Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Joe the Plumber--Talk About Homophobia

The "Joe the Plumber" Wurzelbacher interview in Christianity Today reminded me of Dick Cheney on Fox--all right-wing id all the time. In case anyone wondered about the right being homophobic, here's Joe on gay people:
In the last month, same-sex marriage has become legal in Iowa and Vermont. What do you think about same-sex marriage at a state level?
At a state level, it's up to them. I don't want it to be a federal thing. I personally still think it's wrong. People don't understand the dictionary—it's called queer. Queer means strange and unusual. It's not like a slur, like you would call a white person a
honky or something like that. You know, God is pretty explicit in what we're supposed to do—what man and woman are for. Now, at the same time, we're supposed to love everybody and accept people, and preach against the sins. I've had some friends that are actually homosexual. And, I mean, they know where I stand, and they know that I wouldn't have them anywhere near my children. But at the same time, they're people, and they're going to do their thing.
I think it's important to remember what makes this homophobic. There are two dimensions of homophobia here. First, Joe claims that not only gay marriage but homosexuality in general is "wrong"--"I personally still think it's wrong"--which he seems to mean something like "going against God's will" in the sense that homosexuality is a "sin." At the same time, Joe seems to view homosexuality as an especially bad category of sin in the sense that gay people are defying God's creation of man and woman as heterosexual--"what man and woman are for." Thus, Joe appears to condemn gay people as "abominations" in the sense of being a "mistake of nature" like vampires or werewolves and therefore being "repulsive" or "abhorrent." This is what I take from Joe's reference to being queer as being "strange" or "unusual."

The second element of homophobia connects with Joe statement that he would not let his gay friends "anywhere near my children." Here, Joe is assuming either that all gays are pedophiles and therefore threats to molest or otherwise sexually assault his children or that gay people are somehow attempting to convert children to homosexuality through some form of seduction. To the extent that Americans view the sexual manipulation of children as "repulsive" and "abhorrent," Joe the Plumber is portraying gay people once again as an abomination. He keeps gay people away from his children and implies that you should keep them away from yours.

But Joe also has some awareness that he's playing a game in which it's not only gay people who are stigmatized for their sexuality but people like the Joe the Plumber who become marked or stigmatized for their bigotry and hatred. Joe shows this awareness of this problem when he emphasizes that he's not slurring gay people or that he's had some friends who are "actually homosexual." But these are such weak ways for Joe to avoid the problem of being stigmatized as a bigot that he makes the problem worse. In fact, Joe sounds exactly like all the racists who claim that "some of their best friends are black," or cue their racist statements by saying "we should all be color-blind." In a certain way, these kinds of statements seek to invite the listener or reader to see that someone like Joe the Plumber is "really not such a bad guy." But Joe is doing so in such a transparent way that he's making his bigotry even more obvious.

"Joe the Plumber" strikes me as a smart enough guy that he's aware of all this and purposefully frames his statements to be "provocative" or "outrageous" to people with conventionally liberal sentiments on tolerance--in other words the majority of the American public. This is the kind of thing that conservative media figures do all the time as a way to confirm or enhance their authenticity among conservatives. Rush Limbaugh's playing "Barack the Magic Negro" is probably the most prominent recent example of this.

This is the conundrum in which conservative media figures and writers like Joe the Plumber find themselves. To advertise themselves as "real conservatives," conservatives need to continually figure out new ways to pose themselves as disdaining black people, gays, working women, single mothers, hispanics, liberals and other populations who defy conservative norms. In other words, a good deal of American conservatism is an exercise in creative bigotry.

But in advertising themselves as authentic conservatives, right-wing media figures knowingly expose themselves to being stigmatized by the larger American population as racists, sexists, misogynists, homophobes, neanderthals, bigots, idiots, and morons. The result is that conservative figures like Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, and Joe the Plumber become targets forth kind of intense forms of ridicule, abuse, and knee-jerk hostility that are associated with social stigmatization. This doesn't mean that people ignore conservatives. Lots of people with conventionally liberal social sentiments like my 75 year old father watch conservative media figures and pay attention to them but they increasingly listen to Limbaugh or watch Glenn Beck and Bill O'Reilly for the "train wreck" effect caused by their various "controversial" statements. There's a definite "freak show" dimension to media conservatism today.

Figures like O'Reilly and Limbaugh are aware of the mechanisms by which they are stigmatized as bigots and talk about those mechanisms often enough that they sometimes sound like they have martyr complexes.

The same can be said for Michael Savage who often sounds like a guy crying in his beer.

That brings us back to what "Joe the Plumber" is trying to accomplish with yesterday's venture into crude forms of anti-gay bigotry.

It looks to me like he's angling to be a long-running act in the conservative freak show.

No comments: