On 30 Rock, Tracy Morgan plays a hilarious caricature of himself. In real life, Tracy Morgan plays an unfunny caricature of himself. This is news to very few people familiar with his work.
Still, Morgan's having offended many, many people in an unfunny routine ranks as the second most tenacious non-story of the month. (The Tracy Morgan doll we can assume has been abandoned due to legal concerns.) Morgan has issued statements, televised his mea culpa more than once and is even planning a visit back to the scene of the crime, where he will apologize to actual gays. Frankly, we should all be sick of watching the man apologize by now.
Well, we're not. And we have good reasons not to be. Instead of scrutinizing every stop on The My Bad Tour 2011, maybe our time would be better spent thinking about those reasons.
Plenty has been written about Morgan's tirade, most of it focusing on his hi-larious fantasies of homophobia-fueled filicide. The violent rhetoric was heinous, of course, and went beyond ordinary bad taste. But the "joke" about violence alone doesn't completely explain why the rant resonated as strongly as it did. In fact, it doesn't even scratch the surface.
The real problem is that Morgan's diatribe managed to hit almost every single nerve. He distilled into one vile outburst every fear, frustration and challenge facing LGBT Americans today. He unleashed the homophobic id.
"The big lie about lesbians and gay men," Vito Russo wrote, "is that we do not exist." Or, as Dolly Parton put it, "That gay people are trying to be different just to make other people miserable." Morgan opened his bigoted rant with the big myth, stating (with suspicious certainty,) that homosexuality is a choice. Not for the first time, it should be noted.
In order to put forth the premise of Morgan's rant, one must not only be willfully ignorant but also noticeably lacking in the common sense department and driven by some motive to deny the existence of people L, G, B and T. This apparently, however, describes about a third of the US population. So in addition to finding profoundly dumb lies about them commonplace, gays and lesbians are also constantly restrained from calling profoundly dumb lies about them profoundly dumb lies. Unless, of course, the lies happen to have been delivered as carelessly as they were by Morgan.
At least that third of the population has an excuse for, say, opposing gay marriage. What about that other 15-20% that seems to have accepted the reality that gays are among them, but insists that gays and lesbians be denied the right to marry? The same absurd notion, that there is something inherently inferior about homosexuality, is essential to Morgan's rant. It is also the primary frustration faced by LGBT Americans in their daily lives.
The idea, if you can call it that, then becomes that one can end homosexuality by discouraging it. This is done most often by treating homosexuals poorly. Because that's been working great so far.
An alternate approach from the same mindset created the small industry that promises to turn your defective -- but repairable! -- gay child straight. The scam relies on the continuous regurgitation of long-ago-exposed phony "research" and blatantly dishonest misrepresentations of genuine studies, which in turn help sustain the myths that created it. These lies are then embraced by those looking for justification of their prejudices and spread like wildfire through the media and on the web, giving cover to every hatemonger or misguided nitwit capable of using cut and paste.
The programs that all of this "science" add up to, shockingly enough, only seem to turn gay teens into traumatized gay adults or deeply traumatized gay adults who kill themselves. Oh, and the guy you paid to turn your kid straight is probably spending your money on male prostitutes. It's an endless, senseless, maddening circle.
His choice of target also brings to light the ever-present double-standard, which I have more light-heartedly tackled in the past. LGBT people are consistently judged by different standards than their heterosexual counterparts, and the reaction to Morgan's rant proved that he is no exception. Do you know what would happen if a gay man joked publicly about stabbing his child to death for whining about being straight? That child would probably be taken away.
If you doubt me, or think that I'm drawing too broad a generalization, I urge you to pay closer attention to how gays and lesbians are discussed in our society. This week Proposition 8 attorneys walked into a courtroom and argued that only a straight person should get to decide if gay people can get married. Seriously. And when was the last time you heard someone in the media say, "straight people are reinforcing every negative stereotype," by having wild Spring Break, Mardi Gras, Halloween or St. Patrick's Day parties? You'll see it written more than once this month about the same behavior at Gay Pride festivities, though.
Then, of course, there is the topic that nobody wants to touch.
Tracy Morgan is -- whisper this last part -- black. While many on the left will insist for cheerleading purposes that the "black gay divide" is a myth, opinion polls clearly show African Americans lagging significantly behind whites and Latinos in terms of acceptance of gays and lesbians. Since the release of exit polls in the aftermath of Proposition 8, many in the LGBT community have become acutely aware of the gap. (Except black LGBT people, who one suspects were already cognizant.) It is a problem that it is going to take a lot of outreach to fix.
African American community leaders, however, rarely reflect the polls when it comes to gay civil rights. Outside the clergy and presidency, they have been more strongly supportive of LGBT equality than perhaps any other group. So for at least a moment, Tracy Morgan unwittingly transformed himself into the public face of that gap on the ground. To many people, on some level it no doubt felt like Morgan was speaking for one group of people to another.
Is it fair to hold him to a higher standard because of his race? Absolutely not. Was his violent rhetoric representative of what one might hear in an anti-gay church? No. But it would be naive to deny that race and religion are not incredibly sensitive issues in the aftermath of an incident like this. It's a topic that deserves some thought.
Morgan's entire tirade, sadly enough, deserves more thought. He managed in just a few moments to propagate all the most oppressive lies and popular myths forced upon an entire group of human beings. It exposed real and very frightening dangers faced by Americans every single day. It was ugly. It was stupid.
Let's think about it for a while.
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