I have been presenting a program entitled “How has Hollywood (Mis)Represented Homosexuality” at which I show selected trailers from Jenni Olson’s compilation DVD Homo Promo. Initially I thought the depictions of gay men, lesbians, bisexuals and transgendered people (e.g. Myra Breckinridge and Christine Jorgenson) from the 1960s and ’70s was merely a convenient, campy way to engage in a dialogue about LGBTQI representation and difference. First presented at my pal Doug’s progressive church, it was such a success that I pitched it to the Eureka Valley Branch of SFPL and the JCCSF, where it was equally well-received. This week I am presenting the program at the Potrero Branch and at Morrison & Foerster law firm.
Recently I attended a talk by David Pilgrim about his book Understanding Jim Crow: Using Racist Memorabilia to Teach Tolerance and Promote Social Justice based on the collections of the Jim Crow Museum at Ferris State University in Big Rapids, MI. I was horrified by the poignant stories about the destructive power of mammy cookie jars, pickaninny posters, and a chauffeur’s cap. I began to think about demonization of other groups: centuries of anti-semitic depictions of Jews, inscrutable”Orientals”, Mexicans, Irish, Italians… Like Rodgers and Hammerstein remind us, “You’ve got to be taught to hate and fear…”
I wondered if there was an analogous material depicting sexual minorities. Fundamentalism religions (of many stripes) that proclaim “God hates fags” might be a place to start. Popular culture examples such as movie posters and pulp paperbacks another potential source to investigate how members of the groups are pathologized. How imagery and iconography help exert control both from outside (mainstream) and within (personal and/or LGBTQI communities. The stereotypes are rampant. Take your pick: predatory lesbian, depraved gay man, sex-crazed bisexual, confused transsexual. What do these images do to produce and maintain hatred of the “other”? But equally important, how do they impact the psyche of those who identify as LGBTQI or question their sexual identity or orientation?
After showing the trailer for the film adaptation of Mart Crowley’s play The Boys in the Band I joked that watching the film retarded my coming out by several years. I realized that there might be some truth to that, and wondered about the insidious damage done by these images.
In light of the recent shootings in Orlando, this idea seems increasingly both less historical, more contemporary and less far fetched. Might there be materials in the holdings of the Hormel LBTQIA, the GLBT Historical Society and/or other repositories that might lend themselves to such an exhibition?
When I posed such questions to the audience, several enthusiastically suggested examples: The Lambda Conspiracy by Spenser Hughes, a 1993 novel that “dramatizes with frightening realism the path this once Christian nation is taking, as society persists in rejecting the biblical foundations of our culture.”
Chick tracts, those short Christian evangelical booklets published by Jack T. Chick in comic book format.
I researched religious American homophobes: Anita Bryant, Fred Phelps of Westboro Baptist Church, “Dr. Laura” Schlessinger, Janet Mefferd’s “mainstream, faith-based Christian radio”, Donald Trump, Steven Anderson, Scott Lively, North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory… and the list goes on. When it comes to hate, there are apparently no limits to those who incite violence.
I believe this ubiquitous propaganda has pernicious potential for individuals and society. What do you think?
This example suggested by Dianne: