Tuesday, May 6, 2008

TV's Superficial 20/20

In late April 2008 20/20 ran another segment of their "What Would You Do?" series in which hidden cameras record reactions to various events. One of the events on this episode was a same-sex couple kissing and being affectionate in public. The show (separately) used one gay male couple, and one lesbian couple -- yes, just four people -- in a grand total of two locations, one in the South and the other in a more liberal Northern state. While the program recorded some distinctly homophobic reactions and did make a brief mention of gay-bashing incidents, 20/20's conclusion was that most people didn't give a damn. The show seemed to contradict itself, first saying that older people were more likely to be repulsed by same sex PDA (Public Display of Affection) then saying at the end of the report that it didn't seem to matter how old people were, most thought it was no big deal.

Now this would be great news if this had been a truly scientific -- instead of an absurdly superficial -- study conducted by ABC news man John Quinones and his 20/20 crew. I threw up my hands long ago and rarely expect -in-depth reporting or serious journalism from these "news entertainment" shows, but this was really ridiculous. My problems with this 20/20 report were as follows:

1.) Only two couples in two locations. It is ludicrous to jump to any conclusions on such a slender body of evidence.

2.) Although the men were a bit borderline "queeny," they were not that stereotypical and were attractive. The women were also non-stereotypical and attractive. In fact a group of straight men reacted as if they were "babes" and some (presumably) older straight women thought the two guys were "eye candy" and therefore could move in "next door" if they wanted.

Now, wouldn't the results have been very different if the two men had been screaming queens, and not so good-looking? If the two women had been stereotypical "dykes" with absolutely no "babe" appeal. Quinones seems to think that the fact that some straight guys got turned on (as many straight guys seemingly do) by the two sexy women kissing means that they are totally supportive of gay rights -- give me a break! Would these fellows' reaction have been so supposedly positive if the two lesbians were mannish, obese, and not so sexy? [Not to suggest most lesbians are like that, but straight people do tend to react more negatively to stereotypes.]

There was a hidden camera-in-a-cab sequence where some passengers let out their full homophobic feelings, but although 20/20 showed it they seemed to completely gloss it over. That plus the fact that some people might not have wanted to admit being homophobic (or racist or anti-Semitic) on camera.

I applaud that the piece was done at all and was essentially gay-friendly. But as a journalist -- and a gay man -- I was pretty much appalled by its utterly simplistic approach. Our lives and our fight for equality reduced to a few sounds bites and a silly "experiment."

Even here in New York City I do not see gay couples walking hand in hand all that often. Frequently when I do I can see the wary look on their faces -- yes, even in the Village and Chelsea -- as if they're wondering what comments or actions they might draw from the crowd passing by. I don't believe it is improbable that a gay couple could embrace on the corner of 7th Avenue across the street from The Monster on a busy Saturday night and have pejoratives hurled at them from cars driving by -- or worse.

A study on this issue could and should be done -- but not by the "journalists" at 20/20.

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