Why We Cannot Eradicate Homophobia by Ignoring the Nick Griffins of the World

If you’re from the UK, you’ve probably heard about Nick Griffin’s infamous tweet by now, in which he publicised the address of a gay couple who had just won compensatory damages for being discriminated against at a B & B. The tweet(s) read, “So Messrs Black & Morgan, at [their address]. A British Justice team will come up to Huntington & give you a…” “…bit of drama by way of reminding you that an English couple’s home is their castle. Say No to heterophobia!”

For those not from the UK, Nick Griffin is the leader of the British National Party, a far-right political party famed for its extreme anti-immigration views, its denial of the holocaust, and its racist, sexist and homophobic ideology. They have advocated for the repeal of anti-discrimination legislation, would like to not only stop all immigration to the UK, but to reverse it, and have been known to drop bags full of excrement in the letterboxes of South Asian families.  Not content with being merely racist, the BNP have also displayed their sexism and homophobia. Some quotes from its members (some now ex-members) include, “Rape is simply sex,” “Some women are like gongs, they need to be struck regularly,” and references to gay people as “AIDS monkeys” and “bum bandits.”

A pleasant bunch then. Fortunately, they have little support from the majority of British people, and are generally spoken of with loathing. Following Nick Griffin’s tweets encouraging his supporters to harass the couple at their home, Twitter users were quick to condemn his actions, as well as his views in general. The media, too, wrote of him disapprovingly, and the public has rallied around the couple to express their support.

So far, so good. However, I am wary of the tendency to portray Griffin and his ilk as anomalies, as villains who have nothing to do with the rest of us ‘good folk’, and whose ideas and actions can be simply ignored. If we do so, then we avoid critical analysis of our society, and we ignore the underlying prejudices that enable such extreme ideas to germinate in the first place.

To illustrate, let’s examine the causes of homophobia. In my opinion, there are four main facets to this.

1. Religious beliefs. If people take the Bible, Qur’an, or other religious texts to be true, they come to believe that homosexuality is morally wrong. This translates into disapproval of both lesbians and gay men.

2. A sense of male entitlement to female bodies. This generally leads to the fetishising of lesbian activity for the male gaze and male pleasure, which can quickly turn into hate and anger when a lesbian denies them this ‘right’, or shows herself to be completely indifferent to male sexual approval.

3. Credit for point number 3 comes from an internet meme, which defined homophobia as “the fear that gay men will treat you the way you treat women.” This is applicable only to homophobia directed at gay men, and succinctly explains the fear and disgust that some straight men feel at the thought of being hit on by another man.

4. Rigid gender roles, combined with the valuing of the masculine over the feminine. Again, this last point is only applicable to gay men, who are frequently the brunt of ridicule, especially from straight men. When society operates with the conviction that traditionally masculine traits are superior to traditionally feminine ones, then men who choose to engage in activities that we associate with women – such as shopping, knitting, ballet-dancing, baking, playing with dolls, or in this case, having sex with men – are degrading themselves. By not conforming to usual ideas of what a manly man should be, they have let their fellow men down, and have forfeited their lad card.

Is Nick Griffin the only one to perpetuate homophobia? Are homophobic ideas confined to the BNP and their supporters? Of course not. I could give you a million examples of complicit homophobia taken from a dozen different sources. Or I could just turn to some of the tweets that, far from supporting his views, were actually angrily condemning Nick Griffin.

“Now then @nickgriffinmep you small penis lard bucket, fuck off you boring bastard, everybody hates you! #racistbastard”

“@nickgriffinmep you’re a fanny”

“@nickgriffinmep why do you continue to speak against homosexuality and against Islam… Be a man.”

“this man is so gay he’s the epitome of gay”

“he’s probably cross dressing secretly in his loft”

Now don’t get me wrong. I know that their heart is in the right place, and applaud their willingness to speak out against Griffin’s atrocious opinions. But I also find them interesting as a snapshot of societal norms, where slurs on a man’s masculinity (“small penis”, “be a man”) are insults that we hardly think twice about, and where the word ‘gay’ is still accepted as a way to poke fun at someone. Going back to the causes of homophobia I outlined above, these comments are symptoms of the fourth point, and inadvertently contribute to the very thing they wish to deride. It speaks volumes about the deep-rootedness of sexism and homophobia, that it even finds its way into the language of people who are in support of gay rights.

To truly abolish homophobia and other nastiness, it’s not enough to dismiss Nick Griffin and his kind as pariahs, while remaining complicit in the culture that continues to churn such people out. Rather, we should take it as an opportunity to examine why they think the way they do, and why they have enough of a following to form a legitimate political party. We can kick Nick Griffin out of the political landscape, but if we don’t take steps to revolutionise society itself, then we can be sure that someone else will soon pop up to take his place.

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Ted, and the Fallacy of ‘Harmless Jokes’

No spoilers

I wanted to like Ted. Although I had problems with both Family Guy and American Dad, the story arcs of Stewie/Brian and Roger were often funny, and didn’t always rely on offensive material. Being a talking teddy bear, I thought Ted would fit into the same mould.

Sadly, much of Ted’s humour stemmed from his being one of the most obnoxious non-villain characters I’ve seen on screen. He is the ultimate lad’s lad – doing drugs, sexually harassing women, surrounding himself with prostitutes, spewing racist tripe, and being quick to point out that he is totally not gay. All of which, of course, is supposed to be hilarious.

Film critic Jonathan Kim says in the Huffington Post, “It’s a film filled with the kind of jokes you might make with your closest friends, where you can say the most offensive things you want to get a laugh since your friends know you and your intent well enough not to take anything you say to heart.” Well, I’m not sure what kind of friends Jonathan has, but my friends and I certainly don’t find such things funny. No, not even in private. Not even if we ‘know we don’t really mean it.’

The whole idea of how it’s fine to make jokes at the expense of minority groups, because everyone knows you’re not really sexist, or racist, or homophobic, is a common fallacy.

In Quirkology, Professor Richard Wiseman’s book on psychology, he investigates the world of laughter by conducting a wide-ranging experiment as to the kind of jokes people find funny. He found that “the top jokes had one thing in common – they create a sense of superiority in the reader…in each case it is about one group of people trying to make themselves feel good at the expense of another.” He also goes on to say:

“Some research suggests that jokes like these can have surprisingly serious consequences. In 1977, psychologist Gregory Maio from Cardiff University of Wales and his colleagues looked at the effect that reading superiority jokes had on people’s perception of those who were the butt of the jokes. The study was carried out in Canada, and so centered around the group who was frequently portrayed as stupid by Canadians, namely Newfoundlanders (or ‘Newfies’). Before the experiment, participants were randomly assigned to one of two groups. The people in each group were asked to read one of two sets of jokes into a tape recorder, supposedly to help determine the qualities that make a voice sound funny or unfunny. Those in one group read jokes that did not involve laughing at Newfies (such as Seinfeld material), whilst the other read Newfie put-down humour. Afterwards, everyone was asked to indicate their thoughts about the personality traits of Newfoundlanders. Those who had just read out the Newfie jokes rated Newfoundlanders as significantly more inept, foolish, dim-witted, and slow, than those who had delivered the Seinfeld material.”

“Just as worrying, other work has revealed that superiority jokes have a surprisingly dramatic effect on how people see themselves. Professor Jens Förster, from the International University Bremen in Germany, recently tested the intelligence of eighty women of varying hair colour. Half of them were asked to read jokes in which blondes appeared stupid. Then all participants took an intelligence test. The blonde women who had read the jokes obtained significantly lower scores on the IQ test than their blonde counterparts in the control condition, suggesting that jokes have the power to affect people’s confidence and behaviour, and so actually create a world in which the stereotypes depicted in the jokes become a reality.”

So is Ted, as Jonathan Kim opines, “a breath of fresh air,” or does it merely trot out the same old tired stereotypes and brand of humour that has honestly gone completely stale? In a world where sexism, racism and homophobia are thriving – the very things MacFarlane’s jokes depend on – do we really believe that all “viewers are smart enough to know that they’re just jokes”?

Being obnoxious doesn’t make you cute or funny, Ted…even if you are a bear.