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The Grammys' gay wedding earned some tone-deaf backlash

Posted by Scott Kearnan  January 27, 2014 01:19 PM

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Have you ever heard a cell phone ring at a wedding? It's horrible. The worst. Everyone cringes. You can roll your eyes and shrug off the interruption during a movie or a work meeting. But a wedding? There's no worse reminder of the device's most grating quality — its arrogant assumption that everyone has something very important to tell you right this very minute — than the loud intrusion of something unnecessary on something very meaningful.

There was a mass wedding at the Grammy Awards on Sunday night when, during a performance of "Same Love," the pro-gay marriage rap anthem that became an unlikely hit last year, Macklemore, Ryan Lewis, Mary Lambert, Madonna and Queen Latifah presided over the mass nuptials of 33 diverse couples — gay and straight men and women of various ages and races. There was also a noisy cell phone: The social media reaction. Most people, like the tear-dabbing newlyweds and celeb attendees on TV, seemed moved by the sentiment of the gesture. And there was the expected right-wing backlash about a televised attack on "traditional families." But more surprising (though not really) was the small but loud online response from some gay rights supporters, including those within the LGBT community, that the ceremony was horrible — worst thing ever, if you think about it, really. You see, there was a certain amount of hand-wringing about a straight white guy endorsing gay marriage while accompanied by other straight people. It reeked, said certain critics, of head-patting patronizing by privileged folks appropriating the struggles of minorities. (Erm, hey: LGBT nonprofits? Shut down those ally-building initiatives you've launched. We don't really want them.)

This was when I wished the ringers went off. It was the I'M GONNA LET YOU FINISH BUT… interruption of the moment.

(You can watch the full performance here.)

Not that it wasn't predictable. No sooner were rings on fingers than tapping fingertips were ringing with opinions — Thoughts! Perspectives! Vital rumination! — that must be heard, tweeted, RT'd, shared, liked. Right now. Your opinion. On all these people. Their motives. You have one. It's vital. Listen! But don't tell the truth. That's boring. "Well-Intentioned Equal Marriage Statement Has Problematic Elements But Was Overall Pretty Cool," is not click bait for your personal brand. NEEDS MORE: pop culture contrarianism. It's a brave new world! Counter discourse is the new discourse!

The Grammys were the Straight White People Give Each Other Awards for Doing Black Music About Gay Rights Better Than You Convention, according to a Jezebel piece that crops Queen Latifah out of its accompanying picture and neglects to mention that Mary Lambert — you know, the woman who sings and co-wrote "Same Love" — is a lesbian. ("O SURE BUT…") That description sums up the prevailing knee-jerk assumption (directed to a lot of things lately): that everything must be wrong and horrible because it's also not perfect. That said, the whole Grammys wedding stunt absolutely raised some very reasonable and important questions:

Are televised weddings tacky and inherently exploitive? Probably, but we're about 15 years late to that discussion. And if we now live in a world where Kim Kardashian is allowed to broadcast a "lifelong commitment" that lasted 72 days, and where a television show that reduces "true love" to the grand prize of a game show will hire a leading man who thinks it's the idea of gay relationships that is the bad example to kids, then a quickie ceremony between real-life couples, one that at least attempts a progressive political statement, is hardly the most offensive deployment of the televised wedding concept.

Do straight entertainers sometimes give pandering lip service to gay fans for the sake of scoring a market niche? Absolutely. I have previously suggested myself that, in a world where the cast of Here Comes Honey Boo-Boo! earns public kudos from GLAAD just for wearing purple shirts on "Spirit Day," the gay community can really afford to get more choosy about which allies it embraces. And is it frustrating that there aren't more internationally successful LGBT artists, particularly LGBT artists of color, who are offered this kind of gargantuan, Grammys-sized platform to present a call for equality on their own terms — and without needing the protective shield of the Straight Big Brother Association? Absolutely. I wish Mary Lambert could have achieved the respect and impact this song received on her own; I wish Queen Latifah didn't feel required to partake in the festivities from within an open closet.

But it's hard for me to justify shooting the messengers here. Macklemore is enjoying a successful hit — but he's hardly someone who has attempted to build an entire career on gay saviorism. And Madonna is no Johnny-Come-Lately to gay rights; it's easy to criticize her for using gay people as "props" now that every dance diva is required to have "her boys" in tow. But she was an early and outspoken advocate when that was a career liability, not a prerequisite.

Madonna: I deal with a lot of topical issues [in the movie Truth or Dare]… including what I think to be a big problem in the United States, and that's homophobia. There's a big section in the movie devoted to that.
Interviewer: And some people are going to find that offensive.
Madonna: Well, that's their problem.
Interviewer: You don't care?
Madonna: No, of course not. Because these things exist in life. I'm only presenting life to people. I'm not presenting anything that they're not exposed to in every day life. But they don't want to deal with it. If you keep putting something in someone's face, then maybe eventually they can come to terms with it.
Interviewer: This is Madonna on a one-woman crusade to change the world? To change people's attitudes?
Madonna: Yes. I'm not saying I'm going to. But maybe I'll start. Maybe I'll open a door.

So. Can I think of something that smacks of greater unchecked privilege than a straight white guy publicly affirming the equal value of gay people? Sure! Some straight white girl in Brooklyn (whose Twitter profile probably describes her as a "craft beer snob, avid foodie, and blogger with an insatiable wanderlust!") deciding when and how affirmations of the gay community are appropriately conducted. Do I think the gay community should demand greater media representation of its own, and more assured sincerity from its allies? Yeah! But maybe well-meaning political statements aren't the first thing to impugn. Let's start by no longer inviting every Real Housewife of 9021-Rich to show up at a bar or Pride parade to play "gay icon" for a paycheck.

Ten years ago this May, Massachusetts became the first state to provide equal marriage rights to gay couples. It was hard to imagine then that 16 other states would follow — or that a roomful of music high school's Most Popular Kids would be applauding such marriages as they were broadcast into the living rooms of the 34 other states where life is still a little less rosy. We also didn't know that we'd now live in the era of #slatepitches (Google it), where some people feel safe and comfortable enough in their present position to suggest that, if a soapbox advocating for equal rights is not built to the precise and airtight specifications they happen to prefer, it is a dumb and stupid and mightily offensive soapbox. That is a privileged position to be in. (Many of those in my social media timeline who seemed quite moved by the Grammys — including a lot of older gay men and women who did not grow up with the luxury of choosing their allies in life — would probably love to be in it.)

If Paris Hilton ever launches a space race on E! to choose her future husband, tweet away. If Who Wants to Marry a Multi-Millionaire? ever makes a comeback, start a petition to thwart it, please. But if some people want to have their wedding at the Grammys, alongside other people who don't look like them, as part of a larger statement on equal rights for all… Well, hell — even if the union isn't perfect, hold your piece. Call me old-fashioned, but I still think that's an option.

This blog is not written or edited by or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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About this blog

Scott Kearnan (@thewritestuffSK) is a Boston-based writer, editor, and communications consultant focusing on lifestyle and Arts & Entertainment. He's also a part-time smart aleck and buffalo wing connoisseur. "Media Remix" is where couch potatoes meet pop culture criticism. More »

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