August 17, 2016
This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
It’s Wednesday, August 17, 2016. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
When gay pride becomes big business: The commercialization of LGBT activism
The Financial Times I often cite here on The Briefing is a major newspaper on the international scene published in London. The big thing to know about the Financial Times is that it presents not only a British, but a basically European perspective. And the other thing to note is that the Financial Times is not primarily concerned about moral issues, it is primarily concerned about money, thus the very name of the newspaper—thus also very interesting, a headline story recently in that paper entitled,
“The business of gay pride.”Show Full Transcript
Here’s the big story in a nutshell. It turns out that the gay pride movement in all of its assorted events were intended to be subversive of the larger culture. Many people are now asking from inside the movement whether or not that actually fits a situation in which corporate sponsors are falling all over themselves to try to reflect their own corporate image at gay pride events. And that points of course to the massive moral shift that has taken place in our culture. Those who are trying to subvert the culture now find themselves in the driver seat when it comes to LGBT issues, and some of them at least, especially on the radical fringe, aren’t certain that that’s at all a good thing.
Now here we have to recognize the fact that the social and sexual revolutions set off in the 1960s and beyond have set loose an acid in terms of the larger society and its moral structure that even some of the revolutionaries can’t control. It has also produced a situation in which you have many people who are now counting the gains of the LGBT movement, but others who are considering the fact that those gains have basically been at the cost of the very radicality and subversive nature of the sexual revolution of the 1960s.
India Ross, writing for the Financial Times on the issue and looking to the city of New York and its very influential gay pride events, points out the fact that it is not an accident that it has become so culturally mainstream. She writes,
“The man responsible for New York’s week-long ‘event series’, as he puts it, is Chris Frederick, a friendly, articulate 33-year-old with a background in events management. Since he became managing director in 2009, NYC Pride has grown ‘pretty dramatically’, he tells me when we meet at the organization’s small basement offices in the West Village, where he sits at a desk with a plaque bearing the words: “Get it, girl.” The event’s budget has almost trebled in that time.”
So you look at this and you see a really interesting and very revealing phenomena and, in terms of the moral revolution, what did begin as a subversive movement on the margins of society is now directed by people who are described as having “a background in event management.” When you start having managing directors who are hired on the basis of a background in event management, you have turned a marginalized movement into not only the mainstream, but big business. Ross then writes,
“The result is an event that has strayed far from its roots. What was once a political protest has, over half a century, become a boozy, bacchanalian celebration. In an era that increasingly celebrates gender fluidity and sexual liberation, Pride reflects the new freedoms of a once-maligned community that has found itself suddenly embraced. But for many, the movement is in crisis. They believe that, under the weight of commercialization, Pride has lost sight of its identity — and of the many challenges that the gay community has still to overcome.”
Some of the critics of this mainstreaming from inside the gay pride movement refer to the corporate attempt to try to buy recognition by corporate sponsorships as “pink washing,” that is to say they are trying to buy the washing of their guilty corporate consciences of the past by sponsoring gay pride movements in the present. In terms of historical background, Ross writes,
“The global Pride movement began on June 28 1969, about a mile uptown from the Teaze pier, when police raided the Stonewall Inn, a gay bar on Christopher Street in the West Village, and provoked a riot among its patrons that lasted for two days.”
Now of course we have also discussed the Stonewall Inn recently on The Briefing because of the decision by President Obama to designate that site as a national historic monument. In terms of the larger international scene Ross writes,
“New York’s Pride is at the forefront of a phenomenon that is proliferating around the world. ‘The pride movement has grown drastically in the past 10 years,’ says Frank van Dalen, vice-president of InterPride. The organisation is in the process of compiling a complete record of all the events in the world; so far it has identified 944.”
Understanding this in the context of what’s identified as the commercialization of pride events, Ross writes,
“Corporate sponsorship of the world’s bigger Prides is not new. At the archive of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Community Center in the West Village, there are old programmes from past New York events: up until the early 1990s, they were populated almost entirely with adverts for adult video stores and Aids medications. But in 1996 Miller Lite beer came on board as a major sponsor. Over the past decade, there has been a significant upswing in businesses targeting these events — and the gay community in general.”
So to understand what we’re being told here, until 1996 most of the advertisements of these gay pride events came from within the gay movement. But all that changed in 1996 with Miller Lite joining as a sponsor, and then we are told that this has proliferated. Ross writes,
“This year, 16 Global Fortune 500 corporations, including Walmart, Delta, AXA, Netflix, Bud Light, Unilever, BNP Paribas, Nissan and Disney, sponsored the New York event, a number that has almost doubled since 2012.”
Now just put that again in context. You’re talking about the doubling of corporate sponsorships in the New York City Pride Event between 2012 and 2016. Now just ponder the fact that those four years included major Supreme Court decisions, including the legalization of same-sex marriage in 2015. To state the obvious, that’s not an accident. In another key paragraph in this full-page article in the Financial Times I read,
“‘Brand activations’ at Pride events have also become increasingly sophisticated. In July 2014, Burger King and the advertising agency David launched a product called the ‘Proud Whopper’ during San Francisco Pride. The only difference from its regular burgers was its rainbow wrapping, which opened to reveal the slogan: ‘We’re all the same inside.’ (After eating the Whopper, a girl interviewed for the agency’s promotional video says: ‘A burger has never made me cry before.’) At this year’s NYC Pride, in a nod to North Carolina’s ‘bathroom bill’, there was a MasterCard-sponsored toilet that could be used by anyone applying their hands to a heart-shaped pulse sensor, the idea being that anyone with a heartbeat could use it. ‘This restroom accepts all humans,’ read the tagline.”
On yet the second page of this article we read,
“Brands are also increasingly recognizing the cachet that comes with aligning themselves with progressive social causes.”
Jonah Sachs, co-founder of the brand and innovation firm Free Range and author of Winning the Story Wars, said,
“There’s this moment where a controversial cultural norm begins to shift. And if you hit it exactly right, when it’s already sort of tipped but has not yet been seized upon, you get a first-mover advantage in terms of seeming highly socially relevant.”
Now in terms of our understanding as Christians of the culture, there have been few paragraphs, indeed few sentences, that have been more clear in terms of showing how it works. In just a few words, we are given a very rare understanding that Christians need to note with great care and interest of how social and moral change takes place around us, driven, as the Financial Times would be most interested in, in the financial considerations, what the money shows us, what corporations are trying to do, and how they are trying to be understood, the kind of appearance and reputation they are seeking now to create and to use the storyline in terms of what this marketing expert said,
“In making their company a part of the larger story of social change.”
But note what he is telling us very carefully. These corporations don’t want to be on the front edge of this tipping point in the culture, nor do they want to be simply behind with all the rest. They want to be at that very crucial moment when they can appear both safe and courageous in being seen as the kind of corporation that will become a corporate sponsor of a gay pride event.
A couple of other interesting things to note from a worldview perspective: the article cites Liz Sullivan, an executive vice-president at T-Mobile, who explained why that corporation is involved in this kind of corporate sponsorship by saying,
“Diversity and inclusion is at the heart of our culture.”
Well, that raises an obvious question. How in the world is that diversity and inclusion defined? To state the obvious, it doesn’t include every kind of sexual lifestyle and activity. It is instead exactly where we have just been advised it’s likely to be, in the leading edge of where the culture is changing, but safely so for a corporation. They want to be seen as brave and courageous, but they don’t want to be seen as outside the cultural mainstream. They want to identify themselves with a moral revolution, but they don’t want to take responsibility for it until it appears safe.
During the Watergate crisis in the United States in the 1970s, the phrase “follow the money” became a part of America’s political lexicon. Now we need to understand it really needs to be a part of our moral and cultural lexicon as well. “Follow the money” tells us a very great deal about the direction of our culture and how that process of change is likely to unfold and continue.
Were the hippies right? How looking at the 1960's helps explain our world today
Next, I want to turn to a related issue from the very same newspaper. In this case, it’s not an article about corporate sponsorships of gay pride events; it is instead an article reviewing a major exhibition which is soon to open at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, one of the major cultural institutions of that world city. Peter Aspden reporting for the Financial Times tells us that this new exhibition raises a very important question. That’s this:
“Were the hippies right?”
He looks back to the 1960s into the influence of the hippies as a movement in both the United States and Great Britain and points out that many of the most important developments in the culture that have taken place in this generation actually find their rootage back in the age of the hippies.
From a Christian worldview consideration, it’s really important for us to understand that the social changes that are even now gaining momentum and velocity didn’t begin in our own times. They emerged in times past. We can trace many of these things in terms of historic development, such as the rise of certain ideas, the establishment of certain institutions, decisions handed down by the United States Supreme Court, elections that took place in terms of political history. But something else to note is the larger process whereby culture changes, generation by generation, and one of the things we really have to keep in mind is that the generation of the 1960s was not only revolutionary in its own mind, but in retrospect, revolutionary in its impact.
One might think that an exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London might not tell us a great deal about how we interpret our own times here in the United States. But this particular review in the Financial Times will demonstrate that presumption would be wrong. The exhibition is entitled, “You Say You Want a Revolution? Records and Rebels 1966-70.” One of the claims made in terms of the materials displayed at the exhibition is that the hippies represented a “fundamental shift in the mindset of the western world.”
Now that might sound like quite an overstatement. Really? A fundamental shift in the mindset of the entire Western world? And yet, looking back to the years covered by this exhibition, 1966 to 1970, we need to remember the pivotal year of 1968 where on both sides of the Atlantic just about every historian recognizes that something very basic had already changed in Western society because of what took place on campuses and in the streets of cities in the United States and in Europe in that very important year, 1968. It can’t be a coincidence that one of the major cities of concern in this exhibition on the hippies at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London is the California city of San Francisco—once again, it’s ground zero. Aspden points out that the Summer of Love, as it was called in 1967, became a matter of anxiety for then-conservative America. He then writes,
“In the CBS documentary The Hippie Temptation, aired in August 1967, the lugubrious presenter Harry Reasoner analysed the faux innocence of the movement. He accepted that the hippies wanted to be children again. ‘But people who grow beards and make love are supposed to move from innocence to wisdom,’ he admonished. Interviewed in the film, Grateful Dead guitarist Jerry Garcia sets out his own aspirations: ‘A peaceful planet. An uncluttered life, a simple life, a good life. Thinking about moving the whole human race ahead a step.’”
In one of the more interesting asides in this article, Stewart Brand, who became infamous or famous in the movement for establishing one of its most famous publications known as the Whole Earth Catalog, pointed out that many of these hippies didn’t actually know how to do anything, but they did attempt in their own terms to think deep thoughts. He said,
“They were English majors who wanted to reinvent civilization. But they didn’t know how a refrigerator worked, or how to plant a seed in the ground. There was maximum ambition and a paucity of skills.”
Thus, he created the Whole Earth Catalog in order to try to remedy the situation. Aspden then tells us that one of the early followers of that publication, the Whole Earth Catalog,
“…was a certain Steve Jobs, who compared it to ‘Google in paperback form, 35 years before Google came along’ in his famous Stanford 2005 graduation ceremony speech. He also quoted the farewell message in the Catalog’s last issue in 1972: ‘Stay hungry, stay foolish.’”
The point being made—and a very important point at that—in this review of an exhibition at a London museum is that the generation of the hippies continues to have impact even now and furthermore, that many of their ideas considered quite radical in the 1960s have come to a very successful acceptance in the larger culture by the time we reach our own generation, not to say specifically the very decade in which we are now living.
If you’re wondering exactly how this happened, well, just consider that those who were the long-haired hippies of the 1960s are now—well at least some of them are—in Congress. Others of them, many of them, are in the classrooms now reaching retirement age after experiencing tenure. And as the exhibition review comes to an end, we are reminded of the Grateful Dead’s cheerfully shuffling anthem, “Truckin”:
“Together, more or less in line, just keep truckin’ on.”
And so the hippies did, and so they have, and so they do. And that helps us to understand our own times as well.
The moral behind the medical stat: 1 in 5 babies born in Indiana are addicted to drugs
Next, looking at the legacy one generation leaves to the next, a very frightening news report that came from Fox News out of Indiana. The headline:
“Study suggests one in five babies born in Indiana addicted to drugs.”
Most of us have probably known this was a huge problem, but it seems that the numbers defy our moral imagination. We’re talking about one out of every five babies currently born in the State of Indiana born already addicted to drugs.
Jill Glavan, reporting for Fox 59, tells us the data comes from a pilot program aimed at better understanding what’s identified now as Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome, or NAS. In 2014, the Indiana legislature had formed a task force to study the issue statewide. The taskforce considered data coming from hospitals that were in both rural and more urban areas in Indiana, tested 300 babies, more than 20% tested positive for opiates. Smaller percentages tested positive for other drugs as well. One of the persons involved in conducting the study said,
“We see it in every hospital. I think our state, our citizens; I think everybody would be surprised.”
Surprised, yes, but there has to be a far deeper concern than merely finding this surprising, and that’s reflected in the data coming out and by those who conducted the study. This chilling statistic comes at the same time that we’re receiving other data about the economic transformation of many rural counties in the United States away from more traditional industries and ways of making money and towards the development of a drug culture and meth labs that have taken over much of the American landscape. But these numbers are really staggering: one out of every five babies born. And let’s also consider that we’re talking about the state of Indiana. In cultural, moral, and political terms in the United States, Indiana represents the very heartland of this country. It’s hard to imagine a state that is in almost every dimension more representative of the United States.
But all of this comes immediately with moral considerations, of course, and one of those considerations is the effective renaming of the problem. This had been referred to in the past as something like Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, but now you’ll note that it’s called Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome, as if abstinence is the problem. Of course, the background to the medicalization of this term has to do with the fact that these babies are now suffering because they were born addicted to these medications, and they’re not receiving the medications now and are in the process of a very painful and complicated withdrawal. As the article indicates, there are not only short-term consequences to this kind of syndrome, there are long-term consequences.
But another moral side of our times comes when one of the persons involved in the study says that the effort should help people in the community better understand the issue and, here are the key words from the report,
“…start to break down stigmas surrounding drug use and abuse, in order to tackle the problem in every Indiana city and town.”
That demonstrates one of the most ardent efforts of the culture around us, the effort to try to make everything merely a medical problem rather than a moral problem. When you have someone here say that these statistics should help us to start to break down stigmas concerning drug use and abuse, that points to the fact that there are medical considerations, but it also points to the fact that there is now a denial of the moral dimension, which is even more important. It is insane and impossible to believe that progress can be made merely on the medical front if the moral issues are not centrally confronted.