In this weekly feature, I’ll give a brief review of the week’s stories that represent a step forward in social consciousness in pop culture, and the ones that represent a step back.
Progress: Google uses its homepage, arguably the most single most visible space on the planet, to speak out for fair treatment of LGBT+ athletes at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics. Quoting the passage of the Olympic Charter that bans discrimination of any kind and defines sport as a human right (placed under a redesigned logo that integrates the iconic rainbow flag with winter sports imagery), the global search engine sent a strong and unaggressive message to hundreds of millions of users.
Regress: (Alleged) murderer George Zimmerman has been approached by boxing promoter Damon Feldman to participate in an installment of pay-per-view “sports” series Celebrity Boxing, which places individuals of minor renown in the ring for fairly creative battles. Zimmerman’s scheduled appearance on the show presents a deeply troubling look at the changing definition of “celebrity:” that a man who is (despite his acquittal) almost universally believed to have killed an innocent and unarmed minor based on the boy’s race is going to be rewarded by participation in a highly-publicized piece of entertainment (especially one that is shrouded in a culture of “acceptable violence” is disturbing, infuriating, and unconscionable. Zimmerman’s opponent, pending confirmation, will be rapper DMX, who has also been tried for violent crimes.
Progress: Bill Nye “the Science Guy,” who has gained newfound notoriety and respect as fans of long-since cancelled PBS show reach adulthood, “debated” hardcore creationist Kevin Ham in a televised spectacle. The program, which was less debate and more showbiz, left Ham looking foolish but gave Nye a public platform to calmly present a highly-accessible lesson on evolution that, it’s worth noting, did not infringe on religious freedom.
Progress, and then Regress: Coca-Cola used its expensive Super Bowl ad space to air a beautiful celebration of our nation’s diversity, in the form of a multi-lingual recording of “America the Beautiful.” That the (global) brand would release an ad that celebrated the (global) heritage of a nation that does not have an official language de jure, and where 60 million people speak a language other than language at home, was apparently very upsetting to a lot of people, many of whom still think that assimilation is a good idea.
Progress, and then Regress: Dylan Farrow bravely opened up about being abused by her father, 24-time Oscar nominee Woody Allen in a letter published in the New York Times. The letter challenged readers, including specific celebrities who have worked with and defended Allen, to re-examine a culture in which perpetrators of heinous crimes can still be celebrated for their artistic achievements. The response to her letter was hardly thoughtful: Stephen King called her a “bitch,” Barbara Walters accused her of simply seeking attention, and numerous journalists lauded a Daily Beast piece that defended Allen and mocked Farrow. An end to our cultural praising of men whose actions deserve only condemnation doesn’t appear to be coming soon.
Regress, and then Progress: When Janet Mock appeared on CNN to be interviewed by Piers Morgan about her memoir on life as a trans woman (Redefining Realness), Morgan’s interview questions, promotional tweets, and on-screen copy referred to Mock as “a boy until she turned 18” and “formerly a man,” descriptions that are both at odds with the reality of the transgender experience. After the interview, Mock wrote several Tweets reprimanding Morgan for his misguided reporting. She was then lambasted by several media outlets for her “hostility,” and made a second appearance on Morgan to set the record straight and clarify what in particular was transphobic about Morgan’s rhetoric. Despite Morgan’s best efforts to go on the defensive, Mock was entirely on point throughout the second interview, and her words will likely stand as an iconic moment in the history of trans representation for years to come.