Dr. Dustin Kidd and I met at the Starbucks at 12th and Walnut to discuss his latest book, Pop Culture Freaks. I asked him here to learn more about the work, which, while examining pop culture from an all-inclusive angle, includes a chapter specifically dedicated to LGBT representation in the media.
In “Not That There’s Anything Wrong With That: Sexuality Perspectives," Kidd profiles the case of Jamey Rodemeyer, a 14-year-old bisexual teen who committed suicide not long after contributing a video to the “It Gets Better Project." (Rodemeyer’s death became national news after Lady Gaga famously memorialized him at a Las Vegas concert.)
Kidd suggests that, despite concepts like “It Gets Better,” if media fails to represent a positive picture of gay individuals, society will continue to embrace a homophobic culture, similar to the environment that lead to Rodemeyer’s bullying. In Pop Culture Freaks, Kidd writes, “The world of popular culture […] provided Jamey’s tormentors with the tools they needed to keep rebuilding [a] closet, if not around Jamey, then around their own notions of sexuality.”
“Culture is directly to blame,” says Kidd. “Sure, Joe Biden might reference Will and Grace in his rationale behind supporting same-sex marriage, but the media is lagging behind.”
Part of this problem is the clear gender split in gay or queer “icons” in pop culture, says Kidd. Many female, gay-adored stars, such as Madonna or the aforementioned Gaga, fit easily into mainstream culture. However, that’s not the case for males. “Gay men get pegged into a ‘gay category,’” Kidd says. “Think about Adam Lambert. He’s essentially been shuffled to the side.” In his book, Kidd writes, “Gay musicians continue to turn away from mainstream music to find accepting and eager audiences.”
How does this apply to our community on a micro-level? Could these sociological theories be applied to understand some of the, well, Mean Girls behavior between gay men? His answer: There’s absolutely internalized homophobia and racism among gays.
“We see it within dating profiles when people say things like, ‘No Blacks. No Asians,’” he says. He also brings up the degrading use of sexist language among gay men. In his book, Kidd discusses a study where gay, lesbian, and heterosexual respondents were shown 13 minutes of clips from Will and Grace, where gay male characters insulted each other with feminine language. The result? “Gay, lesbian, and straight respondents indicated that gay men frequently feminize each other in everyday life, and therefore felt that this plot element was a necessary reflection of the social world." In other words, the viewers thought Will and Grace imitated life.
Kidd considers himself lucky to have made a living studying and writing about culture — this is his 1oth year at Temple, and he has some exciting work in the future, including the development of a workshop on how he used social media to promote Pop Culture Freaks. To get even more insight into Kidd’s analysis of culture, follow him on Twitter @PopCultureFreak and visit his Tumblr.