Tag Archives: cultural shift

Anderson Cooper and the Wheel of Fortune

In its upcoming legislative session, the Indiana General Assembly may or may not pass the pending, mean-spirited measure to constitutionalize our existing ban on same-sex marriage. I hope they don’t, but at the end of the day, it’s irrelevant. This battle is over.

Over the past couple of days, we’ve seen a variety of news items relevant to the status of GLBT people. France and Ireland moved closer to the recognition of same-sex marriage. Anderson Cooper came out (much to the surprise of absolutely no one). In his decorous and moving statement, he acknowledged the importance and significance of that action, saying

” I’ve also been reminded recently that while as a society we are moving toward greater inclusion and equality for all people, the tide of history only advances when people make themselves fully visible.”

The reason I say this battle is over, however, isn’t because yet another celebrity has decided that it is safe to be honest, and it isn’t because increasing numbers of Western nations have decided that GLBT citizens are deserving of equal treatment by their governments. It is because Anderson Cooper’s observation about visibility is exactly right, and because that visibility–with its welcome, everyday, humdrum, taken-for-granted nature–is increasingly part and parcel of American culture and experience.

My husband and I watch “Wheel of Fortune” most nights after dinner. (Hey, we’re old!) Last night, when Pat Sajak asked a contestant if he was married, the young man said “Yes, to my wonderful husband Garrett, for seven years.” No one raised an eyebrow. You don’t get more middle-American than Wheel of Fortune.

I’ve previously noted the presence of numerous gay and lesbian couples on HGTV–couples whose family rooms are redecorated, or kitchens remodeled, all without comment or any other indication that these same-sex couples are any different from the folks whose godawful bathroom was “crashed” the preceding week.

If you need further evidence that overt homophobia doesn’t sell even in Indiana, take a look at Mike Pence’s campaign commercials. Talk about redecorating and rehabbing! As Pence tries to recreate himself into someone likable, someone we might actually elect, he is doing everything he can to suppress his inner culture warrior. This hasn’t extended to taking any actual policy positions, mind you, but he certainly has abandoned the anti-gay rhetoric (along with reminders of his war on Planned Parenthood, immigrants and people who don’t share his brand of “Christian” beliefs) in favor of content-free paeans to “Hoosier values.”  This does not indicate a change of heart; it is a strategic decision. If Pence thought homophobia would help him get elected, he wouldn’t be soft-pedaling his own.

So I repeat: this battle is effectively over. There’s considerable mopping-up left to do, of course. Just as the civil rights movement didn’t eradicate racism, there’s plenty of anti-gay animus to confront: bullying of schoolchildren, legal discrimination and inequity, gay-bashing…I don’t mean to minimize the task ahead. But the cultural shift has occurred.

The law will follow.

The Best of Times, The Worst of Times

Dickens’ classic book “A Tale of Two Cities” begins, “It was the best of times; it was the worst of times.” That’s a pretty apt description of the world Americans inhabit right now.

On the plus side, advances in transportation and communication allow us to travel the globe and connect with others in ways our parents could never have imagined. Medical science has given us longer, more comfortable lives. Technology has improved our productivity, and brought education, books, and the arts to millions who otherwise would lack access to them.

The best of times.

And then there is our experiment with self-government, which isn’t going so well.

It’s partly the economy, of course. During times of economic distress, people get testy. Prejudices emerge. (Attacks on immigrants and Muslims, especially, are getting ugly.)

But it’s not just the economy. We also seem to be in the throes of a massive cultural backlash, driven primarily—although certainly not exclusively—by old, angry white guys.   Most of these angry folks cannot articulate what it is that makes them so furious—probably because they really don’t know themselves. They just know that the world they were born into (or think they were born into—that “leave it to Beaver” world that existed, if at all, for a very few families) has changed.

If you listen to Tea Party activists for even a few minutes, you cannot help but be struck by the fact that they cannot describe policies they support, although they can certainly identify what they are against—much like a cranky two-year-old, or that character from “Broadcast News” who was “mad as hell and not going to take it anymore.”

Conventional wisdom tells us this rage will translate into the election of several of the crazier candidates who have emerged from the primaries. We are two weeks away from an election where a lot of irrational folks are energized and large numbers of reasonable citizens are dispirited.

If, as many of our pundits predict, this angry electorate votes indiscriminately against moderates and incumbents, opting for extremists who display little or no recognition of the complexities of the issues (or even basic understanding of the world we inhabit), we will all suffer the consequences. If we turn the apparatus of government over to the “simple answer” ideologues—the creationists and climate-change deniers, the folks who want to repeal Social Security and the Civil Rights Act, the conspiracy-theorists who have convinced themselves that President Obama is a Muslim who wasn’t born in the United States—the consequences will be grim.

We have never needed sane and steady public servants more than we need them today.

Which brings me to another quote that seems apt right now: “All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good people to do nothing.”

If reasonable people don’t vote in large numbers, and the ideologues and crazies and know-nothings take the reins of power, “the best of times” will become “the worst of times” in no time.