What Price Visibility?Scene1: A tragically trendy salesman of diminutive stature wearing white framed eyeglasses and a pastel outfit holds up an equally diminutive sparkly evening bag, pinky extended, and says to his wide-eyed female customer something to the effect of "I have here a little piece of heaven that’s a great investment for any wardrobe." In barges a sensible, "regular" looking guy who advises our damsel, who apparently is unable to think for herself, that said evening bag will end up in the back of her closet in six months and instead she should invest her money in a "real" investment–his sensible mutual funds. Or something.
Scene 2: A hopelessly straight, schlub of a man is being dragged along by his stylish wife/girlfriend who, despite his indifference, asks his opinion on each item she selects in every store then chooses the opposite. While in a shoe store, she presents him with the choice of "wedge or espadrille" our clueless schlub unwittingly chooses "espadrille" to which the lady replies "oh really? ‘Cause I was thinking wedge." Cut to a salesman with obvious "gay face" who rolls his eyes in disgust, exposes all his teeth and hisses "wedge" in solidarity with our leading lady. By the third store, our dim-witted husband has caught on and decides to use reverse psychology and when presented with a choice of a new red or blue mobile phone tells his wife he likes the blue one, so naturally she chooses the red one for herself leaving him with the blue one, which he wanted all along. For in matters of real importance–say, technology–even this dim-witted boob knows how to get what he wants.
These are two commercials currently running on tv. The first for ING Direct investing, the second for T-Mobile. At last the GLBT community is being represented in advertising. But as who and as what? In both of these cases the gay men are minor characters and in order to instantly recognize them in a 30 second spot, they are reduced to stereotypes. Besides just looking the part, they are represented as vapid, shallow individuals having nothing of real importance to contribute to the situation except purses and shoes.--things that wouldn’t interest "real men" in the least. The first is also misogynistic in that it portrays the woman as completely clueless in matters of money. But at least she might be able to be talked into making a "sensible" investment. Our foppish salesclerk on the other hand–hopeless.
Tell me--am I just being a spoiled sport? Should we be happy to even have gay characters represented in advertising? Wasn’t it only a dozen years ago or so that advertisers would pull their ads from shows that dared deal with gay subject matter? Or is this the price we have to pay on our way to true visibility? I heard the phrase "pink face" coined recently. It’s a comparison to the racist, black-face minstrel show stereotypes of the 1920s and 30s. In essence, these effeminate salesclerks, decorators and hairdressers are the tap-dancing, watermelon eating black servant roles of the 1930s.
But what to do? Grin and bear it, thankful for any representation in the mainstream media? Or do we raise a stink? Would this make us too controversial to deal with thus dooming us to invisibility once again? Are there enough well-rounded gay characters, or better yet, actual gay men and women on television to counteract these negative images? And does that therefore make these stereotypes all in good fun–if there can be such a thing where stereotypes are concerned. What do you think?