Superbowl Ads: Give Us 30 Seconds and We Will Give You Warped Messages About Sex, Gender, and Relationships
I am not a football fan; I couldn’t even follow the game on TV until the advent of the computer-generated yellow line. (Oh, so that’s what they’re trying to do!) Still, I love the Super Bowl. I like the tradition of something that happens at the same time every year. I like the food (we always make chili and have recently added potato skins). Mostly, I like the thought that a significant number of people who I don’t know are doing the exact same thing that I’m doing at the same time–”event television” is rare in this age of DVRs.
Like many of those people, I pay more attention to the commercials than the game itself. In fact, I think it’s the only time I ever really watch commercials (as I mentioned, it is the age of the DVR). The problem is that as a sex educator and commentator, watching them kind of feels like work. I want to just enjoy them for the humor and the cleverness and marvel at how people came up with that idea, or alternatively complain about their lameness and failure to live up to the hype. But I spend so much of the rest of the year commenting on the warped messages society gives young people and adults about sex, gender, and relationships that each year, without fail, the Super Bowl ads serve up a microcosm of all these messages. For four million a pop, advertisers jam generations worth of bad messages into 30 seconds bits.
So as much as I want to sit back, acknowledge that advertisers have a product to sell (and that sex educators — with our insistence on appropriate messaging — would make lousy ad execs), I can’t. Like so many of my colleagues, I feel compelled to comment. The ads that set the sex education world all-a-twitter this year are pretty obvious and I am not the first to call them out.
Have We Evolved in Our View of Transgender People?
Like most people, the sum of who I am is much more than my individual traits. However, there is one fact about me that puts me way outside the mainstream. It’s that I’m a tran-sgender woman.
Last week, The Wall Street Journal reported that Massachusetts judge ordered prison officials to provide sex-reassignment surgery for a murder convict.
The piece started by talking about a transgender woman who used to meet in dark parking lots with other transgender people for support. “How things have changed since then for transgender men and women in America, who have made great strides in recent years toward reaching their ultimate goal: to be treated like ordinary people,” the piece noted.
I agree, strides have been made. But “great” grossly overstates the reality. Discrimination and misunderstanding is still rampant. I frequently feel that I’m assigned to a class of sub-humans. Even the judge who ordered the surgery said it was to treat “gender-identity disorder.” As a society, we still view transgender people as being against the natural order and place the blame on our minds, rather than where the real problem is: our incorrect bodies.
Why It’s Terribly Wrong For Gawker To Offer Money for Tips on Who Transmitted HIV to Magic Johnson
Cross-posted with permission from Concurring Opinions.
On Wednesday evening, popular blog Gawker.com aired a post offering a cash reward for the identity of the individual who transmitted HIV to Magic Johnson. It was particularly interested in confirming decades-old rumors that Johnson contracted HIV from sex with a man or transgender woman. The post came on the heels of a Frontline report on HIV in the African American community. Gawker editor A.J. Daulerio faulted Frontline for allowing Johnson to reveal only that he contracted HIV from having sex with numerous women. “[I]t seems odd,” Daulerio wrote, “that there’s been no follow-up about which of these women was HIV positive.”
One can imagine a world in which Johnson’s potential sexual activities might be legitimately newsworthy — say he denied that HIV was sexually transmitted or he waged a public campaign against the LGTBQ community. But that’s not the case. What will generate page hits for Gawker in this case is the public naming and shaming of an individual who is HIV positive and the public humiliation of Johnson if he engaged in something other than straight sex. Daulerio’s post coyly capitalizes on the stigma of HIV and the stigma of non-straight sex. In doing so, it plays to the very prejudices that keep people in the closet about their sexual orientation and their HIV status.
The post reflects more serious problems with how we as a society approach HIV. Sexual transmission of HIV provokes a mix of fear, disgust, anger, and fascination. We want information, but mainly information that give us someone to point to and say, “I’m not like that. That couldn’t happen to me.” As a result, even today people living with HIV are subject to discrimination and abuse, ostracized from their communities and families, and — as the Gawker post aptly demonstrates — derided in the press.