What Amazon’s “Glitch” Says About American Pop Culture


This article was co-written by Sarah Warn, Editor in Chief of AfterEllen.com, and Michael Jensen, Editor in Chief of AfterElton.com.

Bisexual surgeon Callie sleeps with a male friend and her girlfriend on the same day on Grey’s Anatomy (ABC), and House, M.D. (Fox) promotes a racy lesbian sex scene for October sweeps (the only time the bisexual character is ever actually involved with women on the show).

Fox’s new animated show Sit Down, Shut Up includes a “flamboyant” bisexual male drama teacher who is obsessed with sex, and Comedy Central’s new series Krod Mandoon and the Flaming Sword of Fire features a gay guy eager to have sex with 300 men in a row. Saturday Night Live regularly falls back on gay panic humor — and (usually) not in a good way.

One of the biggest pop songs of the last year is about a girl who kissed a girl and liked it, even though she’s not gay or bisexual and it’s “not what good girls do.”

Movies aimed at a young, heterosexual audience routinely feature characters or conversations that portray gay men and women as oversexed and predatory (Lesbian Vampire Killers, Meet the Spartans, Harold & Kumar: Escape From Guantanamo Bay).

Meanwhile, movies such as Milk, Brokeback Mountain or The World Unseen which portray gay and bisexual men and women as well-rounded human beings, are few and far between at the local cineplex.

With so many media images working together to over-emphasize the sexual aspect of homosexuality and bisexuality, should we be surprised someone at Amazon.com apparently put gay and lesbian books like Heather Has Two Mommies and John Barrowman’s biography Anything Goes in the “adult” (i.e. explicit sexuality) category?

Amazon.com is calling this a “glitch with our sales rank feature that is currently being fixed.” Even if that turns out to be true, this kind of glitch is inevitable in a culture which relentlessly oversexualizes gay, lesbian and bisexual people.

Amazon isn’t alone in making this correlation. Internet filters at schools and libraries, ISPs, even whole countries routinely block gay and lesbian sites, even when they contain no “adult” content. YouTube requires users to be over 18 to view a video of an innocuous same-sex kiss, but not an opposite-sex one.

Anti-gay rights activists have frequently cited pedophilia and bestiality as inevitable outcomes of legalizing same-sex marriage, because they’re all deviant forms of sexuality — and of course, same-sex marriage is all about sex (unlike heterosexual marriage, which is all about love).

This message is so pervasive in American pop culture that many people aren’t even aware they’ve absorbed it — or that they’re guilty of promoting it, as AfterElton.com’s exchange with Disney Channel Entertainment president Gary Marsh last July illustrates:

Michael Jensen: [Disney’s] ABC is on top as far as gay characters. You said that there have been some gay characters on the Disney channel that have been open to interpretation [as to being gay]. Is that entirely fair that gay viewers would have to look at characters that they have to interpret as gay?

Gary Marsh: Well, just to speak sort of in the 30,000-foot level first, we don’t deal with sexuality on the Disney channel in general. That’s just sort of not where our audience’s heads at. They’re really a pre-sexual audience, for the most part, and so sexuality is not how we look to tell any kind of stories.

Michael Jensen: But in High School Musical, there are boyfriends and girlfriends.

Gary Marsh: Yeah, but that’s not about sex.

Michael Jensen
: But why is being gay about sex? 

Gary Marsh: I guess what I’m asking is, how do you identify the gay persona? I’m saying, the audience sees what they see in a character.

According to American pop culture, the answer to Marsh’s question “how do you identify the gay persona” is through sex.

Just for the record, sex is fine, and so is portraying queer people as sexual beings. The problem is that we are too often defined in music, film, and TV solely by our sexuality, while heterosexual men and women are portrayed in a much wider variety of ways.

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