This past week, the gay community had a lot to cheer about with regards to their favorite stars.
High off the season’s ecstatic award show recognition for Glee, Jane Lynch, the actress behind fiery cheerleading coach Sue Sylvester on Fox’s hit show, announced that she and her partner set a date to be married in May. A nod to her T.V. cast and soon-to-be life partner, Lynch noted, “It’s good to be on the winning team.”
Also, in a transformative moment that took place on the Grammy stage Sunday, the Recording Academy topped the shock value from even one of its most controversial on stage collaborations — Eminem and Elton John in 2001 — by pairing up the famously gay crooner with a new icon, Lady Gaga. With crystallized sunglasses, burning stage sets and pristine vocals in full effect, the performance was as much of a deep political and social statement as it was a spectacle. Recently, Gaga has been heavily active in the movement for gay rights as the group’s glittery poster child.
But while the current stereotype classifies most people in Hollywood and the entertainment industry to be nothing but raging liberals, that is realistically not the case. While the gay community might have taken two steps forward this week, they also took one giant step back after being hit by the business with a huge, bold-faced reality: rejection.
Vying for a coveted 30-second commercial spot during this year’s Super Bowl festivities, gay dating website, ManCrunch.com, was denied a space by CBS. The network offered the swift explanation that the site’s commercial — which featured two men in sports jerseys, a shared potato chip bowl and a steamy couch make-out session — simply didn’t fall “within its broadcast standards for Super Bowl Sunday.”
With the network’s broadcast standards not clearly outlined, some argued the rationale was instead a simple matter of discrimination. In addition to the ad from ManCrunch.com, another gay-themed commercial was also rejected.
To add to CBS’s defense, the network claimed that the rejection was also based partly on financial concerns, expressing the fact that its sales department couldn’t verify ManCrunch.com’s credit status, a shaky situation for something that comes with a hefty $2.5 million dollar price tag. With over $40 million dollars raised from investors however, the dating site defends that they could not only have made the payment easily, but they could have also paid CBS in cash.
Nice try guys.
Regardless of monetary complications, it can still be argued that over the years the network’s standard for commercials is highly inconsistent and plays to a double standard.
In 2003, a racy Miller Lite commercial was allowed to air on Super Bowl Sunday featuring two attractive, voluptuous women wrestling in a water fountain, clothes being ripped off until both were in their underwear as they argued over which was the better quality of the beer brand: “great taste” or “less filling.” Though that year’s Super Bowl was broadcast on ABC, it’s a fair bet that guy-on-guy fountain wrestling wouldn’t have had the same appeal on either station.
Clearly, the conflict seems to be content-based, and CBS’s sketchy response is the network’s roundabout way of admitting this. But though it may seem blatantly discriminatory, CBS does have every right to freely pick and choose whatever content they deem appropriate for its broadcast or, perhaps more fittingly, what they think will better please audiences at home and pay the bills.
With behind-the-scenes dealings such as this, Hollywood’s perceived spirit of progressive liberalism and open acceptance to diversity (racial, sexual and otherwise) almost seems like a myth. In fact, in this case upholding fairness and equality undoubtedly comes second to CBS’s need to drive a bottom line.
Given all the recent hoopla and frenzy over controversial gay acts on television, including Adam Lambert’s primetime American Music Awards performance, CBS executives might have very well made an informed decision not based on their own personal opinions, but what they felt their audience would want to see during commercials.
But for an event as highly publicized as the Super Bowl, the network missed a chance to change perceptions and provide 30 seconds of face time to millions of Americans who might still be uncomfortable with gay rights. A simple commercial could have been the industry’s transformational step to making the topic less taboo.
It is no small wonder that, in the past, the sports world and gay culture haven’t widely crossed paths. It could have been CBS’s crowning moment to change that.
Christopher Agutos is a junior majoring in public relations and poltical science. His column “Pop Life” runs Tuesdays.