20/20 recently did a segment on public displays of affection (PDAs) between same-sex couples as part of their "What would you do" series. While many on the gay blogosphere tried to see the good in the reactions of passerby's in Birmingham, Alabama and New Jersey, I think the experiment itself was flawed and insulting.
It should be noted that the PDA wasn't hard core making out or public sex. It was tame arm-around-the-shoulder affection and the occasional chaste peck on the cheek or lips. The response, however, was anything but tame.
The most obvious and egregious response was when a person from Birmingham called 911 to report that there were two men "kissing and drooling" on each other and asked the operator to send a police car. And they did.
The video of the segment and my thoughts are after the jump...
Caller: "We have a couple of men sitting out on the bench that have been kissing and drooling all over each other for the past hour or so. It's not against the law, right?"
Operator: "Not to the best of my knowledge it's not."
Caller: "So there's no complaint I could make or have?"
Operator: "I imagine you could complain if you like ma'am. We can always send an officer down there."
So not only did the person call in an emergency of two men sitting on a bench together (which somehow turned to "drooling all over each other" in her head), but the 911 operator actually suggested that maybe an officer should come down.
And what happened when the officer came down? He was let in on the news show's experiment, yet still told the men to: "Just don't do that in public."
If that was his reaction after the show told him it was a hidden camera experiment, imagine what it might have been if he didn't know...
Pretty PDA only need apply
Now I will say that some people were kind in both Birmingham and Jersey. However, this is where the flaws of the show come into play. Both the male and female couple were pretty, nonthreatening people. The men and women were all movie-star attractive.
Of course, men seemed to like the two attractive women kissing ("it was hot") and even women seemed to be okay with the two men because they were "good eye candy."
I wonder how the reaction would have been if they were average-looking folks who didn't look like movie stars sitting on a bench together. If it wasn't "hot" people kissing, would the reaction have been the same?
I doubt it.
Traditional Gender Roles only, please...
The other glaring problem was that both men were hyper masculine, muscle-types. Of course no one was going to bash them or be too aggressive because they looked like they could kick your ass.
I wonder if the same could be said if you put two feminine skinny boys there.
I would imagine that a less traditionally "masculine" couple would have gotten much more harassment and even faced bodily harm and danger.
The same could be said about the women. Both were pretty fem girls. Both were men's fantasies of lesbians, so the reaction to them was to turn them into harmless sex objects. Men approached them and hit on them in packs.
However, stick a nice butch girl on the bench and I can see the scene turning more violent. Men would have their masculinity threatened and responded with typical machismo.
By using only what many consider to be acceptable gender roles, it really became a Hollywood set rather than a true experiment of what people's reaction would be to anyone that seemed different or in the least bit vulnerable to attack.
All you have to do is look at the pictures of hate crimes victims and see that the majority of them are those that don't fit into gender stereotypes. The issue of gender expression was glossed over.
Just the tip of the iceberg...
To me the whole premise is a bit insulting: "You can't turn on the TV nowadays without gays kissing..." Because you NEVER see hetero couples kissing on TV. Ever. The underlying assumption is that gay affection is still something dirty and different.
It was good for people to see the visceral reaction of many folks to even mild affection between same-sex couples. However, the experiment wasn't representative of what many LGBT people go through on a daily basis.
If these pearly-teethed, Hollywood folks get shaken down by the police and glared at for having their arms around each other, what hope do the rest of us have?