Further thinking about the gay subculture

May 20th, 2009

Last week I wrote about how I see the gay subculture dying, and how it reflects a certain progress in our culture towards a lessening of the need for a distinct group for people of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered orientations.

Josh emailed me this response that I want to share. Josh coauthors Jess and Josh Talk About Stuff and has written several times about gay culture and queer theory. Here he points out a few more things to think about:

You said: “A distinct gay culture is an anachronism today.” To some extent, I think that’s true; just like the so-called hipster subculture, the gay subculture has largely been absorbed into the mainstream and lost its primary function: to provide a network and cultural identity for a marginalized, unaccepted minority. As the straights continue to embrace the gays, I think we’ll see the gay subculture decline even more.

That said, I think that it’s important to note the ways that straight (or even just mainstream) media have incorporated, manipulated, and coded “gay culture” to market to this now-accepted group of people. Bravo’s programming most certainly caters to the gays; for instance, while walking to work today I saw an ad for their supermodel contest, and two of the three figures depicted were men in various states of undress. A supermodel show advertising shirtless guys definitely isn’t marketing to straight men, and its appeal to women is questionable. There’s a book I want to read called Gay TV and Straight America (by a Becker to whom I’m not related, heh) that talks more about the ways gay culture entered the mainstream lexicon, especially through the medium of television. An excerpt of a review:

Becker demonstrates that narrowcasting — frequently cast as something unique to the era of media convergence — has actually been a common practice in consumer culture, generally, and the television industry, specifically. And that happened well before the television audience erosion that characterized the late 1980s and early 1990s. Using trade press and economic scholarship, Becker details how the peculiarities of the post-Fordist U.S. economy, particularly the aims of the advertising industry, made targeted marketing an increasingly central part of the U.S. economic landscape from the 1970s on. And not just any kind of targeted marking, but particularly methods that focused on psychographic appeals to consumers. Becker meticulously examines the impact that these kinds of marketing strategies had on television via accounts in the medium’s trade press, scholarship on advertising, and various interviews with people working in those industries.

And the continued economic stability (and, in some cases, success) of the gay nightlife industry in the midst of the current recession points to at least a inkling of a “gay bubble,” by which gay consumers–the “pink dollar” or whatever it’s called–are able to maintain their lifestyles in spite of, and perhaps in response to, larger socioeconomic trends.

My point is that I don’t think the gay subculture has ceased to exist; rather, it’s been continuously used, incorporated into, and (as a cynic might argue) perhaps exploited by straight media channels. It’s easy to assume total media assimilation, but as the recent Miss California scandal and broader gay marriage debate have shown, there is still a big leap between what mainstream America is comfortable with, in terms of gay culture, and what we’d like to see mainstream America be comfortable with, and as long as that divide exists, a gay subculture will have its place in society.

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