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Mr Right: Conservatives Go Gay

Wednesday, September 1st, 2010

An entertainingly graceless bitch-fight is playing out in a little corner of the American right that you probably don’t pay much attention to. It began when gay conservative group GOProud announced that Ann Coulter was headlining their ‘HomoCon‘ event. GOProud chair Christopher Barron boasted of the event, “The gay left has done their best to take all the fun out of politics, with their endless list of boycotts and protests. Homocon is going to be our annual effort to counter the ‘no fun police’ on the left.”

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Ann Coulter, you may remember, was what we had to rile against before Sarah Palin and Glenn Beck eclipsed her relevance. Sadly for Coulter, her involvement with this event led to her being dropped by another, WorldNetDaily’s Taking America Back National Conference. (How far back they plan to take America is not clear, as American history does not have a Middle Ages.) WorldNetDaily was aghast at Coulter’s participation in HomoCon, accusing her of “legitimizing” sodomy and same-sex marriage.

There is an exquisite irony in these conservatives boycotting Coulter for her involvement in an event that advertises itself as an alternative to left-wing boycotts and protests. GOProud is getting a first hand taste of the hate and intolerance that the left is fighting against when protestors like Dan Choi chain themselves to the White House fence - a protest that GOProud’s Barron sneered at.

Still, GOProud are consistent in their do-nothing attitude to gay rights. Earlier this year they held an event at the San Diego Manchester Grand Hyatt, owned by Proposition 8 supporter Doug Manchester, thus stepping across the picket line at an ongoing boycott of that hotel. GOProud believe in letting other people do the ‘no fun’ stuff like trying to advance their rights, while they get drunk lining the pockets of the bigot who wants to take their rights away.

The contretemps between GOProud and WorldNetDaily is noteworthy for a few other reasons. Coulter’s response to WorldNetDaily was to say that she “speak[s] to a lot of groups and do[es] not endorse them” - in other words, she’s not necessarily on GOProud’s side, but she will take their money. She also called out WorldNetDaily for their absurd birtherism - the site has been nicknamed WingNutDaily - which gives us an idea of how far out on the fringe these people are. Even on the right, only the nuttiest of nuts are ready to attack the conservative gays in this way.

The American  right’s views on homosexuality are shifting just as the American electorate’s views are shifting. Several high profile conservatives have come out in favour of gay marriage, including Dick Cheney, Laura Bush and Bill O’Reilly. Even freshly minted pseudo-televangelist Glenn Beck concedes that opposing gay marriage is not a fight worth having. One of the two lawyers that tore down Proposition 8 was George W Bush’s former solicitor general, Ted Olson, who brilliantly framed the conservative case for gay marriage. Even the judge who overturned Prop 8 was a conservative, nominated by Reagan and the elder Bush.

The arguments against gay marriage, gay rights, and even homosexuality in general, are grounded in religion and ignorance, not in politics. Gay rights fit perfectly with the small government/personal liberty philosophies of the right. This week Steve Schmidt, the former campaign manager for John McCain, became the latest conservative to argue in support of gay marriage, suggesting that marriage promotes social stability. In his view, gay marriage is a family value.

Then there’s former RNC chair Ken Mehlman, a loathsome hypocrite who helped devise the party’s anti-gay strategy while keeping his own homosexuality under wraps. He can never make amends for his atrocious behaviour, but he is now another high profile advocate for equality. Then again, Mehlman claims that gays should have voted Republican in support of the right’s anti-Jihadist stance, so there may be depths to his ignorance yet to be tapped.

None of these conservatives are running for public office, of course, so they can safely move to the left of Barack Obama on gay issues. We’re still waiting for a conservative heavyweight to face the electorate on a marriage equality platform. Even so, same-sex marriage might never again be the wedge issue that it was in the 2000 election. No wonder the wingnuts at WorldNetDaily are so upset.

While gay rights may ultimately fit the conservative narrative, it seems that even right-wingers can’t quite stop themselves thinking of civil rights as a left-wing issue. Look at the inadvertant revelation in their odious HomoCon flyer, in which they refer to Ann Coulter as “the right wing Judy Garland”. The implication is that Judy Garland belongs to the left. Garland was a lifelong Democrat, yes, but she was not a political figure; she was and is the definitive gay icon. Giving her up to the left is a tacit admission that gay culture and gay rights are firmly established as the province of the left. By invoking Ann Coulter as their icon, GOProud have knocked over their queen.

SDCC09 Day Three: Slow News Day

Sunday, July 26th, 2009

Would you fight in a war to defend someone else’s rights? Probably not. Given the choice, I think very few of us would lay down our lives in that way.

But would you march for someone else’s rights? Just take a few hours out of your day, to be seen and to be heard, because it might make a difference in the lives of thousands of others? Brother, can you spare the time? Some people do. A minority on a march will be there not for themselves, but for their friends, their family, their country.

Would you vote to uphold someone else’s rights? You’re in the voting booth anyway. All you need to do is tick the right box, and it will make all the difference in the world to the freedoms and happiness of your neighbours. In California, almost half of voters would. Maybe you’re one of the one in two.

Would you change the bar you drink in, if it made a difference to someone else’s rights?

What’s the least you think you might do?

Today is the last day of the San Diego Comic-Con.

There was no news yesterday. Perhaps everyone was too hung over from the Friday night parties to do any reporting? Or perhaps Saturday is no dominated by move and TV show panels that no-one wheels out any announcements on Saturday?

Ain’t It Cool News recapped the first footage from Iron Man 2; both Lost and Heroes had panels (and with Heroes saviour Brian Fuller now off the show again, it’s hard to get excited about another season of that); David Tennant and John Barrowman kissed (it’s not very exciting); DC talked about Blackest Night and Marvel talked about Dark Reign (it’s all so grim and gritty) and since both of those crossover events are already going on, there’s nothing much to say about either.

If the comics journalists are stuck for a story to write about, I have a suggestion. As far as I can tell, none of them have covered the Manchester Grand Hyatt story at all. Not even to challenge it. Not even to present the fact of it. Perhaps they would cover it if someone fed it to them in a press release?

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SDCC09 Day Two: Reds, Whites & Blues

Saturday, July 25th, 2009

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This is Red She-Hulk, because Marvel are not out of new ideas, no sirree. Sure, they’ve done the ‘female version of male character’ thing a lot lately, with the likes of Black Panther, Ultron, Hawkeye, and so on, and they’ve done the ‘evil version of good character’ thing even more, with Red Hulk, Daken, and the entire Dark Reign thing. But ‘evil female version of male good character’? That’s some crazy innovation right there!

I expect the creative process was exhausting, too. ‘Do we go with ‘Red She-Hulk’, or ‘She-Red Hulk’? Let’s have another writers’ retreat’.

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Last night saw the announcement of this year’s Eisner award winners at Comic-Con, with deserving wins for Comic Book Resources, Matt Fraction’s Invincible Iron Man, Art Baltazar’s Tiny Titans, and Image’s Comic Book Tattoo. Grant Morrison’s All Star Superman won Best Continuing Series, despite not being a continuing series. Whoops. It is a terrific book, though; it’s just in the wrong category (or a badly named category, perhaps).

Get the full results at The Beat, courtesy of Heidi MacDonald.

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The movie version of The Losers is apparently coming along nicely, as series artist Jock released a comic-art poster showing the names of the cast. What’s interesting is that the comic book cast was at least one-third ethnic - Pooch and Aisha. The movie cast has a black actor playing Roque. A Spanish actor is playing Cougar, so presumably he’s being played as  Hispanic. (My comments tell me he was in the comic as well. I don’t recall, but of course, we never saw his face.)

This is a particularly strong example of an odd trend in comics-to-movie (and TV) adaptations. Alicia Masters turned black in Fantastic Four. Kingpin turned black in Daredevil. Pete Ross turned black in Smallville. Iron Man opted for the black Nick Fury. Hollywood is not known for its embrace to diversity, but when it takes on a comic book story it actually has to add black characters. Existing ethnic and female characters also often get a profile boost. Comics are so bad at this stuff that even on a mature readers Vertigo title, Hollywood takes the medium to school. Hollywood. It’s like getting racial sensitivity seminars from Pat Buchanan.

Aside from the Eisners, the biggest news out of SDCC yesterday was that Marvel has acquired the rights to Miracleman, or rather, Marvelman. For years Marvel insisted that we call him Miracleman, now they suddenly want us to call him Marvelman again. So indecisive.

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Marvelman was created in the 1950s by Mick Anglo, and famously reinvented by Alan Moore in the 80s. Fans are treating the acquisition of Marvelman as a big deal, but it’s really just the long-anticipated fulfilment of something set in motion years ago. The purpose of the Neil Gaiman Marvel comic 1602 was to raise money to sue Todd McFarlane for his unauthorised use of the character, and to clarify once and for all who actually held the rights. Even then it was clear that the eventual intent was for Marvel to take ownership and reprint the comics (though it sounds like Marvel does not yet have all the story rights).

The name reversion was also always part of the plan, but it may suggest a worrying development for fans of the character. It seems inevitable that Marvel will try to integrate the character with the Marvel universe, but Marvelman is basically a Superman analogue (by way of Captain Marvel), and as Sentry has proved, Superman analogues do not fit well in the feet-of-clay Marvel world. Squeezing Marvelman into a world of crossovers and Red She-Hulks will be like having characters from The Wire dropped into One Life To Live.

Showing the full extent of his sophisticated understanding of Marvelman, Marvel editor Joe Quesada said, “It is arguably the JD Salinger of comic book characters”. JD Salinger is an author, of course, and not a fictional character. Quesada may have been thinking of Charlie Salinger, Matthew Fox’s character from Party of Five.

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An update on the Manchester Grand Hyatt boycott, which I wrote about earlier in the week. I don’t know if the comic industry has taken notice, but the folks at the Hyatt certainly have. Their marketing director stopped by my blog yesterday to say that Doug Manchester has recanted his position on gay marriage. “Mr. Manchester believes that every American is deserving of the opportunity to receive all of the benefits from civil marriage, gay or straight.”

That sounds good, but it’s only words. Nothing has changed. Mr Manchester spent $125,000 to help strip Californians of their rights. He’s now donating $25,000 to support giving them different rights, plus hotel credit to lure gay customers back to the hotel. That does not balance the books. If Mr Manchester truly believes that every American deserves equal rights, we need action, not words. Let’s see an equal or greater donation in support of gay marriage, from the same wallet that donated $125,000 to take those rights away.

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I’ll leave you with a little palate cleanser; the trailer for Sam Raimi’s new swords-and-sandals TV show Spartacus: Blood and Sand, which debuts in January on Starz and sees Raimi re-teaming with Xena star Lucy Lawless. It looks gloriously violent and shamelessly sleazy - all thighs and biceps as far as the eye can see. While HBO’s Rome did everything on an expensive set, Spartacus is shot on cheap-and-cheerful green screen, 300-style. It will be terrible in all the best ways.

Sources: CBR, Newsarama, The Beat.

SDCC09: San Diego, Why Don’t You Come To Your Senses?

Tuesday, July 21st, 2009

What defines a superhero? Powers? Costumes? Code names? Those may be the elements that make a character ’super’. The ‘hero’ part comes from one place; a willingness to fight for what’s right even when it’s not convenient.

The other thing about superheroes is that they’re fictional. The people who read them, and the people who write and draw and publish them, are under no obligation to follow their principals. We normal, ordinary folk can relish these tales of brave men and women standing up against wicked deeds, but when the time comes for us to stand up for an idea, well, that’s where the line is between fiction and reality.

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Which brings us to San Diego Comic-Con 2009, and the Manchester Grand Hyatt. SDCC is the biggest event in the comic book year, bringing together thousands of fans in one huge sweaty hall. It’s one of the biggest conventions to hit San Diego every year, and the hotels in the area are always booked out.

One of the official hotels is the Manchester Grand Hyatt, owned by Doug Manchester. In 2008, Doug Manchester donated $125,000 to the successful effort to strip Californians of their right to same-sex marriage with Proposition 8. For the past 12 months there has been an organised boycott of Manchester’s three hotels - the Grand Hyatt and the Grand del Mar in San Diego, and the Whitetail in McCall, Idaho. The boycott does not apply to other Hyatt-operated hotels.

Labour leaders and gay rights groups have backed the boycott.

The comic industry does not.

On the one year anniversary of the boycott last week, organisers claimed they had cost the chain $7 million in business.

But not comic book business.

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Comic book publishers, writers, editors and artists are all staying at the Manchester Grand Hyatt this week. I won’t name names, because I know many people had forgotten about the boycott even though this is the second year that it has hit the Comic-Con, and the organisers of the boycott did not do a good job of getting word out to the industry. I also feel that naming names would make people defensive, and I would rather they were contrite.

The problem - and it’s an appreciable one - is that the San Diego Comic-Con is huge, and the Manchester Grand Hyatt is only two blocks from the convention centre, and it is traditionally the social and business hub of the whole event. Most of these people work on superheroes, but they are not heroes. They will not do the right thing if it’s inconvenient to their business, or worse, to their buzz.

Last year some attendees argued that the boycott would punish the wrong people - the hotel staff. That’s an odd argument. People aren’t going to sleep in the streets or drink water all weekend if they are not at the Hyatt. Some waiter somewhere will get your tip, and he won’t be less deserving than the waiter at the Hyatt. When you choose to eat in one restaurant, your heart cannot bleed for all the waiters in all the other restaurants you walked past.

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The other argument against a boycott is that people can spend their dollars, but mark them with a word or phrase or symbol that shows that this money comes from a queer-friendly source. Even assuming that people buying beers that they intend to expense later will be paying in cash, how will those markers ever make it to the account sheets? Even if every pro-gay person who stays or drinks at the Hyatt during this convention goes to the front desk and registers their objection to Doug Manchester’s position, will they be heard? It’s better than doing nothing, but only barely. It’s a fig-leaf for the conscience rather than a response.

The boycott is not unique to SDCC, and it has had an impact, because Doug Manchester is reeling. Two months ago, ahead of the convention season, Manchester tried to make amends - in the most wretched way possible. Having donated $125,000 to oppose gay marriage, he pledged to donate a fifth as much, just $25,000, in support of… civil unions. That’s not a reversal of his anti-gay discrimination. That’s the same position from a new direction.

Manchester also promised $100,000 in credit to local gay and lesbian groups - a bribe that gay groups have said they will reject as ‘blood money’, should it ever materialise (it hasn’t yet). All of this comes after the fact, after Proposition 8 passed in California and millions of gays and lesbians were stripped of their rights. Far too little, far too late.

Doug Manchester wants the gay dollar, but he still does not support gay equality. The boycott continues. It should continue, either until Manchester recants his position and makes a donation greater than $125,000 to a marriage equality group, or until Proposition 8 is repealed or overturned.

But the comic industry is not part of the boycott. Every dollar spent by the comic industry at the Manchester Grand Hyatt is a dollar spent in support of hate.

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Fortunately these comic book people all work in the media, and that puts them in a great position to fight that hate. One of the easiest ways to combat prejudice is to increase the visibility of diversity. The major comics publishers have skirted by with a minimum commitment to diversity, usually doing less than the least they could do, and sometimes just edging across that line as non-committally as possible. Even smaller publishers tend to shy away from gay content, feeling that it’s a different audience and a different market, rather than part of their audience and part of their market.

It is unfortunate that money spent by that audience is being used to line the pockets of a gay rights opponent. One might charitably assume that most of the pros who make this mistake are doing so in ignorance. Hopefully they will not remain in ignorance, and having recognised their error, will be happy to redress the balance through their work. After all, as of this week they cannot claim neutrality. They can either stand by their support of Doug Manchester and Proposition 8, or they can stand against it.

Most people don’t have what it takes to be a hero, and stand up when it’s difficult to do so - not when there are beers on the table and the company is buying. But these people don’t have to be villains.