FINAL UPDATE: APRIL 3, 2011 Editor Stephen Whitworth here. I’m putting up a last note because there’s still twitches of activity around this topic, both in the follow-up post and in my e-mail inbox. Since this topic matters a lot, I’m leaving this post in place until the end of time (or at least this website). But I want to add some context and address the two issues, one big, one small, that make this blog post matter.
If you haven’t read the post yet, go do that so you’ll know what the hell I’m talking about. It starts after the jump.
(Whistles and waits)
First, the big issue: it’s important to understand the reason that people — like this post’s author, Aidan — react strongly and adversely to an arguably awful, definitely ill-considered but almost certainly not maliciously-intended semi-joke about k.d. lang’s appearance. The reason, in a nutshell, is it’s salt on a raw wound.
There has been spectacular progress in LGBT rights in Canada in the last decade and it’s worth celebrating–but even so, this is a country that has treated gays and lesbians shabbily for most of its history (Canada is of course not unique in that). Some examples: marriage between same-sex couples has only been legal nationally since 2005. Pride Week proclamations are taken for granted now but even 10 years ago they were highly controversial and often denied. Homophobic beliefs are still considered legitimate by members of this very community. I don’t go to any churches but I’ll bet a nickel there’s still more-than-occasional condemnations of homosexuality in more than a few congregations out there (and as always, credit to those churches, mosques, synagogues and other faith organizations that are welcoming and enlightened).
The federal government that just dissolved also seemed very homophobic — full of politicians (more than a few from Saskatchewan, sadly) who have spent careers condemning same-sex rights. Off the top of my head, incidents like the federal immigration minister removing GLBT references from Canada’s citizenship guide (which was only recently somewhat reversed), and Pride parades and events having their funding whacked, are examples of a robust homophobic culture within the Conservative party.
In part because of stuff like this, gay and lesbian Canadians still face violence, hatred and bullying. I have a friend who was verbally assaulted and physically threatened within the last couple of weeks. It’s not nice out there sometimes.
In this context, when a lesbian icon like the amazing k.d. lang is (again, almost certainly not maliciously) said to look like Charlie Sheen, an apparent lunatic, people with sensitivity to GLBT issues are likely to offer blunt, harsh criticism.
That’s what Aidan’s post is about. As our culture becomes less sick, reactions will be mellow and the world will be a better place where we can make fun of all people’s looks again.
Second, the low point of the comment thread following this post was, to me, the enthusiasm some commentators had for complaining to the CRTC about the anchorman and possibly sportscaster’s gaffe. When you’re dealing with media people saying something idiotic — an inevitability, really, as I can attest from experience — the first course of action should be directed to the person who said something disagreeable and maybe, if it’s felt the situation warrants it or the initial contact doesn’t produce an appropriate response, that person’s superiors. Tattling to the CRTC should be reserved for chronic noxious behaviour that persists despite multiple complaints. Don’t jump the gun. Employ proportional response.
That said, I understand why people were upset and wanted to go to the CRTC immediately. But I regret I didn’t jump in to suggest direct engagement with poor Mr. Joehnck early in the comments. Direct communication is always more effective.
In the end, Manfred Joehnck didn’t create this still-homophobic culture. He arguably, unintentionally
perpetrated perpetuated it.
You know who I blame? Charlie Sheen. That fucker.
And now back to Aidan’s infamous post.
UPDATE: Manfred Joehnck apologized on Friday’s News At Six broadcast for the remarks made. There is a follow-up post on the dog blog with a link to a video of the apology
Today the Regina Folk Festival announced its lineup, with its usual mix of the well-known and the obscure. And when I say ‘obscure,’ I mean ‘awesome musicians you’ve never heard of who will blow your mind’. Their headline act for 2011 is k.d. lang, who isn’t exactly big news these days but is something of an institution and a great performer.
lang has been making great music since the 1980s. She’s gone from a country novelty to one of Canada’s premiere singers – a part of the canon, if you will. You’d think the days of snickering over lang’s appearance and out-there sexuality would be long behind us.
But if you watched tonight’s CTV news, you’d realize that the last 20 years doesn’t count for much. It doesn’t matter if you’ve clawed your way to the top through sheer determination and talent; if you’re a woman who doesn’t fit with the beauty standards of our age, then you can still be made an object of fun.
I was initially impressed when Manfred Joehnck announced that that lang was headlining the Regina Folk Festival this year, because hey – as far as I’m concerned, local arts coverage is an axiomatic good. But then Joehnck and the sportscaster started to snicker over lang, egging each other on with bits of awkward silence while the other anchors chuckled in what I hope was mortal embarrassment. Finally the sportscaster brought out the joke he’d been itching to spill, which was something on the order of lang looking like Charlie Sheen on a meth bender. (UPDATE: A commenter claims that the wording of the Charlie Sheen comment was more like “Charlie Sheen on a good day”).
Oh, I get it – she looks like a man! Hah! And if we didn’t get it, we were treated to footage of her from the ’80s, when she was rocking the crewcut-and-gingham-blouse look.
k.d. lang: guilty of unfuckability by a sportscaster.
If I wanted to be unprofessional, I could unpeel a few quips about the CTV anchors and slap those down. But I will say that if I were k.d. lang and I caught that bit of improv, I’d wonder why the hell I’d bother playing in a town like Regina. And if I were a gay woman, or any woman who chose not to look like some approximation of Pamela Anderson, I’d wonder why I was watching CTV.
UPDATE: A couple of readers wanted to read a transcript or view a clip before they made up their minds. So I scooted over to ctv.regina.ca, where they carry clips from news broadcasts. Unfortunately, the clip of last night’s News at Six cuts off at the sports section. Looks like I’ll have to get a transcript from the station.
Also, I sent a tweet to @CTVregina expressing my displeasure. Their response: “They weren’t commenting on her looks, rather how old the footage was. We have nothing but respect for KD!” Which I would like to believe, except that I’ve never heard of footage being described as resembling “Charlie Sheen on a meth bender”. That must be some pretty crazy old footage.
I responded to their tweet with appropriate disbelief. So far I haven’t heard back from them.
UPDATIER: One of the commenters who complained to the CRTC has already received a response from Manfred Joehnck. I’m reproducing it here:
Anonymous says: I got an apology after writing into the CRTC? I, personally, didn’t need one with the exception of being completely embarassed for the station, the city and the province. Hopefully there is an apology to those who deserve it…
“Thank you for taking the time to write. I appreciate your comments and feel you are well within your rights to make them.
My comments were out of line and not well thought out. In no way was I attempting to denigrate KD Lang because of her sexual orientation. I realize now, that is how the comments have been interpreted by many and for that I am sorry.
I can not justify what I said, but I do regret saying it. We will be taking some sort of remedial action.