Maybe at the top here, we can agree on something: If powerful America is going to send its military personnel to their deaths in the name of “freedom,” then the very least we can do at home is conduct ourselves in such a way that we reflect the best possible image of that freedom we are bringing to others. Last week, shamefully, that was not the case.
By now you’re more than familiar with the event of Senator Larry E. Craig entering an airport restroom and doing something… something that we may never have a precise and fair description of. The shame wasn’t in the event, which, based on what we have, showed bewildering poor judgment. Rather, the shame was in our reaction to it. And as much as I’d love to lay all this off on the GOP, we have to take the hit on this one.
True, Craig buttered his own toast by voting against gay marriage. But in moving to censure and remove Craig, the GOP (big sigh, “Once again…”) demonstrated the severe depth of its hypocrisy by insisting that Craig resign. Because they did so mere months after Louisiana Senator David Vitter got off with barely a whimper of disgust after acknowledging he frequented prostitutes. It reads this way: Exploiting troubled women in high-risk heterosexual conduct may be unfortunate, but gay sex is so horrible it must be dealt with swiftly and with finality.
There’s no news in underlining this double standard, but it opens a door into which we should all take a long look. The Craig event was a perfect storm for America’s comedy talents. It was the default opening joke in every late night monologue for days. My question to you: Why is that?
Let’s pull back and look at a bigger picture, the kind you get on a movie screen. The “hit comedy movie” titled I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry made $110 million as of August 19 and hasn’t realized DVD sales yet. Regardless of a tacked-on sweet ending meant to convert exploitative banality into snack food, there’s no denying that the film realized its earnings by way of a marketing hook that insisted being gay was inherently funny, and two hetero men pretending to be gay was even funnier.
I’m hesitant to now draw parallels to other kinds of problematic issues in “comedy.” Seven years ago Spike Lee’s Bamboozled boldly confronted the deployment of stereotypes in television, and, to put it mildly, Spike took a ton of crap for it. It’s at least reasonable to suggest that the use of stereotypes and (especially in the case of homosexuality) the deployment of social fears in comedy is too often about hasty writing and the rarely acknowledged plague of dumbing-down popular culture.
There’s also the possibility that the Craig event was yet another distraction bomb meant to kill valuable time in news broadcasts that should have been devoted to the remedial comprehension of such things as the Iraq war and the struggles of Katrina victims to rebuild their homes and cities. Here’s yet another non-surprise: The White House expressed disappointment with Senator Craig’s conduct. Putting it plainly… Who the (****) is this White House to express disappointment in anyone else right now?
If the ’60s were in any way the Age of Aquarius, the last eight years may prove to be the Age of Hubris. Way before being put off that Craig struggles with his sexual identity, and is therefore “funny,” we should be more accurately focusing on whether he assumed his stature would somehow make his actions go away. To ignore that key component of the Craig event and bookmark him under “Gay Jokes 2007” will only cause us to calcify the useless junk that goes with that.
Craig will continue to be sandblasted by late night comics in the weeks to come because too many of us still find the general notion of homosexuality funny. Here’s a pitch: Let’s keep track of the total amount of time devoted to Craig jokes, and then provide equal time for a dignified salute to the brave gay men and women who have already died in Iraq. Pardon me if there’s nothing funny about that.