GAY TIMES August 1995

Right on schedule, the dead-beats in the “popular press” provided their expected response to the-present surge of gay-targeted television. Garry Bushell (Sun, July 5th) thought that Gaytime TV was more about “fantasy” than reality. “How many kids will be suckered by the glamorous myth?” he wanted to know. “How many will die horribly from the repugnant realities of a promiscuous gay lifestyle?”

A more generalised — and concerted — attack on what it regards as “Filth on Four” (or “sleaze TV”) was made by The Daily Mail. Over the past few weeks, the Mail has been running an hysterical campaign against Channel Four and its chief executive Michael Grade — whom the breathtakingly barmy Paul Johnson dubbed “Britain’s pornographer-in-chief’.

On the tail of the righteous indignation about the alleged bad taste of some of Channel 4’s output, (particularly The Word, and the showing of the supposedly blasphemous film The Last Temptation of Christ), came the launch of Dyke TV. Whatever the merits or demerits of Dyke TV (and, as no one has seen it yet, it is difficult to know whether it’s worth defending) it unfairly got carried away on the “tide of filth” conjured up by the unsavoury imaginations of Paul Johnson and his colleague, Mary (“batty old crone”) Kenny. They were joined in their onslaught by the aged former TV critic Philip Purser in The Daily Telegraph. This lumping together of what might well be serious gay telly with the juvenile offensiveness of The Word is annoying but predictable when religious extremists are charged by the religious press to make propaganda.

The ludicrously over-heated, over-stated fulminations of The Daily Mail’s posse of moral enforcers amused the nation for a few days. (Mr Johnson really is a national treasure. In former times we would have had to pay money to go and laugh at him at the asylum.) The problem is that very few people outside of the National Viewers and Listener’s Association agreed with him. “Asking those two blinkered individuals Paul Johnson or Mary Kenny to review Channel 4’s output is rather like asking Linda McCartney to host a guided tour of Smithfield Market” wrote one dissenting reader to The Mail’s correspondence column (June 22nd).

In the same issue, Barbara Sexton, who modestly describes herself as “an overtly feminine, intelligent, attractive, talented, youthful, compassionate, fortyish lesbian” let the Mail know that its readers aren’t all Mary Whitehouse clones. Ms Sexton objected to the paper’s depiction of lesbians as “the narrowest of cliques”. She explained that for 30 years she’s been exposed to heterosexual films, plays and columnists. She’s listened to straight love songs and had to accept that while heteros can be affectionate in public, she can’t. She congratulated C4, and particularly Caroline Spry, its lesbian commissioning editor, for helping restore some balance. (Ms Spry had been spitefully done over by The Daily Mail a few days earlier.)

But then the action switched from the TV programmes themselves to the advertising that pays for them.

There had already been a bit of a brouhaha over Guinness threatening to launch an ad with a gay flavour (“Bottoms up!” was The Sun’s “hilarious” headline over the story). Much comment followed about the unsuitability of Guinness ads as a vehicle for “that sort of thing”.

“Why in heaven would Guinness dream of running a TV campaign depicting blokes of uncertain gender, but almost certainly homosexuals, drinking its esteemed libation?” asked The Daily Telegraph (June 23rd). “… for Guinness to risk being branded, even by louts and hooligans, the poofters’ potion, would seem like madness incarnate.”

Everyone seemed in agreement — the ads were not such a good idea. Guinness will now probably agree — why pay to run the ads when they’ve already generated the desired controversy without spending a penny?

On a more sinister note, The Times (June 14th) reported that in the USA “the Christian lobby” has organised a boycott of Unilever after its products were advertised during TV programmes which the American Family Association say promote “sex, violence and profanity”. The “depraved” show singled out for most flak was the police series NYPD Blue which the AFA says is “pro-homosexual” and “promotes decadence and depravity, teenage pregnancy and random violence.”

When the Christian Right in America organises a boycott, the companies have to take it seriously. Both Burger King and K-Mart Stores suffered significant drops in profits after they were targeted. And, as the AFA says, once it organises a boycott among the one million members it claims to have, it can take a generation to dismantle.

Whether our own rather quaint born-agains could rally enough support to influence the advertising policy of multi-national corporations is another matter. When C4 showed Martin Scorsese’s film The Last Temptation of Christ, Tesco, Mars and Peugeot all objected to their advertisements being shown during or close to the movie. It isn’t clear whether these objections were the result of any direct pressure from religious groups or whether they simply represented a desire not to be associated with controversial programmes.

Certainly the Catholic newspaper The Universe organised a huge protest around the film, telling its readers that if they failed to complain about it they would be committing “a sin of omission” for which they would have to seek forgiveness. The Guardian Diary mocked the afflicted by revealing that one man rang Channel Four threatening to blow up the building if the screening went ahead. When the duty officer asked for his name and address, the man dutifully gave it. Presumably he was forbidden by his religion to lie, and so received a visit from the police. No charges were brought.

I’m also told by a little bird in C4’s advertising department that a well-known burger chain has specified that its advertisements must not be shown during any of the up-coming gay programmes.

It is, I suppose, feasible that a company trying to foster a “family” image (and how menacing that word has become since it fell into the clutches of the fundamentalists) would not want its products associated with ‘alternative lifestyles’. But that doesn’t make the snub any the less insulting. Is the burger-buying money of gay people not welcome at these outlets?

Perhaps we ought to think about organising “counter-boycotts” whereby we deliberately switch to brands that are resisting pressure from the Jesus-in-jackboots brigade. I’m going to buy my Persil from K-Mart from now on, not from Tesco! And if ever I’m desperate enough to fancy a burger, it’s got to be a Burger King — and definitely not the other kind.

Let’s keep an eye on who is advertising on gay TV and, if we can, support them. It’s also important to let them know you’re buying their products — and why.

***

The farce that was the Tory party leadership election was almost hypnotic in its silliness. John Redwood didn’t stand a chance from the moment the TV news showed that film of him feebly pretending he knew the Welsh national anthem. What a berk! Who could have voted for a man who looked as though he was about to flare his nostrils and cry “No, stop messing about!”

Mr Redwood, right-winger though he is, said that he would not have precluded gay people from his Cabinet, although he would have preferred that they were “out” and honest about it. This sudden tolerance is strange coming from someone who had previously shown all the signs of being a blue-nosed tut-tutter.

There are two possible explanations why he made the comment. The first is the proven success of Chris Smith’s strategy: come out voluntarily and then The News of the World can’t do it for you. The second — and more likely —is that there are already gay people in high office in the Tory government and Mr Redwood wanted to ensure that he could have retained their services had he won the vote. Certainly The Independent (July 3rd) quoted — but did not name —what it claimed was a gay minister as saying that he was worried about Mr Redwood’s “puritanical streak”. Either The Independent made up this quote or there is at least one gay man in the Tory Government.

Mr Major has already declared that homosexuality would not be a bar to office in his government, and, having retaken the leadership, he is still happy to have a known gay man in his cabinet.

The problem is that none of these gay ministers is “out” to the country at large. Presumably if The Independent knows who they are, then the whips do too, and so it would be no big surprise to the Party if the men were to be “exposed” by the press.

But if these individuals, or any other gay MP, is reading this, I do commend you to come out and come clean. Although I recognise that Tories are not primarily motivated by generosity of spirit, you would be doing a great service to the gay community. And don’t forget, coming out could be self-serving, too, which is much more your style. Your Prime Minister has told you that he is gay-friendly, so there is nothing to fear from him. The choice is stark: take the plunge or take the consequences. Next time Rupert Murdoch wants a political canon ball to fire, it might well have your name on it.

You’ll notice that The Daily Mail is figuring large in this column recently. It seems the arena of anti-gay abuse has shifted quite markedly from the yob tabloids to the middle-market. Anyway, The Mail carried a story about “an explicit gay sex leaflet” which it claimed had been “sent to youth clubs” by the Terrence Higgins Trust. This leaflet, we were told, had “provoked furious protests” from parents. Well, one parent anyway — a Martin Clarke of Sittingbourne Kent. Mr Clarke says that the pamphlet (containing the dreaded four-letter words) was “seen by his daughter at her dance class”. Shame! Indignation! How could they do this to a little child?

You needed to read to the end of the article to discover that Mr Clarke’s daughter is actually 20 years old and is the teacher of the dance class. And you have to read even further to discover that the pamphlet was distributed to youth club leaders, not members. So, in fact, no little kiddies saw it at all. Still, the leaflet was then “banned” by Kent County Council who had taken the objections at face value. Talk about weasel words — The Daily Mail’s tongue has more forks than a canteen of cutlery.

Not to be out-done in the let’s-bash-Labour-with-the-gay-cudgel stakes, The Sun has “a watchdog” called Leo McKinsty to report on “political correctness and public waste” in local authorities. As you’d expect, his attacks are almost entirely on “left-wing” Labour councils. On June 30th he was droning on about Islington library stocking The Aids Trainers’ Directory — a list of courses on HIV and related issues —which he says is “no medical text but a monument to political correctness in 1990s Britain.” (Yawn.) He says that he is “totally opposed to anti-gay discrimination but this is discrimination in reverse … these courses amount to no more than indoctrination in extreme PC values …” (zzzzz!).

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