If you’ve ever taken a playwriting class you probably know that reversals and subverted expectations are useful tools in storytelling. If you haven’t taken a playwriting class you probably also know this because you are a person that is alive and therefore consumes narrative. Usually in a story there are elements of surprise, there are revelations, someone or something changes, or someone realizes something. When these things are done well, you as the audience member might also realize something, you might also experience change and revelation. I think doing these things well usually involves taking your audience member gently by the hand and bringing them on a journey that they will experience through the lives and experiences of the characters they’re watching. Doing these things well generally does not involve tricking your audience, or making assumptions and generalizations about the opinions of your audience, and it certainly does not involve insulting your audience’s intelligence.
There are two marriage equality videos that have been all over Facebook in the past two weeks.
The first is this one: http://youtu.be/_TBd-UCwVAY
The second is this one: http://front.moveon.org/two-lesbians-raised-a-baby-and-this-is-what-they-got/
If you’re on Facebook and also reading this blog probably at least ten of your friends have linked to one or both of them and said something along the lines of “beautiful”. I disagree. I actually find the first one rather appalling and the second one a little bit disappointing. Here’s why:
Both of these videos use a heteronormative lens (the first one quite literally) through which to advocate for gay marriage; the basic argument of both seems to be “we should let homosexuals get married because if you didn’t know any better you might just mistake their relationship for a heterosexual one.” The assumption is that there is a good, moral working model for marriage and child rearing and that this model it is a heterosexual one. As long as a homosexual relationships can mimic this model then clearly homosexual marriage and parenthood should be allowed. Also, both of these videos use this assumption as a way to trick their audience (see above paragraph about how this is generally not a good way to subvert expectations and also for a link to how what I’m about to say sort of has something to do with playwriting and therefore belongs on this blog).
The Australian commercial takes us through two minutes of watching a relationship through the eyes of one member of a couple who we are supposed to assume is a woman because the one we can see is a dude, before revealing “OMG IT’S TWO DUDES!” GOTCHA! Don’t you feel so silly? Didn’t you think they were straight? Now clearly you see that they should be able to get married because they are wealthy and white and have straight couple friends and do things like barbeque and swim in the ocean.
The second one I’m more hesitant to criticize. I think this man is eloquent, and I was moved by what he said even though the crux of his argument is “see? We’re just like you.” He’s speaking from a place of truth and it sounds like his family is, in fact, a fairly traditional nuclear family and it’s not his responsibility to talk about the various ways in which one can successfully be a family, or love someone, or how it might also be okay if he had turned out to be a less conventionally successful and attractive and masculine man.
What I really object to is the title that has been attached to this: “Two Lesbians Raised a Baby and This is What They Got” “OMG WHAT THEY GOT WAS A REALLY WELL ADJUSTED SMART YOUNG MAN WHO IS PROBABLY STRAIGHT!” GOTCHA! I’m sure that all of the homophobes who were hoping to watch a hateful video about the weird little mutant freak that two lesbians raised have changed their minds about gay marriage. Because people LOVE being tricked. It never makes them confrontational or shuts down their ability or willingness to think and discuss like intelligent human beings. Also, let’s be honest, chances are really good that NOBODY watches that video wanting to see a kid damaged by being raised by two lesbians. Most of us read that title and know that it’s a joke and watch because we already believe in marriage equality, and in a homosexual couple’s ability and right to raise children. That title didn’t trick me. It only offended me. It offended me because I’m an intelligent consumer of media and I think that it’s a cheap trick that assumes my intelligence is less than it is. But it also offended me because it assumes that people who don’t support gay marriage are hateful and want to watch a video that shows a child having been damaged by homosexuality. Don’t get me wrong. I think that not supporting marriage equality IS hateful and bigoted, but I don’t assume that that hatefulness and bigotry extends to every aspect of someone’s life and results in them wishing ill on the children of gay couples.
Tricking people is not the answer. It assumes stupidity and simplicity on the part of our adversaries. It is offensive and counterproductive and if you went to see a play that pulled that shit you would most likely want your money back. And you would almost definitely not post it on Facebook with the caption “beautiful”.