What Would Universal Marriage Equality Mean for Culture?

640px-Eric_Stonestreet,_Jesse_Tyler_FergusonUntil recently, American culture has been relatively devoid of representations of the LGBTQ couple. In fact, one of the frequent observations made by critics of television programs and films particularly has been the tendency of those forms to depict lesbians and gays as singular figures isolated from continuing relationships or larger community. There are,
one supposes, a few notable (or infamous) exceptions if one wishes to press the issue: Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas had attained a certain celebrity status by the 1920s and 1930s, though their salon days were spent in Paris and not in America. Likewise, Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb were by all accounts a couple in the 1920s but their infamy as murderers hardly made them role models.  Lesbian and gay couples did exist, to be sure, among them Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon, who were together more than five decades before Martin’s death in 2008, and Jorn Kamgren and gay activist Harry Hay, who were together for nearly a dozen years, but they were not well-known.  And novelist Henry James popularized “Boston Marriages” — close romantic relationships between women – in 1886’s The Bostonians, though the sexual nature of these relationships was likely neither universal nor well-understood. Lesbian and gay couples were becoming more culturally visible by the 1970s, thanks in part to a series of efforts by gay couples to marry in Minnesota, Seattle, and Colorado, as well as to their appearance in works such as the play and television series Hot L Baltimore.  Even as LGBTQ characters began to emerge in television and film, on-screen couples remained relatively scarce until the new millennium, with press accounts of states’ legalizing, first, civil unions and domestic partnerships, and eventually marriages.  When the TV series Modern Family debuted in 2009, the gay couple Mitch and Cam soon became audience favorites. The current U.S. Supreme Court case Obergefell v. Hodges, which seeks to overturn state bans on the conduct and recognition of same-sex marriages, has dramatically increased the visibility of LGBTQ couples. But would universal marriage equality also mean greater cultural visibility or would an end to the legal and political battles over marriage equality lead to normalization and a return to invisibility?

Bruce E. Drushel, Ph.D.
Guest Editor, Journal of American Culture
Associate Professor, Media, Journalism & Film, Miami University

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Bruce Jenner and the Aging Celebrity

Bruce JennerBruce Jenner’s gender transition has been the subject of obsessive media attention for some months now, culminating in Diane Sawyer’s interview of him on the ABC news show 20/20.  In a poignant exchange, Jenner declared that the gods had given him the soul of a woman as a cosmic joke. Much has been written on importance of Jenner’s revelation for the acceptance of transgendered people, but the interview also gives a fascinating glimpse into aging celebrity.
In the age of film and photograph, celebrities were trapped like flies in amber, caught in an eternal moment of youth, beauty, glamor and talent.   When a Daily Mail journalist recently asked Bridget Bardot, one of the most beautiful women of her generation, how she differed from Marilyn Monroe, she said, “We were both victims of our image which imprisoned us.”  Aging has never been kind to celebrities, especially women who have been frozen by the photograph and the movie still.
Transitioning to female at sixty-five, Jenner has the ability to revise the archive of his past images.  In the ABC interview, we are presented with a photo album of Jenner’s life, from his childhood on.   Some of these are candid and private; others are old media images. Footage of Jenner’s great 1976 Olympic achievements scroll by, as Sawyer narrates the meaning of his former media embodiment as “the muscle and glory of America.”   All of these images are subject to a massive emotional overhaul, as Jenner tearfully talks about his inner feelings of experiencing another identity, one quite different than the hypermasculine “world’s greatest athlete” of a former life.
Astonishing is the new intimacy of celebrity that we now witness over entire lifetimes.  Celebrity is no longer a fixed gaze, but an immersive experience that demands understanding of change and reflection on the cosmic joke of our own aging. As we watch other celebrities age, how will these reflections expand and deepen?

Ann Larabee, Editor

Journal of Popular Culture

Interested in more from the Journal of Popular Culture? Take a look at the Free Sample Issue.

Banning Discussion of Suicide?

Newspaper and pages are currently impressed with the melancholoy story of two stangers (Joanne Lee and Steve Lumb) who met on a suicide discussion forum and subsequently met for the first time in order to fulfill a suicide pact, dying together in a fume-filled car.

Of course the circumstances of these deaths are incredibly sad and we should have sympathy for those affected by their demise. However, when individuals like the understandably distraught father of one of those now dead call for the banning of newsgroups and forums focused on suicide on the grounds that they provide an opportunity for depressed individuals to be both encouraged to end their own lives and instructed on preferred methods, they’re simply mistaking the medium of communication for the message. Continue reading “Banning Discussion of Suicide?”

Assassination, Citizenship, and the Limits of Political Authority

We are perhaps more familiar with public figures being assassinated by private citizens than with private citizens being assassinated by states. But two weeks ago, it was reported that the Obama Administration has approved and implemented a policy whereby American citizens can be made the targets of assassination by their own government. Although it initially received some attention in the media, including harsh criticism from the likes of Glen Greenwald (see Greenwald’s take here), the American public was nonplussed, and the story has since disappeared from the headlines. Nonetheless, the Obama Administration’s assassination policy raises a host of philosophical and ethical questions. Continue reading “Assassination, Citizenship, and the Limits of Political Authority”

More weak democracy; censored media

Military censorship of a different case: In Hebrew: "The Israeli military censor requires local media to clear any news item about the assassination in Dubai, from any source."

In response to danitocchetto’s recent post, “Dangerous Combination: Weak Democracy and Bad Media”, here’s another case that’s been in the news recently. In Israel, journalist Anat Kam is standing trial on charges of espionage for copying secret documents she was privy to when doing her military service, and passing them on to other journalists. She has been under house arrest since December 2009, as reported by Donald Macintyre in The Independent here.

Kam passed the documents on to Uri Blau, a journalist for the left-leaning Israeli daily Haaretz. They were allegedly used in this story in November 2008. Blau left the country in December 2009 and has not returned since, for fear of being arrested. He details what happened to him here. Continue reading “More weak democracy; censored media”

Dangerous Combination: Weak Democracy and Bad Media

This last week all we could hear about in the Brazilian media was the excessive coverage of Isabella Nardoni’s trial. Isabella was a five-year-old Brazilian girl who died in the first semester of 2008 due to a “fall” from her father’s sixth floor apartment in São Paulo. To get a brief summary of the whole tragedy, go here.
As distressing as Isabella’s horrible end has been and still is, we are – or at least one would expect us to be – aware that it is only one of the many innocent children victims of unacceptable behavior by their parents. In 2008, right after her death, BBC News published a short article about the tragedy, emphasizing that “The case has prompted Brazilians to reflect on the kind of cruelty that adults seem capable of inflicting on children. Well, that’s the kind of discussion one would expect from a strong democratic society of well informed and active citizens. Nonetheless, that was not the case in Brazil. Instead what we saw was an endless exposure of the little girl’s death as if it were merely a show, an isolated case in such a “fair” society as the Brazilian society.
This last week we again passively watched the end of this “show”, closed last Friday with the condemnation of both her father and stepmother to about thirty years in prison. There were no debates about the rights of children in Brazil, about the conditions in which we inactively allow them to live, about the thousands that live in the streets with no parents, no love, no education, being mistreated every day of their young lives.
This is what happens with a weak democracy composed of poorly educated people. The media should be playing the role of democracy’s right hand, but all we can see is sad episodes like this; never accompanied by any kind of serious debate and action.
The media’s meat-grinding machine never stops. It needs to produce continually. And to produce, always, something sexy — in the worst meaning of the word. Children being thrown through windows, or dragged by automobiles, anything goes as long as the death has some ‘market value’. That means that the death of a child by starvation, little by little, right in front of the Folha de S. Paulo’s building, in the Barão de Limeira [avenue], has zero value in the news scale. Dead children in indigenous reserves, or in the child-care units, are already part of what is trivial.”

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