Wednesday, September 04, 2013

MTV's Role in LGBT Acceptance

Macklemore performing ‘Same Love’ at VMA’s
It’s a pity that Miley Cyrus’ near pornographic twerking, tongue and finger movements received so much attention following the recent MTV’s Video Music Awards extravaganza.  It overshadowed Bruno Mars, Lady Gaga, and Justin Timberlake’s stunning performances and the fleeting reunion with the latter’s fellow ‘N Sync pals, as well as other highlights from the show. 
Also driven to the background by Cyrus but of significance to the LGBT community were the poignant remarks made by Seattle rapper Macklemore (Ben Haggerty) following his and producer Ryan Lewis’ receiving the award for Best Video with a Social Message for the gay anthem “Same Love” and the subsequent performance of the hit single.

“To watch this song in the last year spread across the world is a testament to what is happening right now in America on the forefront of equality,” said Macklemore while accepting his statue. “Gay rights are human rights, there is no separation.”  The video has over 70 million hits on You Tube alone.
Macklemore told The New York Times he composed “Same Love” in March 2012 after reading an article about a bullied gay teenager who committed suicide.  It was recorded during Washington State’s referendum battle for same-sex marriage to promote marriage equality, and it also condemned homophobia in hip hop, society and the mainstream media.  

“I just wanted to hold myself accountable and hold hip-hop accountable and bring up an issue that was being pushed under the rug,” Macklemore said. The video calls out other hip-hop artists for using gay slurs and religious leaders for refusing to support marriage equality.
As a straight man, he said he also wanted to show his support for his two gay uncles and his gay godfather. Indeed, the cover artwork for the single features a photograph of Macklemore’s gay uncle and his partner.

Jason Collins, the NBA player who came out earlier this year as gay, introduced the duo who performed the song with singer Mary Lambert and surprise guest Jennifer Hudson—another highlight-worthy moment in the show.
The MTV Music Video Awards has always been edgy and there were memorable moments for gay folks to enjoy throughout its run.  Remember 10 years ago the Madonna-Britney-Christina kiss?  Or last year, there was the recently out Frank Ocean singing “Thinkin Bout You”.  Or Ricky Martin, Ru Paul, Pet Shop Boys, Cher—the list goes on.

The point is, MTV, which debuted on August 1, 1981, has continually provided a platform for LGBT rights advocates and produced numerous shows with LGBT characters.  While the network has changed its format from wall-to-wall videos to a bevy of reality TV shows, it maintained its social consciousness especially in the LGBT sphere and included such related issues as bullying and teen suicide. 
Consequently, MTV in 2010 became the first network ever to receive an “Excellent” rating in GLAAD's Network Responsibility Index report.  GLAAD is the principal organization that works directly with news media, entertainment media, cultural institutions and social media.

From the early years of MTV’s iconic series The Real World, LGBT characters were a part of every installment.  That included the sad but inspiring journey of Pedro Zamora, a gay man in 1994 San Francisco who courageously came out to his housemates and to the world that he had HIV/AIDS and his brave but losing battle to live with the disease. 
The series depicted other LGBT folks with the same issues, personal problems, strengths, weaknesses, dreams, and the need for love as their straight counterparts.  Some were wonderful beings; others were loathsome— a mix that you would ordinarily find in straight America.

The True Life series on occasion discussed realities of LGBT life.  One episode in 2003 featured a gay teacher in Texas and in 2004 same-sex couples getting married.  In 2012 the network co-sponsored two specials for the “It Gets Better” project.  This past year, they also included a gay man struggling to come out as HIV positive in their special “I’m Positive,” which earned a Daytime Entertainment Emmy nomination.
The scripted show Awkward has two featured gay characters, and America’s Best Dance Crew has gay competitors.  Teen Wolf also includes two openly gay characters with a dose of homoerotic imagery and dialogue.  The straight characters shrug it off. 

The upshot of this LGBT-inclusive programming is that positive images of LGBT folks have been delivered to an entire generation since the early 1990’s.  The sitcom Will and Grace has been largely credited for allowing America’s heartland to view gays as normal, everyday people with the same problems and joys as the rest of the country.  When LGBT people are portrayed in that light, there is more acceptance on the part of the larger population making the environment more comfortable for LGBT folks to come out.  That puts a real human face on what was once considered abstract.
What MTV has done and continues to do is casting a positive light on LGBT people for a younger generation; the impressions on LGBT teens cannot be overstated.  It is no coincidence that issues, such as marriage equality, receive the highest level of support from teens and young adults.  And I wonder how many young LGBT lives have been saved by the positive reinforcement of MTV’s programming.    

“MTV has a long history of sharing groundbreaking and diverse portrayals of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people that help Americans understand our community,” said GLAAD spokesperson Wilson Cruz in response to my inquiry. “When other networks have shied away from stories that showcase the diversity of the LGBT community, MTV has been known to boldly discuss LGBT issues as well as include LGBT people of color and transgender people.”
The Video Music Awards and the platform it offers to pro-LGBT artists adds on to the already great body of work by MTV and keeps the momentum going on the side of equality and justice.  Thankfully, young people are influenced by this, and they represent our future.

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