It would be ever so nice to pass over the whole wretched thing in silence. But when a major television network makes as much noise as ABC — currently in full crow over its twin dramatic hits Desperate Housewives and Lost — it’s pretty hard to avoid the latest puff pastry from its news division, inedible though it may be. The 20/20 “investigation” of the murder of Matthew Shepard, claiming that it’s characterization as “Hate Crime” was off-the mark, while offering up all manner of hearsay and obfuscation of the historical record is easily exposed as the piece of shoddy homophobic tripe that it is by the most cursory of Google searches of the original story, not to mention more contemporary reports, and statements of the Shepard family in response to this attack on their brutally murdered son.
Not that ABC cares. It got what it wanted — a tabloid TV “golden oldie” to fill in the “sensation slot” now that Scott Peterson is no longer news, and the Michael Jackson trial has yet to get underway.
notes the New York Times. But it’s hard to see the “risk” the presumably intrepid Ms. Vargas ( the new replacement for Roy Cohn’s beard) incurred in scrupulously supervised jailhouse interviews with the killers. Isn’t she trodding the well-worn path of “True Crime” pulp — made “respectable by Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood ? More to the point, there’s never been any “risk” in gay-baiting — even in our presumably more “enlightened” and “tolerant” times. Think of the November elections which saw 11 states fashion laws banning same-sex marriage — clearly indicating that “a line has been drawn,” Will & Grace, Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, Ellen, David Sedaris and Desperate Housewives (the creation of a gay man, lest we forget) to the contrary. And who better to herald the drawing of that line than The Creature From the Blog Lagoon, appearing at the 20/20 program’s end to inform us that Matthew Shepard wasn’t the spotless innocent we’ve all presumably been led to believe by gay rights groups. The Creature’s antipathy to the gay rights movement is of course long-standing, as is his decrying of “Hate Crime” laws — a perpetual “talking point” in the Shepard case, even though no “Hate Crime” statute was involved and the killers were sent to prison for life on a straightforward murder charge. Naturally this won’t do for the “Religious Right” (aka. the Republican Party) which while more than willing to overlook Mary Cheney doesn’t want ordinary everyday gays and lesbians to imagine themselves worthy of respect; which the outpouring of sympathy for Shepard threatened to bring about. Hence 20/20 “redresses the balance” as it were, pooh-poohing charges of “homophobia” (one of the killers having changed his tune on that score) while rearranging the crime scene to make it look more like a “drug deal gone bad” than the lynching it actually was.
That Matthew Shepard was young, white, good-looking and physically fragile doubtless played into the fact that he got more notice than that of Billy Jack Gaither , an older, decidedly un A&F catalogue-worthy Alabama man, whose murder was only too typical of that of countless gays and lesbians in a country where until very recently “The fag tried to make a move on me,” was all the “Open Sesame” a gay-basher needed to walk out of prison a free man. But times have changed. So much so that men who lynched a black man named James Byrd Jr. were arrested rather than lauded.
“Southern trees bear a strange fruit” went the opening verse of the song Billie Holiday made famous. But while the lynching of African-Americans were in the past great public occasions — with picnic dinners and photographs of the killers and their fans standing before the hanging corpses — the slaughter of gays, lesbians and the transgendered have been somewhat less festive events. More on the order of a small select group savoring its killings in relative privacy.
The most media-saturated murder of a gay man prior to Shepard was that of Pier Paolo Pasolini , the great Italian writer and filmmaker who was attacked and run over with his own car by — reportedly — a young hustler he had picked up for the evening. Having countless enemies, it was suspected that the hustler — who could easily have been overpowered by the exceedingly fit Pasolini — had accomplices. But whether he did or not it all melted away in an orgy of moral posturing in the press world wide. After all wasn’t this the creator of the notorious Salo ; an exceedingly graphic adaptation of the Marquis de Sade’s 120 Days of Sodom ? Wasn’t he luring this young “innocent youth” (the killer was given a gloss to rival the shine on a new Mercedes) into unspeakable acts of depravity? Wasn’t he “asking for it”?
Pasolini didn’t live to see his final film, released. Consequently he wasn’t able to answer its legion of critics — horrified to this day that anyone would attempt to make Sade’s words flesh — and contextualize them in Italy’s fascist era to boot. Judging from Lutheran Letters , his final book of essays, Pasolini would have little good to say about the Gay Liberation movement. But not for the reasons The Creature ceaselessly spells out. For he would be even less hospitable to Gay Marriage — the pet cause The Creature promulgates without engaging in for reasons that are all too obvious. Needless to say Sully would be a fit subject for a Salo II starring Michael Pitt, directed by Todd Haynes from a script by Clive Barker with songs by Rufus Wainright. One vibrates (as Rufus would say) at the prospect of Eric Alterman (who refers to Sully as “Little Roy Cohn”) reviewing it.
But such an imaginary scenario, however entertaining, is of little consequence at the present moment as ideological imperatives move forward at warp speed, and stealth means. A much commented-upon may well be a harbinger of things to come for a media not so much controlled by the right as cowed by it.
20/20 Sinks Another Nail Into the Coffin of Big Media
Excerpt: ABC’s 20/20 news show has shamelessly run a segment on Matthew Shepard’s murder that has a lot of people spitting mad — including me. Even setting aside all the problems with the slanted reporting in this piece, it should be roundly condemned o…
Weblog: Curious Character
Tracked: November 28, 2004 03:20 PM