Gays and lesbians represent an appealing target market that an increasing number of companies finds hard to ignore. But I believe we should distinguish between a genuinely pink business and one choosing to paint itself pink when it is convenient, accepted and can bring dividends.
The same applies to individuals and politicians. How sincere is John Key and dozens of his fellow MPs including Tariana Turia, Peter Dunne and John Banks in their switch from opposing civil unions to supporting equal marriage? Obviously, modern day politicians are finding the cost of being more socially conservative than John Banks too high. Aren’t we lucky to live to the day when no major party can afford to publicly oppose GLBTI rights? But can we still see it to the core through politicians’ big smiles at the Get it On! Big Gay Out?
Businesses are also eager to embrace GLBTI customers, often turning ‘gay for a day’. Last year Kraft photoshopped its Oreo cookie to display rainbow filling for World’s Pride Day. The Facebook picture got over 20,000 comments and over 177,000 likes in just 24 hours making it one of the cheapest but most talked about advertisements. And even though some customers became offended, the campaign was an overall hit and was well timed and calculated, launched shortly after a survey found the majority of Americans support same-sex marriage. To stretch a 100-year-old black-and-white cookie into the modern day controversy by making emotional connection is really priceless. This is a classic example that how well it pays off to turn gay for a day, especially for companies not particularly vocal about GLBTI rights, but should we be so easily attracted to the rainbow sign jumping in to support of the latest ‘converts’ at the cost of loyal long-time supporters like Levi’s, Budweiser, American Airlines, Apple, Google, etc.?
Sometimes there are even entire brands created to target specific markets. Russian band t.A.T.u first stirred the public at home and later gained worldwide popularity with their childish, high-pitched tragic songs and barely legal teenage appearances. The public was quite shocked with the image of two girls in wet Catholic school uniforms kissing behind the bars and confessing to being madly in love, causing the video to even be banned from the BBC’s paedophile-friendly ‘Tops of the Pops’ show. Little did we know then that the constantly kissing girls have never actually been in a relationship but were instead playing roles assigned to them by a child psychologist turned music producer Ivan Shapovalov who realised there was a niche for an exotic teen lesbian band. He controlled everything from the band’s image to their songs’ lyrics. The girls had to dress up in provocatively tight and short school dresses while the song lyrics were ordered to be a set of catchy repetitive phrases that were easy to memorize. The band became the most successful Russian music export in history, selling over 20 million records around the world with their songs reaching number one in many countries including New Zealand.
In Hollywood, pink became a new black with a range of GLBTI-themed movies shot in recent years gaining both critical access and popularity with the public. What would movies including ‘Brokeback Mountain’, ‘Milk’, ‘Capote’, ‘Single Man’, ‘The Kids Are All Right’ and others have in common? All of them cast straight actors to play leading queer roles. This has become quite a pattern and it appears that for straight actors playing a gay role has become a shortcut to an Oscar nomination. There is a similar situation on TV. Eric McCormack from ‘Will and Grace’ as well as Eric Stonestreet from ’Modern Family’ are also as straight as they come.
It is hard to believe that there is such a shortage of gays in showbiz that straight actors have to fill in. Veteran out actor Rupert Everett believes that Hollywood is extremely homophobic to give gay leading roles to gay actors who are reduced to doing drag. Others experts suggest that gay actors can be less suited and maybe even less comfortable to portray gay characters on the screen because during their lives they had to learn to do exactly the opposite.
But could the reason behind it be not the actors’ skills nor producers’ wishes but the public’s demand? Take the GLBTI audience itself, who would we rather fancy in a leading gay role: a gay or a straight actor? Why are gay magazines full of straight hunks and models? Why are so many gay men on dating websites looking for straight acting and/or really straight men? Why would so many porn websites and whole studios specialize in straight guys going gay?
What is hidden beneath this fetish and obsession with straight men… perhaps a struggle with subconscious feelings of being inadequate and inferior? Revenge for bullying? Desire for acceptance and self-validation? Or curiosity, need for something new, urge to tick another one the sex wish list?
Answering the title question, it does pay more to be gay, at least in porn. Straight porn focuses on women, so it is the actress who gets the cheque there. Gay porn is another matter, where male models get rewarded up to five times more than in straight porn, about $1200 a scene on average. But this is in the US. Eastern Europeans are eager to do more for less; solos could bring them on overage $150 in cash. It is however a very attractive incentive and as an industry insider reflected, it can become a one-way ticket on a train you can’t get off.
Typically, a straight guy turns up for modelling in response to a newspaper ad, finding out at first that he has to model in the nude. If that is okay, for some extra cash he is asked to masturbate on camera, next time for more money to play with another guy, often topping him first, then bottoming, then comes a threesome, barebacking, double penetration, humiliation – anything, unless the producer tells him earlier that he has become old meat and is no longer wanted. Lowering morals and high unemployment rates along with general disappointment and apathy pushes thousands of straight Czech young men to be processed through dozens of Prague gay studios like Bel Ami and Eurocreame. Some only make one shoot but its stays forever in the online porn archives.
Of course, movies and blue movies are meant to be a fantasy unless made as a documentary. The question is should modern GLBTI consumers even try to be ethical or just follow their instincts and impulses? Should we at all care about jobless straight Czech guys as long as they fulfil our fantasies with their Viagra-infused cocks while watching straight porn to keep on performing?
Should it bother us when we find out that a gay venue hires straight barmen who flirt with gay patrons while taking advantage of their position to score girls attracted to the safety of a gay bar? Should the ‘gay operated’ claim be indeed substantiated the same way as ‘natural’, ‘NZ made’, ‘no artificial colours/flavours’, ‘free-range’, or ‘GM-free’ claims in other industries? Should a customer of a GLBTI business have the right to know weather it hires straight or gay employees? From what we see though, it may in fact be beneficial for business to reveal that it employs straight staff; gay customers could actually quite enjoy engaging into buyer/seller transactions with straight guys playing a certain role within specifically defined context, exchanging money for feeling of empowerment, caring little about ethic, morals, social responsibility, community values, solidarity and other out-dated rubbish.
| Alexander Lowë.
Photos from the top: Nabisco’s rainbow Oreo cookie, members of Russian girl band t.a.T.u, Sean Penn as openly-gay SF Supervisor Harvey Milk in “Milk”.