For the last two weeks, I’ve been especially frustrated at the current state of the news media and its effects on domestic policies.
Don’t get me wrong; I work in journalism. I don’t go a day without becoming disgusted at something I see on 24-hour news, read in a newspaper, or view online. But the last two weeks have driven me over the edge and has made me feel like disability issues will either never get focused on or are so far down the list that I’ll need a backhoe to dig them out.
It started off on when the Supreme Court turned away a case on California’s Proposition 8 and threw out the Defense of Marriage Act. Both acts were viewed by the media as a victory for the LGBT community, which they were. It was also a victory for anyone who believes in equal rights, but the evolution of law seemed to take a backseat for all three of the main 24-hour news stations. If you watched Fox News you would have thought the world was going to implode into a huge forced-gay orgy. If you watched MSNBC, you would’ve seen a network showing couples in jubilation. Over and over and over. It got to the point that I felt that MSNBC was exploiting all these couples on one of their happiest days solely for slideshow pictures. I understand the need to show how the LGBT community was reacting to this great news, but I literally saw the same clip of a guy proposing to his boyfriend five times in a couple segments. It made me feel weird.
Meanwhile, while the news media was focused on manipulating the Supreme Court’s rulings, a story concerning a legal loophole that allows non-profits like Goodwill to pay disabled workers wages as low as $0.22 an hour was passed by entirely. The story is an obvious manipulation of the disabled, and an issue that has been popping up with increasing frequency in the workforce ever since I can remember.
But since it hit the airwaves on June 24, there has been no mention of the story. A decision was made to wash the story out of the news cycle completely. I’m not saying the story should have overtaken the Supreme Court’s rulings. That’s asinine. But it should have gotten some airtime.
Over the next couple weeks, news moved on from a story on LGBT issues and briefly hung out with Texas State Sen. Wendy Davis to either applaud her and the crowd during her filibuster on abortion rights or decry the “mob rule” of the crowd—I’ll let you guess which side did which (although neither MSNBC, CNN, or Fox News decided the issue was important enough to cut away from coverage of opening statements in George Zimmerman’s case).
The news then moved into extended coverage of Zimmerman, briefly sprinkling in stories on Egypt’s military coup and some domestic issues. CNN and Fox News both had multiple segments asking whether “cracker” was worse than the “N” word. I started agreeing a lot with Louis CK during those segments.
Let me be clear about this before I say my point; none of my anger is directed towards the LGBT community or any social group with whom the media plays favorites. I think all social issues are in the same ballpark, and I personally have a soft spot in my heart for the LGBT community. For the longest time, disabled and LGBT people have had to share religious persecution, execution, attempted brainwashing, and eventual exile into mental asylums.
My point is that the media, for the most part, has put mental issues far down on the list of things to report about. Meanwhile, the media has used the more popular social issues, like LGBT rights and immigration, to bump up ratings and viewership.
These are all mass media examples, and this is a geek culture blog, but that doesn’t mean that the two aren’t related. What the mainstream media chooses to cover is reflected in the issues that geek culture chooses to cover—for example, since public opinion started shifting in favor of gay marriage, LGBT characters have become more, if not entirely, acceptable in comics.
So I did a bit of an experiment. I argue that Oracle is the most important disabled comic book character that has hit the shelves. I also argue that Northstar’s marriage was very important in terms of open acceptance of LGBT superheroes. Then I did a experiment using websource.it. The site showed that searching for “northstar gay” yields 64,500 results, over double the 29,100 hits gathered when you search “oracle wheelchair.”
The articles on the front page of the Google search for Oracle were written by geek culture blogs like The Mary Sue and News-a-rama. In contrast, the front page of the Google search for Northstar’s wedding were written by Time Magazine and Rolling Stone. That shows, in my opinion, an obvious bias to focus on geek culture stories concerning LGBT characters. And from what I know of news (a lot), I know it’s because the editor and publisher of these media outlets believe it will sell better.
Geek culture focuses a lot on social issues, as well they should, because consumers of geek culture will take what they’ve learned from their entertainment and apply it to the real world. I constantly compare disability studies to geek culture. And it’s important to call out the media when they gate-keep stories. So I feel like we, as part of the geek community, need to stand up and make sure all issues are discussed. Otherwise, no matter what “progress” society puts together, we will still be controlled by the mass media.