Friday, January 20, 2012

Point Counterpoint

In an earlier post I linked to this article on Dan Savage's ongoing campaign against Rick Santorum, a worthy target if ever there was one. In case you didn't click through, here's the relevant passage, asterisks and all:
Savage and Santorum's spat originates in 2003. Santorum had compared gay sex to bestiality and incest and in response, Savage set out to Google-bomb and create a new meaning for "Santorum" (just try it to see results). But on the heels of Santorum signing the "Marriage Pledge," Savage appeared (NSFW-unless you have earphones and can watch YouTube at work) on Bill Maher's Real Time on July 15. Savage, along with the panel, discussed the stable of potential Republican nominees. "I sometimes think about f****** the s*** out of Rick Santorum," he said. "He needs it...Let's bone that Santorum good. I'd be up for whipping up Santorum in that Santorum." That night he issued an apology, but it was for a comment he made under his breath, not an apology to Santorum.
Savage's remarks didn't offend me ("Oh, Dan, how can you say such awful things?"): they pissed me off. I can sympathize with him, of course: bigotry of any kind infuriates me too. But I'm not venting on national television. Further, Savage these days is letting his rage render him totally irrational, as I've pointed out before. I'm not pissed off because Savage is "hurting the cause", as some might argue. I'm pissed off because he's indulging in homophobic abuse that no one should be allowed to get away with, using sex as a metaphor for debasement and humiliation. He's tapping into the same reservoir of male violence that drives queerbashers and rapists. Me, I don't think that Rick Santorum "needs" to be fucked, brutally or tenderly. I wouldn't touch him -- or Dan Savage, for that matter -- with a ten-foot pole.

On the other hand, I think that Google-bombing Santorum was a brilliant, effective, and entirely justified move. Santorum thinks it's okay to compare homosexuality to pedophilia (risky territory for a Roman Catholic these days) or bestiality, which isn't moral argument but simply a cheap smear. If you need evidence that he's stupid as well as evil, he continues to use the same vacuous and dishonest comparisons, even though they aren't necessary to an anti-gay campaign. Maybe he feels that, after having been compared to the frothy mix of semen and fecal matter that sometimes accompanies anal sex, he has nothing to lose. Except the race for the 2012 Republican presidential campaign, I guess. And on the third hand, Savage should realize by now that humiliation isn't the most effective way to stop an opponent; after all, Frothy still did a lot better this time around, even if he finally was defeated by equally bigoted opponents. That indicates that the Google-bomb didn't hurt Santorum where it mattered, among his reactionary Christian-homophobe constituency. I doubt we've seen the last of him. ("No," to quote Firesign Theater, "but the first of you turns my stomach!")

There are more than two sides here, though AtlanticWire blogger Alexander Abad-Santos doesn't stand above the fray as he evidently believes he does, in that lofty, Olympian corporate-media journalistic way. Did you notice the word "spat" in the paragraph I quoted earlier? Well, he goes on to make sure you know he meant it.
What They Say They're Fighting About: Gay rights. This is how Savage and Santorum got into this spat in the first place. Santorum's stated that his ideal view of America doesn't include gay rights like marriage equality and has, in the past, equated gay sex with bestiality and incest. Conversely, Savage, who is openly gay, is an advocate for gay rights and created the "It Gets Better" campaign--a project that aims to combat the effects of bullying on gay teens.

What They're Really Fighting About: They're fighting about fighting at this point. It's worth pointing out, too, that Savage benefits from his stance and criticisms of Santorum, hence his recent appearances on Maher and FOD. Santorum, having only raised $582,348 in second-quarter reports is trying to monetize Savage's attacks.

"What They Say They're Fighting About" -- Ooooh, snap! It's not as if the status and condition of non-heterosexuals in American society isn't still a contested issue, with a considerable body count, pretty much all of it on one side. It's not as if sex between men or sex between women hadn't been a felony in many American states until 2003 -- and despite having been overturned by the United States Supreme Court, many of those laws are still on the books, and being used to harass queers. Meanwhile, as far as I know, no antigay bigot has done jail time simply for expressing bigoted views (as opposed to beating up or killing somebody). "Gay rights" is really the least of it. It's about deeply rooted cultural attitudes, much like racism and sexism. To skate over that hard reality with the airy word "spat" is despicable.

It might not be entirely inaccurate to say that Savage and Santorum are now merely "fighting about fighting," because there is a tendency for people locked in conflict to forget what divides them as they focus on tactics and vengeance. But given what gay people, and especially gay youth, are facing now -- given lethal antigay violence, given the bullying of gay kids that inspired Savage's "It Gets Better" in the first place, given the neglect with which nominally responsible adults have responded to this violence -- there's a distinct flavor of "Let Them Eat Cake" in Abad-Santos' dismissal of the Savage-Santorum "spat" as a merely personal quarrel. (And by "Them" I mean gay people.) I don't doubt that Santorum sincerely believes in the bigoted swill he spews at, apparently, every opportunity. That just shows how little sincerity is worth. Nor do I doubt that Savage's excesses spring from the helpless fury he feels every time the suicide of another young queer is reported in the news. Or when bigoted schoolmates celebrate such suicides. Rage is a perfectly appropriate reaction to these stories. Dismissing them, as Abad-Santos does, is not.

What is going on between Savage and Santorum can't be reduced to pettiness or spite. If they both disappeared tomorrow -- whether they were carried up to Heaven by angels, or cast into Hell to be entertained by demons -- the real issue would still remain, and even if Abad-Santos were right (though I don't think he is) about what is driving Santorum and Savage now, he'd be every bit as guilty as they are for reducing the conflict to personalities.