- Shop-Talk: Exchanging Narrative, Sex, and Value
I. The gay and lesbian rights movement is neither “gay and lesbian” (bisexuals break into the gendered symmetry, the transgendered cross it, straight queers join the parade, and queer theorists “problematize” the nomenclature’s ontology anyway) nor a “movement” (absent and anonymous “national leaders” continue to fail basic lobbying, national organizations want your money not your help, everyone from gay Republicans to NAMBLA wants their place at the table, and the activist/assimilationist tactical dilemma ensures that fighting remains strictly in-house). Lacking the focused text and ear for context of both the black civil rights and the women’s movement, the “rights” of sexual minorities remain to be articulated. Without a central narrative, compelling characters, and a lofty theme, sexuality tells too many competing stories to be heard over the din of those tall tales in which it is already told. To the prattle of gay and lesbian rights, the socius might wonder, “what do homosexuals want?”, almost certain that sexual rights translates to a legitimation of those excessive homosexual horror stories which the movement itself has been unable, simply and coherently, to bring to any happy ending. [End Page 635]
II. As narrative topic, homosexuality now occasions a promiscuous dissemination of itself, appearing across the political spectrum in all the forms American consumer-media can offer: celebratory videos (Stonewall 25), TV-talk shows (Ricki Lake), mass-mailings (the Human Rights Campaign Fund), and inspirational sermons (from the homocentric Metropolitan Church) all packaged to counter the better selling videos (The Gay Agenda), TV talk shows (the 700 Club), mass-mailings (the American Family Association), and inspirational sermons of the conservative and religious right. 1 To campaign for gay and lesbian “rights” or against such “special privileges,” to teach the history or the evils of sexualities, and perhaps even to discuss the name, “homosexuality,” is to draw then not only upon a semiotic field of macro- and micro-narratives, cultural mythologies, and compelling images and symbols, but also from within a diverse array of packaged information, advertising icons, and marketed mythologies. In an age of consumer-subjects, gays and lesbians would do well to forgo the nostalgic memory of 60s era liberation movements and play the politics of talk-radio, internet connections, and 30-second commercials. For in America, homosexuality has been thoroughly commodified, and only the proper ad campaign will sell it to the “mainstream” consumer who might already buy it as an accursed share, the detritus of consumption.
A story in a local gay newspaper 2 describes a debate over community tactics: keep clamoring for the mayor’s appearance at important gay events (World AIDS Day, the local Pride Parade, etc.) or start clamoring for greater investment in the city’s “gay ghetto”? Betting that City Hall’s eagerness to market the city could be used to market local gays and lesbians, activist entrepreneurs imagine that a loose collection of gay businesses and community services could transform itself, with the appropriate banners and fanfare from the mayor, into the “Lavender District” or the “Pride Block.” Not only would the greater visibility encourage more gay consumption (from out-of-town tourists and from local queers whose lack of community consumption qualifies them as out-of-towners anyway), but the newly empowered gay zone might also market queers to everyone passing through. Countering the right’s relentless PR machine and its stock images of gay male pedophiles, [End Page 636] lesbian abortionists and queer quotas, gay business can appropriate the duplicitous signs of consumer society and present itself to the passing shopper in any number of colors and styles, from the stalwart shopkeeper to the savvy investor, the community oriented corner store to the profitable enterprise, the common sense bottom-line to the super-chic trendy-fad. Peddling goods, services, and glitzy consumer signs, the gay community as business enterprise begins to sell itself as a product, pushing marketed images expansive enough to entertain, disseminate, and sell all sorts of imaginary contradictions. Enabling neither revolutionary action nor quietist assimilation, such a stance serves to advertise both, the gay and lesbian “lifestyle” losing its singularly negative charge...