God, I never thought I would actually agree with Family Research Council president Tony Perkins on anything. But the time has come. On this morning’s Face the Nation, Perkins distanced himself from Republican Senator Rand Paul (Ron’s kid) who recently quipped, “Call me cynical, but I wasn’t sure [Obama’s] views on marriage could get any gayer.” The remark got a big laugh from people attending the event, but it’s offensive and childish; the term “gay” can, and is often, used in a derogatory sense (especially by high school kids) and it’s obvious that Paul meant it that way. When Face the Nation host Bob Schieffer asks Tony Perkins about the remark, this arch-conservative and very anti-gay demagogue actually has a grownup answer that doesn’t belong in Rand Paul’s Tea Party bubble:
“I don’t think this is something we should joke about. Ah, we’re talking about individuals who feel very strongly one way or the other, and I think we should be civil, respectful, allowing all sides to have the debate, I’m glad that’s what you’re doing here this morning, but I think this is not something to laugh about, to poke fun of other people about.”
President Barack Obama’s announcement that he now supports gay marriage has dominated political discourse all week, resulting in a mature response from his GOP rival for the presidency, Mitt Romney, and less grownup reactions from other conservatives. They include Rick Santorum who erronously claimed that the President is not supported by a majority of the American people (he is, according to fresh polls), and RNC chair Reince Priebus who stupidly compared same-sex marriage with Jim Crow laws, saying this is not a civil-rights issue and that no one has been murdered fighting for a man to be able to marry a man. Well, Matthew Shepard and Harvey Milk may not exactly have fought for that, but you sure as hell can get killed for less.
Obama and Vice President Joe Biden’s recent statements on same-sex marriage, where they have cited Will & Grace as an example of a TV show that has changed Americans’ perception of what it’s like to be gay in the United States, have been labeled “choreographed” by the show’s co-creator Max Mutchnick. I’m sure that’s true. This is no huge gamble for Obama; the majority of Democrats support same-sex marriage, and polls have shown that this is where the nation as a whole is heading. It won’t hurt Obama in November, but could help energize the base.
It’s true though that Will & Grace has helped a lot. And I begin to ponder in what other ways Hollywood has helped on this issue. A few other of the most prominent examples:
- The Ellen DeGeneres Show. The daytime talk show began in 2003 and has been a hit, turning the standup comedian into an Oprah Winfrey-esque phenomenon who has probably done more to change female viewers’ perception of gays more than anyone.
- Brokeback Mountain (2005). This film is close to falling into a trap where viewers are likely to sympathize with the protagonists, and yet feel fortunate not to actually be gay. The romance between Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal in this movie is undeniably tragic, but the actors and director Ang Lee handle the material in such a heartbreaking, emotional way that it should put any anti-gay activist to shame.
- Milk (2008). Gus Van Sant has made many interesting films, but only this and Drugstore Cowboy (1989) should have a profoundly dramatic impact on audiences. As a biopic it may look conventional, but is nevertheless propelled by a dynamite, Oscar-winning performance by Sean Penn and, just like in Brokeback Mountain, the material is treated in such an emotional way that it should have the power to seep into the mind of anyone brainwashed with hate.
There are many other examples of where Hollywood has fought the good fight on this issue, but these four TV shows and movies are possibly the best examples lately of where the greatest influence has been wielded.