Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Soccer Moms, NASCAR Dads and Homophobes

No, that's not the title of the new Toby Keith album.

Lately, I find myself annoyed by the usual catch-phrases the media uses to classify people -- words like soccer moms, NASCAR dads and homophobes. I don't even think the intent is to classify people. It's to make the reader mentally picture what all these people must look like, and then condescend to these imaginary people -- you must somehow be better than they are because they're so easily identifiable, and you're not.

The problem with all these cute little descriptors that seep into the general culture is that they're never meant as compliments. Soccer mom? We're supposed to picture a middle-aged woman with an SUV, maybe was once attractive but is now average looking, generic short women's hair, wearing frumpy clothes and constantly squiring around her spoiled spawn from one programmed social event to another. She might be wearing a whistle around her neck. She's responsible enough to drive with a handless cellphone. She cuts you off in traffic. She's transferred her Type-A corporate mentality to how she's raising her kids. I think the main dig against the soccer mom is that she must be affluent enough not to have to work. Common perception in America is that soccer is the domain of the white, wealthy suburbs. I guess "lacrosse" doesn't pack the same punch, although it plays far more to the same crowd. Ergo, she's an asshole.

NASCAR dad? He has a pot belly and needs a shave. He may even have a poorly-kept handlebar mustache. He wears John Deere hats, bib overalls and Richard Petty wrap-around shades. He's a Republican, or claims to be a Libertarian (but is really a Republican who doesn't want to be known as such). He makes good money at some working-class job that he has stuck with for years and is now seeing some payback on. He has a can of Bud perpetually in hand and listens to only country music and classic rock. As the name implies, he's an aficionado of racing ... or baseball ... or football ... and spends all his spare time watching these sporting events on TV, when not monkeying with chainsaws and riding lawn mowers in the backyard. Aside from that, he'll watch DVDs like Joe Dirt, Tommy Boy and anything with Adam Sandler. Ergo, he's an asshole.

What both the NASCAR dad and soccer mom have in common is that they are defined by imaginary children. The assumption is they are married, happily or otherwise, and their main function in life, when not being a pinata for the media, is to raise children. They're not NASCAR sons and soccer daughters.

Do these people really exist? When I was growing up, my mom pretty much played the role of what a soccer mom does now -- she raced around in our station wagon, dropping us kids off at whatever we were into at the time, from little league games to band practices. She also kept the house clean, did laundry and prepared meals – try doing it some time for six people, four of them kids, and see how much fun that is.

So, my mom was basically a soccer mom. Although we never played soccer. Or had any money to spare. Or lived in anything but a working-class environment. And let's not forget the fact that my mother simply sees herself as a woman going through life, who was married and had kids. I may have called her Mom, but she didn't define herself that way. I note this now because I'm at an age where about half my friends have kids and half don't. For the ones who have kids, I never define them in terms of father or motherhood, mainly because we’ve known each other way before kids came into the picture.

And I don't think of the friends without kids as pathetic, lost souls who missed the point of life. I always think of that scene from It's a Wonderful Life where George is running through the empty, imaginary future created when the angel shows him what the world would be like if he had never existed. He runs into his wife, who is clearly a mousy librarian, childless and alone, whom we must pity because she never married (because she never met George to begin with).

That scene gives me real trouble. Doesn't the possibility exist that maybe her life would have been better had she never met him? Or forget better/worse -- just a different life, with its ups and downs, like any other life? The whole point of the movie was to show George that his life mattered. But it dismissed the context of everyone else's life -- their lives would be worse without him. And it's my contention that it would no slight against George if his wife had gone on to become, say, Betty Page, and had married a fabulously wealthy man, then lived happily ever after. It wouldn't diminish George's life one bit to know this. And let’s say she remains that librarian living on her own – it’s impossible for her to be happy this way? She can only be happy married to a sparkplug like George? What if she had kids, with one dying in ‘Nam and another jumping off a dorm roof at college after dropping acid?

But dismissing the context of everyone else's life is the key to the game. Because that's what coining cute little catch phrases like soccer mom and NASCAR dad do. It's a nod-and-wink to the reader that he's in on the joke. The writers attach meaningless short cuts to perceptions that are probably wrong to begin with, and made worse by assumptions based on harmless cultural touchstones. So some working-class guy looks like a slob, has a Bush bumpersticker on his pick-up truck and likes to watch racing on TV. Big fucking deal. If you think calling him “NASCAR dad” nails him, you need to step outside your little world and realize he doesn’t give a shit what you call him.

"Homophobe" is an entirely different issue, but similar in that it's another word I see constantly in the media, and it makes very little sense to me. Let me see if I understand this. Anyone who doesn't pledge complete approval of homosexuality is a homophobe. If that isn’t true, in all honesty, that’s the feeling I get when I see the word used for anything from a pack of guys beating what they perceive to be a gay man to death on the street late at night, to someone who makes an offhand joke.

In my mind, neither of those two scenarios is exclusively indicative of homophobia. The etymology of the word implies fear of homosexuality. This may be a rude wake-up call to everyone who bandies around the word as casual accusation on a daily basis, but not all people who take issue with homosexuality are afraid of homosexuals. Blind hatred isn’t necessarily fear. Fear and hatred are separate emotions – sometimes joined together, but not one in the same. And some people just aren’t down with homosexuality, most likely for religious reasons. They’re entitled to their beliefs, whether anyone else likes it or not.

And here’s a secret about heterosexuals and homosexuality. If I fully embraced it, then I’d be gay myself and practicing it. I don’t embrace it, much less fully. If some guy tried to kiss me, even in a non-romantic way, it wouldn’t go down well. I respect the rights of adults to practice any sexuality they please that doesn’t involve children or animals. I don’t support homosexuality, nor do I condemn it. It’s just there, and someone’s sexuality is not even an issue with me. I don’t judge anyone by their sexuality. If you are openly gay, that’s fine by me.

Now, does the above paragraph make me a homophobe? Judging by the standards I often see here in New York, I would be harangued as such and a “closet case” for not pledging total support for a sexuality that isn’t mine. And I can tell you there’s a huge difference between me and some guy laying a broken beer bottle upside another guy’s head outside a gay bar. Or any other horrible crime of that sort. It’s not something I need to “work on.” I’ve worked on it, and this is the end result. Gay people have nothing to fear from me, and I have nothing to fear from them.

The word “homophobe” has become so over-used that it’s lost its true meaning – like the word “fascist.” And even if you’re convinced someone is a homophobe, again, please note the difference between hatred and fear. I’d wager that a guy physically attacking a gay man on the street is not necessarily filled with fear. Generally speaking, humans do not attack when they’re afraid – they run away. The guy fears some deeply-hidden homosexual feelings in himself? That might be true; it might not. The guy might just be a psychopath. A pack of guys attacking a gay couple might just be looking for any lightning rod to set off their mob mentality. And they might all have a hidden picture buried deep in their minds of each of them sucking cock. Who knows?

There have been a few times in my life when I've found myself laughing to the point of tears over guys pulling gay riffs on each other -- whether it was gay guys camping it up with each other, or hyper-macho guys busting on each other. Neither mean any harm, but I'm assuming the hyper-macho guys would be designated as homophobes. They must be hiding something to be so callous! They must be gay and either not know it or are hiding from it! Homophobes!

(My advice would be to avoid calling someone a homophobe to his face. If he is, he may belt you, and if he isn't, he may belt you. I get the impression "homophobe" is a word rarely uttered towards anyone as an accusation. It's a lot safer to print it from afar or run the idea by like-minded individuals as a complaint against the alleged homophobe in absentia.)

I know I sound like an idiot breaking down this topic, but how many times do you read anyone trying to decipher these sort of words and what they really mean? On one hand, we’ve been trained to shudder in abject shame over accusations like homophobia, and the other encouraged to revel in catch phrases like soccer mom and NASCAR dad.

I think what’s really going on with a word like “homophobe” is an attempt by the left to coerce everyone into adopting their point of view regarding homosexuality. If you don’t communicate acceptance to them, then you are in some way homophobic -- you have "issues" -- whatever that means. In their minds, they’re forcing all of us to choose one side or the other, and I’d rather not do that with something containing so many gray areas as human sexuality and how each of us chooses to deal with it. I’d also rather not indulge the sick head games both the left and right are playing by forcing the issue on whatever pet cause they’re championing – which seems like a daily litany in America. I know it’s best not to get caught up in these insane word plays, but sometimes it does annoy me.

1 comment:

Drooch said...

"Do these people really exist?"

Here in Jersey, you can't swing a dead cat without hitting one. You have to kick them out of your way to get to the checkout line at the 7-Eleven. That doesn't mean they're bad people, of course. There's just too damn many of them.

By the way, what do you do with a homophobic NASCAR dad wearing an Elvis work short and listening to the Dixie Chicks?