Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Ziro the Hutt: Is America OK with Gay Characters in Kids Media?

You might not see the need for this question. It sounds silly that anyone would be upset that a new villain in a terrible Star Wars movie is purple, wears feathers, and speaks like the recently popular film character Truman Capote. In other words, this character is amusingly gay, and no one seems to be too upset about it. What's the big deal?

Well, the big deal is that this probably would have been a big deal earlier in the 21st century. Remember, we've had at least three "the homosexual lifestyle is being promoted through children's television" controversies in the last ten years. In February of 1999, Jerry Falwell warned that "Tinky-Winky" the Teletubby was gay and encouraging a gay lifestyle. In 2005, the current Secretary of Education found it unacceptable that Buster the Rabbit visited a Vermont town with lesbians in it - some of the children he met had two mommies. Also in 2005, James Dobson and Focus on the Family alleged that Spongebob Squarepants was gay because he held hands with his friends and appeared in a video promoting tolerance and diversity.

So, if the practice of finding gay messages in mainstream children's programming is less than a decade old, and reached its high point only three years ago, why has the flagrantly gay Ziro not received any right-wing media attention. Here are some of the answers I can think of:

1.He's not actually gay. This is the Lucas party line: the Hutt's not gay. He just, you know, looks and talks gay. And I'm sure James Dobson will absolutely love the explanation, from director Dave Filoni: "He’s of questionable [sexuality] at least as a slug. They tell me that these slugs can be either male or female depending. That’s something I guess that slugs and snails do." This charming purple Hutt isn't gay, it's of ambiguous sexuality, and probably a hermaphrodite! Surely this would not protect Ziro from right-wingers' wrath.

2. It's movies, not TV. This one doesn't make any sense to me, but the FCC and people at large seem to think that something that is broadcast into your home is demonstrably worse than something that you have to go and pay to see (this would only make sense if you didn't have control over what channel you were watching). I would maybe buy this one, except that advertisements for this crappy movie ARE being broadcast into every home in America, and are obviously working, judging by all the kids in the theater when I went to see this. So if the conservatives aren't worried about this character because he, unlike Spongebob, resides at the movie theater, I think they're a little confused. Plus, that didn't prevent them from raining their wrath down on sexy Jesus.

3.It's not educational. All of those three previous examples have some sort of educational angle. Postcards from Buster is pretty classic edutainment. Spongebob is not educational at all, but the controversy occurred when Spongebob was trying to teach kids about tolerance. And although I can't find the slightest educational angle in Teletubbies, I think it's supposed to teach problem-solving and getting along, or something. But I'm pretty sure that homophobes have been getting mad about plenty of non-educational gay-themed things for a long time, so I still don't think that goes all the way to explain it.

Which brings us to my slight optimism. True, we may not have heard any complaints because Ziro is a giant space slug who is not beamed into homes and who is a role model. But I'd prefer to believe that America has, in the smallest way, moved on. Which is not to say that the complaints about Spongebob, the Teletubbies, and Buster were really taken that seriously by mainstream America. I do not think we were in the grips of gay lifestyle promotion hysteria three years ago. But some people with (admittedly right-wing) credentials complained about each of those events, and each of them got media coverage. Whether it was blown out of proportion or not, in each instance someone decided that there was a problem with kids witnessing gay characters, and decided to go to the media with their complaints. That hasn't happened with Ziro. Maybe, just maybe, that's progress.

Of course, William Gatevackes over at Film Buff Newsreel does think someone might be offended by Ziro. He writes "It appears that Lucas is trying to present Ziro the Hutt as a gay sterotype. I don’t know who is going to be offended more–gay rights groups or hardcore Star Wars fans." The fact that he thinks Star Wars fans will be horrified by this character is silly; the movie is considerably more offensive to the Star Wars lovers than the character.

I probably don't won't to get into the issue of whether or not Ziro is offensive to gay culture. I personally found this ridiculous bit of camp to be the only breath of fresh air in this entire deplorable movie. But the mere fact that Gatevackes thinks that gays will be offended before he thinks that homophobes will be offended strikes me as a good sign. If we're more worried that a character in a kids movie shortchanges gay culture than promotes homosexuality, it seems like we've come a long way since 2005.


Fletch said...

Sharp analysis with some good historical context. I'll be happiest when no one "gets offended," at least not to the extent that I have to hear about it in the media. However, I don't think that day will ever come. Until then, I'll take the present scenario over the one from years past.

Joseph said...

Hutts have been described as hermaphrodites before in Star Wars literature. Granted, Lucas doesn't always acknowledge the Expanded Universe, but he does from time to time.

Graham said...

Well Fletch, I do think that Star Wars fans should get offended over how much that movie sucks. And I haven't actually heard any gay groups being offended; I think that's mostly just blogger speculation, but I'm trying to keep my ear to the ground on that.

Graham said...

Update: So I've been trolling the internet for people offended by Ziro, and all I kind find is people theoretically offended by Ziro. No one seems actually offended by him/it. Mostly they just say "stereotypes blah blah blah Jar Jar blah blah racist Ziro blah gay."

In other words, Lucas is catching some flack for using gay stereotypes. Which I guess is ok, but I think the creators of Will and Grace should be tarred and feathered first.