I'll be the first to admit, the idea of a Rosie O'Donnell special documenting gay parenting while traipsing about the Carribbean isn't my first choice of prime time programming. It's not even my eighth.
It's as if the primary concern of Rosie O'Donnell, who captained the project, was presenting to the mainstream TV audience a scrubbed-up, politely tidy image of gay men and women -- a portrait meticulously devoid of the drag queens, pierced nipples and campy vamping one often sees when a local TV station rushes off to cover a gay-themed event. O'Donnell earns herself a citizenship award or a political correctness award, but the unfortunate byproduct of the consciousness-raising is that it isn't engaging, it isn't much fun, and sometimes it's punishingly platitudinous.
O'Donnell almost robs her subjects of their sexual identity in the pursuit of making them wholesome. In short, there is no gay cruising on this gay cruise.
While many are decrying Shales stereotyping of gays as people who flutter about in a world of queens, piercings, and Broadway street re-enactments, there is a point to his description. The subjects of this documentary are the most boring gay people ever encountered.
(Video and commentary after the jump)
This is, of course, the goal. Any honest gay person knows what an all-mo cruise is like. Whether or not two gay men are coupled, dating, wedded, what have you, a gay cruise almost always has its orgiastic elements.
While watching All Aboard, it was difficult not to be aware of the editing. Rosie and the producers went to great lengths to clean up the footage as much as possible. Loving, monogamous gay families and their children frolicking across the sun-dappled decks are the image meant to be projected. This program is targeting a very specific audience, and it does so effectively. Look at it this way, my mother was the one who alerted me to All Aboard. She's the kind of person who watched it, she's the one who will be seeing, perhaps for the first time, that there are typical, run of the mill, house-with-a-white-picket-fence gay families out there.
Is there a more heart-wrenching image of the difficulties gay families face today than protesters screaming at couples with kids in strollers? When a toddler is lead away in tears because Christian fundamentalists are shouting at him, what more needs to be said?
All Aboard is a carefully crafted piece of propaganda. However, it is not false propaganda. It promotes selected families in selected situations, and it gives a face to those who are most affected when politicians and "pro-family" groups attempt to outlaw things such as gay adoption.
Shales may have communicated his point indelicately, but it is undeniable. Rather than engaging in disingenuous outrage, perhaps the best reaction would be pointing out the families featured, speaking about the difficulties faced by threatened adoption laws, and using the program as an illustration in the gay marriage debate.
Gay culture is what it is, and we get no points for throwing conniptions about remarks like Shales. Especially not when any member of the religious right can hop on an all-gay cruise with a video camera and find plenty of Shale's examples come to life. Honesty is more difficult than indignation, but it does us a better turn in the long run.
[Watch video – 15:47, WMV format, high bandwidth]
[Watch video – 15:47, WMV format, low bandwidth]