Please leave selfies alone – thoughts on the crisises of truth, identity and journalism

selfie

“and since we live in present tense
the only hope of making sense 
all depends on the source of light” Fugazi

In his text “Homo selfiensis” Hans-Jürgen Arlt interprets the selfie as expression of what he calls “PR-Society”: a society that is dominated by striving for success by self-promotion. In quite a mental leap he picks journalism as the opposite of selfies because it doesn’t conform to the wishes of the photographed. Instead of that, he says, journalism follows independent criteria like “closeness to reality” and “collective relevance” (translation by me). As a selfie doesn’t have the same objectives as journalism it is no surprise he finds it lacks them but I find it somehow surprising that he condemns them for that lack.

But let’s be game, just for fun: Is what he criticises even speficic for the problem? Yes, selfies are staged. Yes, they only pick a segment of a situation and one that shows us in the light of our choice. That is not specific for selfies though. You can say the same about an anecdote we tell about ourselves: In it we also just chose a certain part of an event and might leave out things that could embarass us. Let’s look at it from the other side: What about journalism? News pieces also are hardly ever independent and they also often show just one perspective on an event. Not just when journalism goes commentary but as soon as it selects topics and leaves out others, and by what and who gets and what and who does not get mentioned in an article. It is typical of old school journalism to pass this as objectivity. That has worked out fine for a long time because if you take a perspective that is very common it gets almost invisible, or rather: all the other possible perspectives get invisible. But that does not justify a claim on objective truth. This is what gets clearer and clearer in our social media era, in which people with different perspectives have ways of expressing their criticism loudly. (So sorry, Chait.) What about photography and objectivity? We live in the days of Photoshop and Instagram filters and staged press pictures (just think of the latest fiercely criticised one, that showed government leaders heading a Charlie-Hebdo march in Paris). Of all those, to pick out the selfie as example for the loss of authenticity by self-promotion is weird. To conjure up the photographer as an entity that by it’s sheer presence magicly manufactures objective truth to a portrait in contrast to a selfie sounds too much like lamenting old boy’s journalism. You know, the kind that a couple of years ago complained about the dubiousness of blogging and today feels the loss of its exclusive control of the relevant perspective approaching by social media posts. In The silent revolution Mercedes Bunz describes a shift in the relationship between truth and facts: truth no longer is what lasts. The digital fact changes fast and constantly because it gets updated all the time. The absence of those fixed points that we were used to can be unsettling.

Truth no longer is what lasts.

In a review of The silent revolution (testcard, #24: Bug report) I summed up: “The polyphony, the multitude of the voices on the web makes a new kind of objectivity possible: the quality of the digital public’s truth is the immediacy of a lot of different voices – a pluralism that asks us to form our own opinion. Instead of trusting a single perspective that was vouched for by experts (journalists, historians, etc.), the recurring report from a lot of different sources has become the new criterion of truth. The active inclusion of the recipient is a central feature of the digital public.” The kind of journalism Reported.ly does can be considered an interesting way of trying to get a grip of this. Bunz also writes on the change of journalism’s role. “She says there hasn’t even been a real balance between press and politics in the past but that in today’s modern media democracies the positions have shifted even further apart: The media have turned into businesses, politicians use them for image work, media moguls strive for political regulations that are favorable for them, in short: conflicts of interest can be found everywhere, everyone is depending on everyone, everyone profits from everyone. Bunz could imagine the digital public, the smart mob (a term she borrowed from Deleuze and Guattari), as regulatory body. (I would be interested if she still thinks so when considering filtered timelines, and reactions of governments and social networks as Zeynep Tufekci described them in her latest paper, wrapped up here by Matthew Ingram.) What I also found interesting is Bunz’ claim that journalism’s attention logic is quite obsolete. While it still is focussed on events and breaking news the digital public gets driven by user interests: ‘If a message is important it will find me’, as Bunz describes it, pointing to Chris Anderson’s longtail theory of semantic niches. Recurring topics are not only meaningful as viral communication but also as criteria for truth.” That journalism mostly just applies viral logic to spreading its news and establishing its brand is a move into a questionable direction.

Selfies don’t exist outside of social media, the problem with selfies does.

Let me get back to selfies. Arlt assumes that in a selfie you are free to present yourself just as you like. That is a wrongful assumption. He neglects that the circulation in social networks is part of the selfie, it can’t exist without it. A self portrait is not a selfie. So a selfie always is staged to function in the logic of social networks. When we make a selfie we imply/apply the look and likes of the others. Selfies are pictures that instead of our view on a situation show us in a situation or pose. The can simply use our facial expression as non-verbal comment on a situation we’re in. Self-performed as meme. And the selfie always points back out of social media, back to us, points out that self-performance is not a specific phenomenon of the web. I don’t have to go to the level of the self only existing in its performance, which is pretty complex for most people. Let me try a simpler approach. Etiquette, rules of interaction, broad consensus on appropriate clothing for a variety of occasions, of genders, of body shapes – so many default settings tell us how we have to stage ourselves. At the same time we are expected to perform in a way that doesn’t show that we are performing. Fake it as if we mean it. Get caught while you are styling yourself and you can fall victim to mockery. Not that different from the public’s scorn that media and government leaders had to suffer for the staged picture at the Charlie Hebdo march I mentioned earlier.

Social media makes the tension visible that comes with the slow change of our understanding of truth and identity performance.

Actually we should thank social media for making the tension visible that comes with the slow change of our understanding of truth and authenticity and staging and performance and for sparking discussions. Precisely because this topic is not restricted to social media. Especially in social media though, deliberate lustful self-performance gets criticised. Criticising selfies often is nothing but an effort to claim control over how people depict themselves, and women and youth get the most of that. If the selfie-critics – who mostly take a male perspective – would stand up just as loudly against other omnipresent depictions, let’s say of sexistly objectified women, as they do when it comes to women’s selfies I maybe might take their criticism somehow serious. But most of the time they only call selfish what is not regulated by and for the dominant gaze of society. That just said to mention at least one problematic facet.

Arlt’s text shows how much criticism of selfies is about the fear of losing definatory power when he writes: “Self-marketing as requirement for economic existence and social career: No rental flat, no job, no application, no relationship without ‘selfie’, without approving the production costs of best possible self-representation. But these shows stay under control of the people that are present and can intervene.” (clumsy translation by clumsy me) For him self-marketing/self-performance is fine as long as there is a kind of supervisory body who can intervene. Says Arlt: because with an “unexpectedly interposed question” the “truth” can be revealed. A “truth” that he links to “efficiency” of all things. (I’m struggling how to translate “Leistung” in this context, secretly LOLing at the possibility of using “performance” and having this whole text collapsing over me. Tempting. But “efficiency” seems to carry that special german cultural background best.) As if self-promotion wasn’t about efficiency. How much Arlt believes in an impartial truth, in an authentic identity behind such fake stagings of ourselves, is especially well expressed in one picture he uses: he laments “the public as a tugging between obscuration and exposure”. I would say that this is exactly what truth is: it is an infinite approximation that emerges within a play of a variety of perspectives which shed light on one detail while casting a shadow on another. I find it amusing how much Arlt’s “tugging” reminds me of the picture of a burlesque “fan-dance” Nathan Jurgenson took from Marc Smith to describe how our self-performance on Facebook works. It can be expanded to all kinds of self-performance, maybe even to all kinds of representations: we show sometimes more, sometimes less, show a different side depending on the context, and identity just like truth only emerges in this dance, only in motion, and is ever-changing. I guess Arlt would not find this very sexy.

Journalism does suffer from the belief that for monetary reasons there is no other possibility but following the logic of social networks.

It is not that I am not agreeing with parts of the criticism of journalism and society Arlt puts forth, else I would not have felt provoked into writing this post. The selfie part just does not make sense in the way he applies it. The navelgazing of journalism on social media and how self-PR-aware many journalists post there, only to stage themselves and their news brand – yes, this is worthy of criticism and misses out on how enriching social media could be for journalism. What Arlt’s post falls short of, is consequently thinking the critical points to their roots. There is the very german yearning for a time in which it was still efficiency that counted and not just self-performance for marketing purposes (and I guess he would see any form of social media strategy of journalism as such. And I would not totally be not disagreeing on that). There is the very manly yearning for a time in which people were blindly accepted as gatekeepers; when that one perspective could be sold as objectivity and other perspectives only appeared as pesky readers’ letters. But there is no conclusive tracking of the “compulsory self-promotion” to its causes, the causes just “are”. Instead he sidetracks his anger and fears to new cultural technologies which he does not really want to deal with.

Journalism does suffer from the belief that for monetary reasons there is no other possibility but following the logic of social networks. That is how articles get designed for speed and reach while aspects like depth and societal relevance get – when in doubt – sacrificed because they do not matter in those networks. My guess is that only when all social networks will have become publishers themselves, media will get to know if they gave up more than they won.

Tl;dr: The crisis of journalism results partially from the focus on “advertising, PR and entertainment” and the logic of social networks, somethingsomethingaboutidentiy, but: Please leave Selfies alone.

P.S.: Arlt’s text does not outrank my no. 1 of curious selfie-angst-articles, the weirdest one still is this one about selfies giving kids head lice.

P.S.P.S.: The german version of this is online at Socialmediawatchblog.org

Advertisements

Téju Cole on the Paris attacks and Daniel Wickham’s list of “defenders” of the freedom of press

In his great piece “Unmournable Bodies”, which I wholeheartedly recommend reading, Téju Cole writes:

We may not be able to attend to each outrage in every corner of the world, but we should at least pause to consider how it is that mainstream opinion so quickly decides that certain violent deaths are more meaningful, and more worthy of commemoration, than others. […]

Western societies are not, even now, the paradise of skepticism and rationalism that they believe themselves to be. The West is a variegated space, in which both freedom of thought and tightly regulated speech exist, and in which disavowals of deadly violence happen at the same time as clandestine torture. But, at moments when Western societies consider themselves under attack, the discourse is quickly dominated by an ahistorical fantasy of long-suffering serenity and fortitude in the face of provocation. Yet European and American history are so strongly marked by efforts to control speech that the persecution of rebellious thought must be considered among the foundational buttresses of these societies. Witch burnings, heresy trials, and the untiring work of the Inquisition shaped Europe, and these ideas extended into American history as well and took on American modes, from the breaking of slaves to the censuring of critics of Operation Iraqi Freedom. […]

Rather than posit that the Paris attacks are the moment of crisis in free speech—as so many commentators have done—it is necessary to understand that free speech and other expressions of liberté are already in crisis in Western societies; the crisis was not precipitated by three deranged gunmen.

 

Daniel Wickham has just posted this series of tweets, spicing up the “staunch defenders of the free press attending the solidarity rally in Paris today” with a little context, I’ve made them into a list over here. An excerpt:

danielwickham

 

P.S.: “In case you were wondering how short the gap is between ‘free speech’ and ‘ubiquitous surveillance'”(Deb Cachra):

freespeechvssurveillance

appleWave your hands in the air like you don’t care

wpid-20140918_132851.jpgCash: the procedure of buying in which the exchange of goods for money is horribly visible, the spending of money most painful and the consumer profile least traceable. No wonder cash gets marketed as hard, inconvenient and unsocial. Poor cash. [insert image of person at the discounter checkout spending minutes searching for coins. teh horrorz! lolz]

Then the magic payment evolution fairy made us credit cards: Easier! Plastic is more slippery than paper. Faster. Plastic is everlasting and everywhere. The material itself suggests you can never run out of money. The sexy sliding of the card through the machine vs the awkward fumbling with cash. Paying with credit cards is the ice skating of payment procedures. Elegant and fast, and it scratches only the surface of endless frozen lakes of money. No worries, the ice is thick enough, come on! [insert image of person at the discounter  checkout spending minutes to chose which article to put back because they haven’t get enough cash with them. omfg the shame!]

Along comes applePay, appleWatch: No pulling, no sliding, just wave that *what’s the opposite of monument?* at the till as if it was nothing. The very gesture of careless spending, buying as ephemeral caress. It’s not about making things easier, it’s about disconnecting liberating us from the feeling of spending money, about erasing financial worries from the process of buying. [insert image of person at the Tiffany’s checkout spending minutes to realize that credit cards have never really been faster or easier than cash and also today plastic means pollution. sadface. Curtain.] 

Me, secretly whispering in the dark: Cash is my vinyl.

Cyborg Unplug

cyborgunplug

I consider Cyborg Unplug to be a positive, tactical response to a growing and widely felt social issue, one born from the technologically-enabled abuse of mutual, human respect.
Julian Oliver in Blinders For Google Glass

Cyborg Unplug, the anti-surveillance device by artist Julian Oliver has been widely written about over the last days. Mainstream press mainly reports on it as privacy tech that can block Google Glass. That’s a shame because it’s less and more. On the other side of the ring you got progressive techies that damn Cyborg Unplug for stepping on their rights and infringing their freedom. In his connected blog Tante compares it to pre-crime policing and writes:

This is the digital equivalent to a paramilitary group running through town and harassing people they don’t like. …

If you don’t want to share your wireless, that’s fine. Forcing your ideology on other people isn’t. And don’t hide behind “privacy” or “self-defense” when you mean “I want to be an asshole because fuck you and what you want.”

I find this a disturbingly aggressive “public’s public” take on a device that does hardly more than a technical version of asking you to stop. Let’s look a tad closer at what got this anger boiling: Cyborg Unplug is a router that is able to disrupt the connection to your wifi for not only Glass but also similar devices that can be abused for unwanted surveillance. It does not block the actual filming. If someone has recorded something they can simply connect to a different wifi and upload it. In my eyes that makes Cyborg Unplug neither the effective Glass blocker the Glass haters report on nor the evil pre-crime tool that tante tries to portray it as. Both opinions show how the tech realms often are not the best place to review smart devices that pose social questions. After all the average white tech guy’s horizon for that seems to end at making it an issue of social acceptance of his latest smart tech toy and loudly protecting its unlimited use against the issues of those who are socially more vulnerable by material that gets filmed or gathered and/or published without their consent.

When I first read about Cyborg Unplug I thought: I would. I host a little queer club night which is exactly the kind of semi-public space you wouldn’t want someone to Glass-film without asking and make it public on some social network. To give you just one obvious reason: There might be people who have not come out yet. Another is the “dance like no one is filming” part: It’s supposed to be a safe party space in which people can let go and letting go acquires a kind of unspoken mutual agreement in a “what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas” style. One of the reasons why I love small underground club nights of the left is that most of the time that consensus automatically is in place and people party hard but are respectful about whom and what they snap and publish pictures of. A tool like Glass is a game-changer though, even in such places. After all it takes away the inhibition of being seen while filming someone – that makes for one social acceptance border less to cross. It makes filming without consent so much easier.

cyborgunplug-a

And looming larger than any app or platform is Google Glass, a technology that fully embraces and instantiates the street-photographer ethic, prioritizing the wearers entitled right to see. “The key experiential question of Google Glass isn’t what it’s like to wear them, it’s what it’s like to be around someone else who’s wearing them,” Mark Hurst, CEO of the consultancy Creative Good, wrote a year ago. Glass wants to place the wearer behind a portable two-way mirror: On one side, the viewer sees all without being seen, while the objects of Glass’s gaze can’t tell how their image is being processed. More than just a new way of seeing, Glass also enforces a new way of being seen.”
Nathan Jurgenson, Permission Slips

A tool like Cyborg Unplug puts up a permeable substitute border for the one Google Glass broke down. It’s not exactly like smashing someone’s Glasses, it’s polite. It’s not technophobic but a tech lover’s reminder of respect of privacy, and privacy is about consent. The makers of devices like Google Glass don’t mind privacy, else they could have long gotten active about this. They could have integrated a pop up that, whenever your camera lense face-detects that you are about to film a person, asks: “Do you have their consent?” It’s not that they don’t know how to place annoying pop up reminders wherever it is good for them.

With our digital devices becoming more and more mobile the ethics of respecting someone’s privacy have long gone past being a question that can be answered geographically, like “at home is private, everywhere else is public”. As the digital network surrounds us with every step we take “at home” can be public (e.g. if you do a video blog from there) while a geographically public space can be a digitally private space (e.g. if you share intimate texts with someone while standing in the middle of a crowd). Privacy ethics have become a nomadic question, an omnipresent issue so complicated that most of us just shrug it off. Social implications often only get tested by pushing the social limits of a new gadget. The discussion of possible effects always lags behind. Many people don’t realize what it means that anything you do can be taken out of the frame of a certain time and place and be published anywhere and archived and dragged out forever. This potential decontextualisation still often is met with the standard victim-blaming “simply don’t do anything in public, that you don’t want to be seen doing” or with the post-Snowden data apathy. Not to mention the luddist “smart tech depraves our youth and steals our jobs!” credo. Me, especially as I love so much about the possibilities digitally enriched life has brought I can not and will not ignore its often negative implications, especially for those living outside the norm. That’s why I am happy about little tripping stone tools like Julian Oliver’s router.
May Cyborg Unplug hit right in the face of the privacy ¯\_(ツ)_/¯s the NSA leaks have summoned.

P.S.: <3 cyborgs, hate borgs.

“Discreetly” up yours.

nails“We are Undercover Colors and we are the first fashion company empowering women to prevent sexual assault.”
 
Undercover colors is a product that a team of four young men wants to throw on the market: Nail polish that changes its colour after contact with date rape drugs like Rohypnol or Xanax. The idea is that you stir your drink “discreetly” with your finger to test it. And of course on first look it sounds nice: You don’t need to spoil your date by showing distrust, like when you pull out a testing strip in front of his eyes. I love the CSI mobile chemistry lab science gadget part of the idea. They are good in marketing. They have learned from similar products’ promo mistakes. They use the right words: “Choice”, “discretion”, “empower”, “shift the fear from the victims to the perpetrators”.
 
“Some people think little girls should be seen and not heard but I say oh bondage, up yours!”
 

 
I guess you already feel the huge BUT coming up: While this nail polish sure might be handy, this doesn’t shift the fear. It’s just one more way to keep the problem restricted to women. I’m tired of things women should do discreetly. We are to bleed discreetly, we are to shave discreetly, we are to keep our anger about sexism discreetly, oh, we are so well trained to not spoil men’s fun with our problems (see that “our” melting from acidic sarcasm? Not nice, I know. But, hey, I empower you to save it by simply not treating human’s problems like women’s problems). How they market it, this nail polish is just one more way to keep our fear secret. Thank you, men, for giving us a “choice” to find out or not if some guy might rape us. Discreetly. Thank you for “empowering” us with nail polish. I think the marketing here is worse than the product. It plays with feminist language, takes it out of its context and twists it into, well, I guess Poly Styrene would say: into bondage.
 
If i was to come up with a fashionable date rape drug testing tool, it would be something clearly visible, something flashy, it would be the new cool to stir your drink with it. In fact every edgy club and every cozy pub would serve all drinks with it, no matter to what gender it’s served. It would be a glow-in-the-dark stick, sonic screwdriver-style, that goes off blinking and buzzing madly when it senses date rape drugs, shooting glitter cascades so that everyone around notices it. And it would automatically pour a permanently sticky neon glow-in-the-dark colour in your drink – (you know, like that stuff that cops in tv crime shows use to mark ransom money) – so you could pour it all over the person who put that crap in your drink and even if he ran away it would be visible to everybody. And the colour would itch like hell. That would be nice. And empowering. I clearly should have become a scientist designer person.

One artist’s good-bye to Soundcloud (and facebook)

I have deleted my facebook artist page and my soundcloud site for good today. Both contributed to make me feel my art as something valuable only by numbers, clicks, likes and forcing you to promote your stuff – all in all: it turns it into a bland quantifiable product. For me music is more about community than about popularity and cashing in. Those channels are part of what has made me turn more and more quiet. This is not the way music works for me. It makes me sick, tbh.

Why today? This article was the final drop that made me do what I had thought of long before: “Soundcloud Boldly Releases New App, Allows Universal to Flag Your Account, and Quietly Announces Data Mining, All in One Month“.

That’s what I have (hastily) typed into the ‘tell us why you are leaving’ box:

“Because soundcloud is slowly turning into everything I have ever hated about music platforms and from which it originally was a nice harbour. Soundcloud only became that big because of a lot of small artists and djs who used it and spread the word. They did so because Soundcloud stood for a certain kind of freedom and interaction. Those are the ones driven away by new policies that are enforced now that Soundcloud has become big enough to cash in from the big players and by a mass market that is only interested in widening the gap between bigger artists/producers and listeners/fans – smaller artists who don’t bring money are no longer welcome but get threats of acccount suspension for the very same kind of dj mixes and remixes which Soundcloud still welcomes from bigger names/labels. Music industry has managed to kill the next platform. Goodbye for good.”

Queer Ally For The Straight GQ – My problem with the #Mundpropaganda campaign

cats

A few days ago german GQ has started a campaign called ‘Mundpropaganda‘ (Word-Of-Mouth). It’s a photo series of straight celebrity men kissing. Lots of my gay friends seem to like it. Some because sexy. Some because yay, allies. As ever so often I’ll be the spoilsport. Let me pick a sentence from the GQ editorial to explain why:

“Heteros kissing each other – this kind of courage is absolutely male.”

This sentence should make it clear: It is not a GQ welcome to gays but it is about fake same-sex kisses as heroic act of heterosexual men. Maybe the intention was different, maybe GQ just aims to get the gays without giving actual gay sexuality a room or having a tearjerking ‘social conflict’ section for the christmas edition. I don’t care about the intention, to me the result matters.

To make it a main statement of the campaign that it takes courage for men to kiss each other is the ‘no homo’ of this campaign. At first glance the pictures might look erotic but the surrounding texts and the ‘making of’ clip have the clear message: “It’s really hard for us to do this but we overcame our disgust to show solidarity with you – aren’t we great?”. It is so explicitly stressed that the kisses are fake that it robs those kisses of any shadow of gay desire. The interviews are there for the kissers to state how hard it was for them and that they like kissing women much better. The ‘making of’ clip shows some of them breaking down in laughter when trying to kiss, etc. Parts of this are dangerously close of even redemonising gay sexuality as disgusting and unnatural, no matter if aiming for the opposite. Surrounded by all this talk about how they are fake the actual pictures become a deeply desexualised bro-thing. Thus the kiss does more for reaffirming the kissers’ heterosexuality than actually being the homoerotic protest they want it to be. (For more on this effect I recommend reading “Bro-Porn: Heterosexualizing Straight Men’s Anti-Homophobia”, by Tristan Bridges and C.J. Pascoe)

I don’t know if GQ got the idea from the actually existing creative protest form of queer kiss-ins. Those often include straight allies. It’s not that same-sex straight people making out with each other to protest homophobia is always a bad idea but if they use instant markers to assure they are not really gay it’s a clear sign that it disrespects and sometimes even ridicules queer desire. Also it might be counterproductive to do it for queer people’s applause.

bro-hug

In an effort to not criticise it but instead be a bit of a queer ally for the straight GQ: What would this campaign have had to look like to please me? At best it would have been queer-inclusive sexy kissing, and with ‘queer’ I mean all kinds of gender and sexual orientations. So people look at it and can’t tell a difference, they just see kissing as a sweet sensual erotic act between all kinds of human beings. If you need to limit it to ‘fake kissing’ then why not put a lesbian woman kissing a gay man next to those straight guys. If you don’t want to include women because it’s a ‘gentlemen’s’ magazine, why not have at least gay and trans* men mixed in with the straight guys. The absolute minimum though would have been: If only including straight men DO NOT mark them as such. To speak in celebrities: It’s a bit like the difference between George Clooney and Jake Gyllenhaal. Both often were asked if they are gay. Gyllenhaal makes it very clear that he is not and adds some ‘tits and ass’ remark, in a not so nice ‘real straight men are sexist’ proof-move. Clooney on the other hand says he would never say that he is not gay because that would mark being gay as something he feels the need to distance himself from and that would be disrespectful to gay people.
In this (more-than-slightly-flawed but adding-Clooney-to-a-blogpost-does-no-harm) comparison the ‘Mundpropaganda’ campaign obviously is much further on the Gyllenhaal side of things.

mackle-gentrification
GENTRIFICATION IS REAL via sophfierce twitter

Different dude, similar thing: Macklemore. I only really realised how much I despised Macklemore’s big hit ‘Same Love’ when I heard Angel Haze taking it over:

Her version (here are the lyrics) is so much more empowering. Some efforts of being a straight ally leave no room for actual gay people being heard. They condemn queers to the position of desiring those straights from afar and/or applauding them for – well, in the GQ case, if you think about it: actually for publicly reestablishing straight male disgust of male same-sex kissing.

In “Why We Should Care How Straight Allies Benefit From Their Support” Tristan Bridges and C.J. Pascoe ask:

How much recognition does Macklemore deserve for coming out as a straight ally? (And he lets us know that he’s straight, mentioning early in the song that he’s ‘loved girls since before pre-k,’ and his other hit songs feature a fantastic array of misogynistic lyrics.)

They compare the situation to the ‘economy of gratitude’ often taking place within straight couples:

In her research, (Ariel) Hochschild found that husbands were often given more gratitude for their participation in work around the house than were women. That is, men were subtly—but systematically—“over-thanked” for their housework in ways that their wives were not. This simple fact, argued Hochschild, was much more consequential than it might at first appear. It was an indirect way of symbolically informing men that they were engaging in work not required of them. In fact, we have a whole language of discussing men’s participation in housework that supports Hochschild’s findings. When men participate, we say they’re “helping out,” “pitching in,” or “babysitting.” These terms acknowledge their work, but simultaneously frame their participation as “extra”—as more of a thoughtful gesture than an obligation.

We would suggest that something similar is happening with straight male allies. We all participate in defining the work of equality as not their work by over-thanking them, just like housework is defined as not men’s work. By lauding recognition on these “brave” men in positions of power (racial, sexual, gendered, and in some cases classed) we are saying to them and to each other: This is not your job, so thank you for “helping out” with equality.

Tristan Bridges and C.J. Pascoe warning conclusion from this is:

“Let’s not make anti-homophobia the equivalent of “babysitting” for dads and activism a de facto ‘second shift’ for marginalized folks. The movement toward equality should be everyone’s responsibility and mandate.”

Another point that struck me about that campaign is that by trying to cater to a male gay community GQ adds to an already existing gap between gays and lesbians. In the world of the GQ, a men’s mag that stands for a stylish brand of misogyny that reminds me a bit of old school James Bond, straight women almost exclusively exist as the fuckable other and lesbian women basically don’t exist at all.

I followed a twitter link to another GQ story that has since been taken down: A story in which a man tells us that he was the kind of type who could get every woman so to as a new challenge he set out to turn a lesbian straight. In which he apparently succeeded four pages later. (I only skip-read through the first page and it was every inch as you’d expect it: Misogynist, stereotyping lesbians’ looks, claiming that lesbians are straight women who have not yet been fucked by Mr. Right.) When the first signs of a soc media shitstorm showed GQ took down this story, saying it was from a few years ago and no longer represented their attitude. By now they even have even put an interview with the lesbian activist Yelena Goltsman online. PR disaster prevented? Apparently.

Of course this GQ campaign is not in the first place an advertisement for the magazine but the passages are fluent these days and I see parallels to a certain type of advertising that uses social criticism. Take the #whipit Pantene ad that deals with gender-based double standards.

The message is: “Don’t let labels hold you back. Be strong and shine.” As long as that doesn’t hint at the kind of ‘shining’ that includes women running Jack-Nicholson-style with an axe after the labels that hold them back I can’t really see how shining is supposed to help against double standards. One of the comments on youtube or facebook for the #whipit ad was: “Sell product by convincing your target market that you are more invested in contributing to emotionally charged, globally relevant (…) issues than you are in advertising your product.”

Or take the ‘Beauty Sketches’ Dove ad, a real tearjerker:

Mind that Dove just as well as Axe are part of Unilever which is quite a nice concept: Destroy women’s egos with Axe ads and rebuild them with Dove ads. I guess it’s pretty easy to spot how the social criticism aspect is being emptied of meaning if not even ridiculed by the context.
Same goes for ‘Mundpropaganda’. Think of it as a set-to-go-viral campaign to sell a men’s lifestyle magazine to gay-rights-supportive men and gay men without losing the conservative straight men of their readership. When they write about homophobia they manage to somehow write women out of this by simply not talking about them. They talk about homophobia as if it wasn’t about women and TI* people, too. Also let’s not forget that it is the kind of magazine that caters to a certain type of men: Masculine, self-assured, successful, stylish. Not-so masculine looking, behaving, thinking men or trans*-men are not part of the GQ world. It is about as unqueer as it gets: One-dimensional straight masculinity.

This echoes with some gay men, especially as the negative stigmatising as ‘gay’ is connected to femininity. ‘Gay’ as a slur can be exchanged with ‘like a girl’. The stereotype of the effeminate gay is something many gay men fear to be compared with and maybe the gym-obsessed muscle gay scene as well as the conservative gays are but a reaction to this kind of homophobia. Queer people come in all shapes and sizes and colours and from all classes. That was and should stay a strength of the queer community. Campaigns like ‘Mundpropaganda’ can widen the gap between successful white males and the rest of the LGBTI* community. As Mykki Blanco said: “Homophobia comes from misogyny, the hatred of women. If you can’t see the connection between homophobia and the hatred of women, you’re blind.”
So, however-male-defined brethren, if GQ says “this kind of courage is absolutely male” please don’t drool over those straight guys but rather say: “Suck my left one! Every queer-feminist lady out there has shown more courage and has contributed more to my gay rights than your self-congratulary straight-exclusive campaign!”