I can hear some of you squealing like stuck pigs! Political correctness sucks, you fume. Free expression rocks! Freedom of expression is an important thing to have, but having dignity is important, too! Sometimes, you have to forego one to achieve the other. Sometimes, you need to command respect!

We haven't learned how to prioritize! Do we want to better our standing in society or not? Do we want to be taken seriously or not? If you want to get a good job, you don't go to the interview dressed in your damn jogging clothes! If you want to win concessions from a Conservative power structure, you don't present your list of demands wearing fishnet stockings and a spiked dog collar!

Flying "We're Here, We're Queer" banners and marching down the street in jock straps and Carmen Miranda costumes doesn't exactly encourage the establishment to take us seriously. On the contrary, it sets us up for ridicule! It makes ignoring our issues that much easier to do. With proper manipulation by Right Wing propagandists, those silly scenes also make it easy to paint us as social anarchists.

Grow up, already, Gay people! Don't come whining to me about "political correctness"! When you're about the business of challenging a discriminatory status quo, your politics had damn well better be correct! Frankly, feeding the opposition language and imagery they can use against you amounts to giving Gay bashers baseball bats to beat you with!

Am I suggesting that we do away with Pride celebrations? No. I'm suggesting that we revamp them for the 21st century. Gay people can get together and be festive any time they want to. There's nothing wrong with having parties, but partying shouldn't be the focus of our Stonewall commemorations. After all, Stonewall wasn't a party! It was the beginning of a revolution! We've got to revive that activist, consciousness-raising spirit of the early marches. We need to remember that our movement is about social justice. We've got to get the fire back in our bellies!

We also need to polish our public image. As I stated in my previous post, "Tell The Truth And Shame The Devil," there's still far too much ignorance about us in the world! We can help change that situation if we shift the focus of Pride observances from celebration to education.

What if we stopped taking over city streets and public parks for parades and parties, and instead started convening day-long seminars at colleges, community centers and welcoming churches? What if we exchanged the comedians, drag artists and Disco divas for scholars, doctors, lawyers and clergymen, all committed to the cause of LGBT empowerment? Why not turn our Gay Pride observances into teaching tools?

"Whatever Happened To Mary Tyler Moore?" 
continues with Part Three.