Monday, March 30, 2009

What Would You Do?

ABC has a new TV show called, What Would You Do? I’ve never seen the show, but I read about it on and then went to YouTube and watched a few of the different segments of the show posted there. Apparently, the show focuses on setting up a situation in a public place to see how people react. It involves hidden cameras and actors setting the scene and then recording people’s responses and interviewing them afterwards. A little creepy, but actually several of the segments I watched pose interesting questions exploring how people respond to “controversial” behavior, like two men kissing in the park or illegal behavior like three teenagers vandalizing a car, or when they have to make a choice about ignoring or intervening when they witness homophobic, racist, or sexist behavior. Here’s the set up for the segment highlighted on Bilerico. A white gay male couple (who are actors and partners in real life) engage in a public display of affection in a sports bar in New Jersey. A “homophobic” provocateur who is in cahoots with the program stirs the pot by making negative comments to other bar patrons about the gay men and then we watch how people respond to the situation.

I put aside my initial fear that the gay couple might be opening themselves to a violent response and was pleasantly surprised by the reactions of most of the people. The “homophobic” provocateur actually ticked most people off, not the gay couple. People stood up for the right of the gay couple to be physically affectionate with each other in the same way that a heterosexual couple (also in cahoots with the TV show) at the other end of the bar were.

The scene was repeated later in the evening with more people in the bar and the gay couple being more demonstrative in their affections. They also upped the ante by having the planted straight couple make negative comments about the gay men. One white male bar patron seemed particularly upset by the gay men, calling them disgusting. He was aggressively challenged by a woman at the bar who became quite upset by his homophobic comments. The TV crew interviewed her and the guy who made the anti-gay comments after she confronted him. She said that she had gay friends and it upset her to see the two gay men in the bar treated as they were. The guy who comfortably and vocally expressed his disgust at the sight of two gay men being affectionate in “his” bar when he did not know the camera was rolling, turned into a “live and let live” “I don’t care what other people do” kind of guy when he knew he was going to be on TV. It seems the light of public scrutiny induced a conversion experience for him – from blatant homophobia to professed tolerance.

Here’s the video segment. Check it out and then let’s talk about it.

So what is the take away from this little experiment?

• Most homophobes are cowards who back down or are silenced when confronted, find out they are in the minority, or that they are on TV.
• More heterosexuals (at least in this bar in NJ) are more offended by vocal homophobes than gay men kissing
• Having gay friends, co-workers or family members makes it more likely that people will be offended by homophobic behavior (actually research does tell us that having gay people in your life does make you more accepting of gay people)
• I wonder what difference having a lesbian couple or a gay couple of color kissing would have made? Or if the gay couple had been a little more stereotypical in their appearance or mannerisms?

I think about this TV show segment in relationship to recent news articles about the increase in homophobic chants and jeers by large groups of fans at men’s sports directed at opposing players. I have never attended a sporting event where this was happening so I have not personally witnessed this. I don’t know if other fans who are offended by the homophobia confront the ones yelling or holding up crude posters.

Maybe it feels less personal at a sports event because no one really thinks the targeted players are actually gay. It’s just a way to put them down, get them to lose their concentration, throw their game off. It is all at the expense of gay people though. It assumes it will be upsetting and insulting to be called gay.

The problem, of course, is that it isn’t only the targeted players who feel the impact of homophobic fans’ abuse. It contaminates the entire sporting climate for everyone attending the game. It scares people who are lesbian or gay. I imagine it makes lots of other people uncomfortable. I worry about the message it sends to young fans. At sporting events where alcohol is served, the potential for violence is increased. It puts heterosexual allies in the position that the people in the bar were in –You have to decide whether or not to speak up. You have to decide whether to be a silent bystander, which is often read as support or approval, or make your disapproval known, like the heterosexual people in the bar did.

Going back to the title of the TV show – What would you do? It’s a great question to ask ourselves. If your teammate is making anti-gay or racist comments in the locker room, if one of your opponents on another team is taunting you or a teammate with gay or sexist slurs, if fans sitting near you at a game are holding up anti-gay posters or calling someone on the opposing team “dykes” or “fags,” what would you do? And remember, chances are, if you do speak up, others will follow your lead and back you up. That’s a big take away from that little bar in New Jersey.


Anonymous said...

I understand that your column is about that which affects gays and lesbians. However, the show in general has nothing to do with gays and lesbians, and in general is pretty awful. The set-ups are all very similar and mostly cringe-worthy; about once per show, someone unknowingly involved in the experiment will tear up, and John Quinones will appear and say, "ohhh, I didn't mean to make you cry". Really? Then why does this happen so frequently? Many of the situations are embarassingly unreal or just plain odd. The premise might have made for a good program. But not a steady dose of it. What do we find out? That some people are good samaritans and others aren't. But we knew that already.

Pat Griffin said...

Mirela, thank you for commenting on the blog and I hope you keep coming back and enjoying and commenting when you feel like it. Pat

Pat Griffin said...

Anonymous, thanks for the broader view of this show. I can imagine that it might descend into a less than educational mess as you think it has. I've still not watched it. I was just intrigued by this particular segment. Pat