I’m Here, I’m Queer, Get Interested In It.

Fun Home CoverSo I’m not a fan of the GLAAD media awards.

I went on about this a few years back, but essentially GLAAD is the “Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defimation” and every year they hand out awards for positive portrayal of queers in the media. Films, TV Series, News Programmes, whatever. Comic Books too, actually, and it’s the comic book section that really pisses me off. Why? GLAAD’s mandate pushes ‘mainstream’ or ‘visible’ material over quality material. So if something is really great and really queer, but say published by Oni Press, wheras something is mediocre on every level (including queer representation) but is published by DC Comics? DC gets the award. For Example:

Past Winners:
2006: Young Avengers, Marvel Comics
2005: Luba, Fantagraphics
2004: Catwoman, DC Comics
2003: Green Lantern, DC Comics
2002: Green Lantern, DC Comics
2001: Supergirl, DC Comics
2000: Supergirl, DC Comics

Yeah, congrats to Gilbert Hernandez and Luba, but that’s pretty odd and uninspiring company Gilbert finds himself in.

This year’s nominees for Best Comics are:

52 by Geoff Johns, Grant Morrison, Greg Rucka, Mark Waid (DC Comics)
American Virgin by Steven T. Seagle (Vertigo/DC Comics)
Fun Home by Alison Bechdel (Houghton Mifflin)
Manhunter by Marc Andreyko (DC Comics)
Y: The Last Man by Brian K. Vaughn (Vertigo/DC Comics)

Which… With two queer authors and an actual book about queer issues, fills me with a hope that will almost certainly be dashed against the rocks when Y: The Last Man wins, but something like 52 even being nominated makes me more than a little queesy. I even like Greg Rucka and the Montoya character, but that series is neither of their finest hours.

But to get to the point of this post? It looks like the gay media is sick of supporting these awards, when the gay media are completely unlikely to get anything out of them. From the Queerty blog:

“Gay cable network here! isn’t having GLAAD‘s straight-washing of their Media Awards. Despite describing itself as dedicated to “promoting and ensuring fair, accurate and inclusive representation of [LGBT] people and events in the media”, the watchdog group refuses to include gay programming in their nominations. To protest this queer contradiction, here! has yanked their support of the annual event.”

There are a lot of apologists for GLAAD’s mission statement and the awards themselves, but honestly? I’m glad a gay organisation finally stood up and against the awards as they stand. They’re effectively celebrating portrayals of gay people as either stereotypes or cartoons, and their celebrity worship at the expense of shining a spotlight onto smaller, more deserving works ranks pretty high on my own social injustice meter. In this specific instance, shutting out queer programming by queers in favour of truly dreadful crap like, oh, Brothers & Sisters is just… blaaaaaaaaaah.

I think a connected, political, entertainment-oriented organisation for Queers is important, and even telling Kevin Smith that he’s being a jack-ass at the risk of looking out-of-touch doesn’t bother me. But (to mangle a metaphor) they’ve got a huge voice and a big pulpit, and instead of Proselytizing to the masses they’re preaching to the choir.

– Christopher
P.S.: No manga? What the hell?
P.P.S.: Thanks to Dorian for the tip.

15 thoughts on “I’m Here, I’m Queer, Get Interested In It.”

  1. Five minutes of looking at the PRISM website would give GLAAD a better handle on what is and isn’t worth looking at for LGBT audiences and LGBT representation. But that doesn’t sell and organizations like GLAAD need to be able to sell being a victim to get the donations up. The Kevin Smith incident was all the worse because GLAAD liked him for CHASING AMY, then made a calculated move to get GLAAD’s name in the press by condeming JAY AND SILENT BOB STRIKES BACK because it wasn’t a glowingly positive portrayal and poked the fun out of The Gay. And if you managed to sit through the movie, you’d have to notice that the poked the fun out of everyone and everything. Everything you say rings true and that here! is taking a stand. GLAAD is supposed to be the watchdog organization, but they shouldn’t be left unchecked. That way leads to the Oscars where they pat themselves on the back for realizing after all these years that there are actual black actors out there. I mean, 52 is certainly a fun mindless romp, but handing an aware to the 52 crew for having a few minor characters that are lesbain in an ensamble cast? It would be like the NAACP Image Awards handing an award to Danny Aiello for being brave enough to work with Spike Lee. Feh.

  2. I’m not the least bit bothered by the GLAAD media awards. The GLAAD awards choices are in keeping with their mission statement and their focus on the mainstream media representations. They are not an arts advocacy group, they do not exist to promote specifically queer culture, they are about the politics of representation in specifically national (US) media. Yes a ONI book with national distribution of 8000 copies is still national, but giving them an award serves little political purpose given the lack of audience.

    One of the points of the GLAAD award is to say to mainstream media outlets: This network, this producer, this writer etc. represented us properly and did so sucessfully (read profitably) in the mainstream media, they get a gold star. Please follow their example.

    Promoting content created speciffically for a queer audience isn’t what GLAAD is about, and frankly I don’t really want them to be. Their awards make some sense in the context of thier organization.

    That said it would be great to have some high profile international awards for queer english language content based on artistic merit, but GLAAD are not the people do to it.

  3. I can’t disagree more. Giving an award to an ONI book can do nothing but help highlight that book and possibly give it a wider audience in bookstores. It has national distribution; why not help it along? Why do we deny gold stars to publishers who have the commitment already?

    I never said the purpose of the GLAAD media awards was to promote a specifically queer culture (whatever that means). There are simply better examples in 2006 and instead of going for them, they went for what will earn them a gold star with the big two publishers of comics.

    And I fully agree that it would be great to have some awards as you describe above. And I absolutely agree that GLAAD should not be the people to do it.

  4. “There are simply better examples in 2006 and instead of going for them, they went for what will earn them a gold star with the big two publishers of comics.”

    Exactly my point. GLAAD is far more concerned about how the big two represent LGBT issues than anyone else. As an advocacy group that wants to be listened to by mainstream media outlets it has to play their game.

    The advantage to giving it to the obscure ONI book? It sells 8500 copies instead of 5000. Sure it’s probably better than the Young Avengers, but how many people saw it? And are they the people who desperatly need to see nuanced and respectful portrayals of LGBT characters?

    Even Fun home is on this list because of all the mainstream press it got, not because it’s a great book (it is a great book though btw).

    That Marvel launched the “Young Avengers” with two teenage gay boys in a relationship is a great step in the right direction (especially given the pubisher’s relationship with queer content in the past) and given that GLAAD’s primary concern is with mainstream representations that reach a large audience it makes sense that the award went to them last year. It also makes if far more likely that GLAAD will be listened to by Marvel if they critisize them in the future.

    I’m kind of jumping all over the place here so I’ll wrap it up.

    I think we’re probably in agreement about the awards, other than you see thier choices as a problem and I think their approach makes sense given thier mandate.

  5. “The GLAAD awards choices are in keeping with their mission statement and their focus on the mainstream media representations.”

    So why, when manga is selling at least as much if not more than superhero comics, are there no manga on the list? Surely there’s one or two manga series out there with positive gay characters that have more of a mainstream presence (and better sales) than American Virgin (which isn’t a great seller, even for Vertigo) and Manhunter (which has such poor sales that the book’s been cancelled twice by DC). Note that I’m not picking on the quality of the books. I own the American Virgin TP but just haven’t read it yet (I don’t have a pile of books unread, more like a large, growing landmass in my media room), and I’ve liked what I read of Manhunter. But I’d hesitate to call them mainstream.

    52 might not be Rucka’s shining moment, but the book’s been a big seller for DC, so I understand the nomination. Y The Last Man’s a big hit, and Vaughn’s a hip name. Fun House is the most acclaimed GN of the year, and was the only GN on the New York Times Sunday Book Review. I can understand those nominations.

    I grew up on DC and Marvel, sure, but I recognize that manga has an energy and a rabid fan\base that really is more mainstream than any superhero comic out there. GLAAD could have capitalized on that and reached out to that fanbase with an award there, but they missed an opportunity.

  6. At first I couldn’t figure out for the life of me why 52 was nominated, and I just read a few of the Gotham Central trades. Stupid rainy Monday mornings/memory loss.

  7. I served on the comics-nominating committee for GLAAD one year, and can confirm that it’s all about thanking the corporate media for being nice to us, and not quality in general or even about the best portrayals. “LGBT comics” need not apply. One book I supported (“Potential”) was dismissed on those grounds because it was autobio by a queer teenager, even though it was published by Slave Labor. So was “Desert Peach”, even though it’s created by a straight person. I’m a little surprised “Fun Home” made the cut, but I guess it was a combination of Houghton Miflin and the mainstream press coverage that de-LGBT-ed it.

    I don’t have any particular malice for the GLAAD awards… I just don’t have any use for them, either. They are what they are. And rather than trying to “fix” them, it would make more sense for someone else to give out a separate set of awards that don’t take publisher or circulation figures into account, just quality.

  8. “It would make more sense for someone else to give out a separate set of awards that don’t take publisher or circulation figures into account, just quality.”

    I do think this is a great idea. The Lambda awards have this criteria:

    “Lambda Literary Awards are presented in twenty-four (24) categories. . . . In determining whether a book should be nominated, consider that the Lambda Literary Awards are based principally on the quality of the writing and the LGBT content of the work. The sexual orientation of the author is secondary.”

    That said I had never heard of these awards until I went searching for them, the GLAAD awards, because of thier mainstream focus do have a greater profile. The Lambda awards don’t have a specific graphic ficiton category, but graphic works (Fun Home for instance) have been nominated in general categories.

    It is a shame that the most high-profile awards of LGBT works are not based on quality. I guess the question is how to raise the profile of existing LGBT awards such as the Lambda or how does one create a new award that will succeed in greatly raising the profile of it’s recipients and nominees.

  9. AC- Unsurprisingly, I disagree. I think that the only thing preventing GLAAD from recognizing better work is myopia. Queer stories can and do speak to a straight audience, frequently. It’s why a queer film by a queer writer/director like Hedwig and the Angry Inch can win a GLAAD award, because it puts a complex, important, and positive image about sexuality out into the mainstream. It’s what makes Fun Home such a worthy candidate.

    Likewise, ‘smaller’ publishers like Oni (to use Ed’s example) or Image (publishers of Age of Bronze, amongst other good books) are competing for the same attention in the same comic stores as DC and Marvel. They have the same opportunities, on a certain level, to reach a mass audience. The sell-through isn’t there, but that’s kind of the point of drawing attention to the work with an award in the first place. It’s an award, not a reward. Unless GLAAD really is lying to themselves.

    And hey, Luba by Gilbert Hernandez did win last year, so it’s not outside of the realm of possibility.

  10. I think that the Lambda Awards do have a higher profile than the GLAAD awards. Maybe it’s because of where I work, but I could name plenty of Lambda winners (David Sedaris, anyone?), but had never heard of the GLAAD awards until this post.

  11. “The GLAAD Media Awards recognize and honor MAINSTREAM MEDIA for their fair, accurate and inclusive representations of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community and the issues that affect their lives.”

    GLAAD is about the MAINSTREAM MEDIA. It’s something that’s hard to define, but at some point I think it becomes a numbers game.

    For example (it comes to mind because of the current film) at what point did the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cease to be indie and become mainstream? Anything that reaches a large audience or gets enough press starts to be considered mainstrem.

    GLAAD is about accurate and inclusive representation, which certainly overlaps with artistic merit, but the two are not synomonous. They are also very much about raising the profile of positive queer representaiton to a mainstream audience. It’s thier mandate, it’s their sole goal. The awards are an extension of that. If a good number of thier picks don’t already have legs then the profile of their Awards among the Mainstream Press (which is what they are concerned about) drops. I agree a lot of their choices suck, and I’m sure they could do better. However it’s in the interest of thier main objective to push ‘mainstream’ (young avengers) or ‘visible’ (Hedwig, Fun House). How long to you think their “Huge Pulpit” would last if they changed their tune?

    That said I just argueed for more voices of non-apologist dissent in the mainstream media on my facebook page yesterday so I’m feeling like a big hypocritic right now.


    For a refreshingly honest letter published not in the local gay press, but the LA times.

  12. Chris.
    You had me sold in your initial post, but then the comments have swayed me the other way.
    I agree with you on a “gut” level(and I can’t imagine I would give shit about supporting the GLAAD awards), but AC makes a very good point about the mandate of the organization.
    I also think LBGT issues are are far from settled, and even with the amazing progress that has been made in the Post-Stonewall era, it’s still possible for public opinion to swing back the other way(especially on a global level), and so I can see the reasons behind putting a spotlight on mainstream portrayals.

    Having said that.
    You do a great blog, and The Beguiling is the greatest comic store I have ever seen.
    I live in Newfoundland, and whenever I’m in Toronto I take most of an afternoon to slowly look around and drool over your selection.
    Keep up the good work.

  13. I’m familiar with the Lammies. (I knew the guy who started them back in the day.) They’re mainly known in the gay-press/gay-bookstore market, though the big publishing houses have been picking up more of the awards since they started publishing more LGBT material. Which is OK, because they’re winning primarily on the merits of the work, and frankly that’s what’s happening to the gay book market overall: it’s tough to run a gay publishing house or a gay bookstore these days.

    (Which raises some interesting parallels with the cartoonists being picked up by big book publishers in recent years, and the theoretical demise of the direct market as mainstream bookstores horn in on *that* niche. But I digress.)

    Even if graphic novels are eligible to win general book awards like the Lammies, that feels a bit like noting that the books honored in the Lammies are eligible for the Pulitzers or the National Book Award. It’d still be nice to have some awards that honored simple excellence in the “LGBT cartooning” niche. And yes, I’m volunteering to be part of making that happen. Maybe it could be done in connection with an organization such as Prism?

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