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March 20, 2006 | by  | in Opinion |
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Right under your Nose…

This week began with a letter from someone going by the name of ten Tonne Samoan. It is not the theme of this letter that I wish to use to kick start this editorial. The letter was merely a textbook example of the stock standard rhetoric thrown at Salient by a small handful each week, which is imagined to be so cutting and cruel, but is met with nothing much but a chuckle and a pat on the back for offending, to whichever of our writers met the wrath of the more disaffected of the campus population.

It was a line that told us that in order to be cooler, we must increase our levels of ‘sexism, racism and homophobia’ that stuck with me. I didn’t really care at first. I just had a coffee, and got back to work.

The line came back to revisit me early Tuesday, as I rode the early train in from Lower Hutt (I am not a Hutt dweller, I promise). I opened my crisp Dominion Post to the front-page headline, “‘Gay gene’ row over sperm donations.” It is an article detailing, and virtually discrediting the notion that sexual orientation is hereditary. It follows the claims of an associate professor Frank Sin (insert pun here) and then contradicts it with even-handed commentary and expert opinion. It gives attention to an extreme opinion and then tears it down.

My problem with this article and its relative homophobia ran two ways. It is firstly negative and damaging. The headline gives attention to a row over the supposed gay gene. It does not bring attention to the fact that the existence of a gay gene is a controversial idea to begin with. It is sensationalism, appealing to the homophobic middle-class demographic of the Dominion Post, and also to the fact that newsreaders do not usually read the majority of the text in an article. The fact that Sin’s thesis statement is discredited is not raised till the very end. By this time, much of the audience would be well into the sports section, with just the headline and a negative message from the front page.

But let us go beyond mere semiotics. Is there anything news worthy about this piece, really? It was put in pole position above at least 5 other stories in the paper that could have taken its place, and rightfully should have. What does the article tell us? Nothing. It no more announces something of controversy as it takes it away. In its entirety it is null and void. If I wrote an article detailing that pigs could fly, this would probably be countered with scientific opinion that they are in fact flightless. Both facts are news worthy. If they found concrete scientific evidence of the hereditary gay gene, then cool. But they have no more found evidence of this than I have of pig flight. There is some attention given to the fact that gay sperm donors are now accepted for human rights issues (a matter I was unaware of), but it is buried.

By giving attention to this issue and its mad scientist the Dominion Post plays into the inherent homophobia of society. It is the mere acknowledgement that this story, empty as it is, is headline news ­– that gives the DomPost away. We live in a society where homosexuality is becoming accepted as nothing but a mere personality characteristic. I have friends who are gay, I have friends who are honours students.

The article gives rise to the notion that a ‘hidden’ gay gene would take away peoples right to choose their child’s sexual orientation. This I find ridiculous. If we are not a homophobic society then why are we so terrified of our children being gay? In this (and most likely any) country, masses of children each day are born to criminals and drug addicts, and into cultures where the likely future past 20 involves prison. Is there a movement to classify drug addiction, violence, wife-beating tendencies in all sperm donors? No.

This article, intentionally or not, plays into a world that favours criminals and drug addicts over gay people, for the shockingly simple fact that at least criminals can breed in an orthodox fashion. Call me a hippie, but when I have kids (and I have that easy, this piece is one of observation, it is not informed by first hand oppression) I would barely raise an eyebrow at having a gay kid, but a criminal offspring I would find truly offensive.

In the student media we do try and set ourselves in opposition to the mainstream press. We live outside its bounds and do our best to try to offend. But with homophobia (and if you look closely racism, and for sexism try some of the more human interest pieces in the World section) so prevalent in the mainstream press, we need not make gay shocks to shock.

We may not run the straight and narrow, but we may also not be your cup of tea Mr Ten Tonne Samoan. But if your diet is lacking connotated bigotry, I suggest you try your daily Dominion Post.

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About the Author ()

James Robinson is a university dropout turned journalist who likes to pretend he has an honours degree. Turn ons include soup, scarfs, a hot bath and some FM-smooth Kenny G-esque instrumental jazz. Turn offs include student politicians, the homeless, and people who pronounce it supposebly.

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