Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Seeing Is Believing

Last weekend we saw the first Mr. Gay South Africa™ pageant - or rather, didn't. 

Those of us who were not fortunate enough to attend the main event, or the semi-final ocean cruise, or the other events which took place around the country, read about it. We saw articles and photos in local pink news services such as Gayspeak and Mambaonline - but that was pretty much the only mention the event received. Did we see any attention given to this event - which the gay community found to be of some import, in any mainstream newspapers or hear radio coverage or see any TV features? I certainly didn't. Apparently the Mr. Gay South Africa™ pageant (I keep writing it out in full because it is a completely different animal to the former "Mr Gay SA" pageant of years ago) did manage to make the News24 front page - online. Twice. It also made The Times once, but that was long ago, and somehow it made Die Volksblad in Bloem - I don't know HOW it got it in. But about the actual final event, only News24 - oh - and although displayed on the front page, the actual article was under "GoTravel" and not anything in the main news section. But otherwise, that was it.

Yet just this week alone, I have seen plenty of mention of the Miss World pageant (probably also with a "™") withheterosexist stereotype icons and card-board cutouts of "perfect" straight womanhood strutting their stuff in front of TV cameras with people like Jacob Zuma, and at community events around the country on the pages of various local community and national newspapers - and of course, in TV coverage.

I hate to grind axes, but this whole deal brings to mind the nit-pickers who go postal every time they see anything with a pink tint on the box and whine about having the "homosexual agenda" rammed down their throats - yet they are quite happy to ram their own "lifestyles" down ours.

I would like to remind these folks that the very definition of heterosexism is the belief that everybody is or should be heterosexual - and by pretending that this is the case, the media is sidelining and ignoring the existence of its non-hetero audience.

Apparently the modest selection of TV stations in SA were simply uninterested in airing any kind of coverage of this very classy and stylish event (Mr. Gay South Africa™) - featuring not even so much as a news snippet about the developments or outcome. I find this odd, considering they will cover the Pink Loerie Mardi Gras every year - even if only to show as many half-naked bodies as they can scrape together just to give it negative press.

It is old news that the media seems to ignore the pink community almost entirely, save for the occasions where they take time out to splurge the doings and the screwings of pink folk in order to stir up controversy or to lambaste us.

Take that disgusting article in the "Sondag" paper of last Sunday, (English translation here) where wannabe actor Dries Botha tried his level best to torpedo the gay equality movement in South Africa by declaring that he was "cured" of his homosexuality like it was some kind of disease, while also perpetuating almost every slanderous lie in the "ex-gay" manual. The comments made on his irresponsible statements were mostly of this order:

"Whats this traitors deal? Money? Publicity whore? Whats the price that's worth throwing the rest of us under the bus?"

While I couldn't agree more with this comment, I have to point out that this article, combined with the stony silence on positive issues (such as Mr. Gay South Africa™) is clear proof to me of the state of things. Pink community news simply isn't "newsworthy" to the mainstream unless it is controversial or negatively biased in some way. People don't seem to want to show the ordinary and respectable face of the pink community to the ignorant public, who might be mislead into thinking that gay people are just like them, and actually quite nice people with feelings - and hopes and dreams just like theirs.

What I also found interesting in the Sondag article was the reference to Erroll Naidoo. The Sondag being the birdcage liner it is, I can't help wondering if that is a direct quote - or a sample of "creative journalism", but if that isn't a blatant admission of hating gay people - so much, that unlike other "Christian" folks who "don't approve" of gay people - he won't even "pray" for them? No, he would much rather prey ON them...

This is the same Errol Naidoo who is leading the fight against marriage equality in South Africa, campaigning to overturn laws passed in 2005, and to criminalize gay rights – and who runs the US religious right backed “Family Policy Institute” in Cape Town. Somehow that bigot always manages to feature in the news, as if he is some kind of authority, wherever there is an article on gay people - even in this one. Oops. (I wonder how he does that.)

When there is sensation, they will certainly publish it. Take coverage of the Pink Jacaranda for example, Beeld placed a small photo-less article barely 10 sentences long on page 6 or something of the "PLUS" sub-section. When the neo-Nazi storm-troopers of the diminutive Pretoria Verkennersjeug complained about the Voortrekker drag queens desecrating the Monument with their presence, it appeared on page 2, main paper, with colour photo nogal - and remember, this was AFTER the event!

About 5 years ago a black lesbian's main neck artery was nearly severed by a broken bottle thrown from the flats in Braamfontein on the Pride parade (aside from the usual pot plants, old kettles and other missiles). Even this outrage made NEARLY front page news everywhere AFTER Pride. The point is, don't expect favorable media promotion or coverage of a pink event from general SA media.

The rest of the time, we are lucky if the usually more moderate English newspapers feature a picture of the ugliest drag queen at Pride, or some other outrageously dressed (or undressed) people that will reinforce conservative stereotypes - after the event on page 9 or 10, unless it includes friend Naidoo - or some other conservative champion vilifying the pink community or arranging a picket, counter-march or a protest against a Pride event somewhere, where it somehow makes it to the front page. Mainstream Afrikaans newspapers always ignore all of Pride as if Afrikaans gay people simply do not exist, even though 15000 people (many of them Afrikaans speaking) attended. But place 300 Afrikaners on Church Square with Steve Hofmeyer, or let Angus Buchan break wind or change hats in Loftus, and it makes BOLD letters on page 1 as if it is actual news. And so on.

It seems the pink news trend is ALWAYS controversial, NEARLY front page - and always AFTER the fact.

If it wasn't for pink news services on the web, our community would be blind and deaf to the goings on in the world around us. None of us would be aware of the threatening pink genocide in Uganda, or even be aware that the SA government has completely ignored our calls to condemn the Genocide Bill currently awaiting passing in the Ugandan parliament, or that they have refused to address various concerns of the pink community - including its refusal to sign the UN Declaration To Decriminalize Homosexuality in December 2008. I certainly haven't heard or seen any coverage of the Ugandan issue in any mainstream media - not even in a paper as liberal and pro-democracy as the Mail & Guardian. 

It seems gay people being portrayed in the media as promiscuous stereotypes and parodies is just fine, but telling the truth about them or showing them in a good light - is just not controversial or interesting enough.

For once, it would have been nice to see a positive event (Mr. Gay South Africa™) given positive coverage for a change, after all, it was a classy and stylish event - something uplifting and affirming which would cast gay men (and the whole pink community) in a good light for a change - instead, the entire pink community got the usual treatment - a flat ignore.

Talk to the hand? Truth is, I feel like biting it!

This "failure to launch" on the part of the SA media highlights the lack of interest of the straight community run media in South Africa. It seems to assume that pink - or even open minded South Africans don't exist and could never be interested in an event like Mr. Gay South Africa™. I don't think their disinterest should just be ignored. It is a slap in the face of our whole community.

Maybe next year we can see it live on TV? Or a video snippet in the TV news? Or at the very least, a front page feature without some insulting quote by uncle Errol.

I live in hope.


If you would like to know more about Christina Engela and her writing, please feel free to browse her website.

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