Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Post: Tolerance a Sign of Toxicity

Every morning I walk out to the end of the driveway and pick up the Washington Post and look it over while I have breakfast. I have read the newspaper since before the Internet, before cable TV, even in ye olde dayes when I rented a cheap place and hitchhiked everywhere and did not have television and lived on Kraft macaroni and cheese (5 for $1) I subscribed to the newspaper. But these days I can barely stand to read it.

Example. This morning's Post had a front page story that began like this:
Not long ago, pasta-maker Barilla was just one more major company that had run afoul of the gay rights movement, a distinction it earned last year when its chairman said he would never feature a same-sex couple in an ad. If gays didn’t like it, he added, they could eat something else.

But in a sign of how toxic it has become for a company to be viewed as unfriendly toward gays, Barilla has made a dramatic turnaround in the space of one year, expanding health benefits for transgender workers and their families, contributing money to gay rights causes, and featuring a lesbian couple on a promotional Web site. Human Rights Campaign says Barilla has turned around its policies on LGBT
BTW the print headline was "A recipe for recovery: Barilla makes amends to gay groups."

Now, honestly, I don't know what a "Barilla" is, and I was unaware that they were anti-gay. There are some people in the world who still cling to that but generally I am comfortable that our society has risen above the negative stereotypes and fear of LGBT people.

And of course I'm glad that a company has come around and stopped being jerks. I am pleased whenever I read these stories, people who "evolve" or states that approve marriage equality, "ex-gays" who come out and marry someone they love, but I don't really follow all the news. I check out the headlines and move on, knowing that a major public attitude has changed and the world is a better place for it. It's nice if a company becomes more accepting of something it can't change anyway.

But how in the world does The Post take this as "a sign of how toxic it has become for a company to be viewed as unfriendly toward gays"? There is nothing at all toxic about any of this. If the word needs to be used, you could say that Guido Barilla has stopped being "toxic". But I wouldn't say that, I would say he has overcome his ignorance.

Imagine The Post in 1947 saying "But in a sign of how toxic it has become for a company to be viewed as unfriendly toward Negroes, the Brooklyn Dodgers have made a dramatic turnaround, hiring a Negro to play on their team..." "But in a sign of how toxic it has become for a country to be viewed as unfriendly toward democracy, Germany has agreed to surrender ..." "But in a sign of how toxic it has become to be viewed as unfriendly toward mass murderers, some chick married Charlie Manson this week..." It is a terrible explanation for almost anything that can possibly happen.

This story was featured on Page One of the newspaper today. Thousands of people did what I did, shivered out to the street to pick up the paper, propped it up on the counter while they buttered their toast, and read about this proud Old World company caving to the toxicity of the homosexuals. Most of the readers have not been immersed in the culture wars like I have and believe that they are simply reading an objective account of something that has happened. The gays put so much pressure on this company that they buckled and now give money to gay causes, they even feature lesbians in their ads. We imagine the executives cowering in fear in the conference room, pleading with the gays not to pummel them or -- gasp! -- disparage them in public.

Apparently Barilla is an old-school Italian pasta company, and Guido Barilla said last year he would never feature a gay couple in an ad: “Ours is a classic family where the woman plays a fundamental role." Okay, old-country guy, he hadn't thought this through. I totally understand that a lot has changed in the last twenty years or so and not everybody gets it the first time around.
Guido Barilla issued multiple video apologies in the wake of the scandal. Barilla Group did not make Guido Barilla available for an interview, but in a statement, he apologized again, adding: “I am proud to say that, as a result of these discussions, we have all learned a great deal about the true definition and meaning of family, and over the past year we have worked hard to reflect that throughout our organization.”
So, yes, a lot of people have gone through that.

The idea that Guido's opening up and accepting something he didn't initially understand is "toxic" is just a horrendous misinterpretation. And here's the thing -- every day there is something like that. The Post has fallen into the gutter but it's not alone, you see these things everywhere you look. Trying to correct the bias in the media would take more time than anyone has and this is just a drop in the bucket -- I bet you don't even see a letter to the editor about this one. Fair-minded people see this sort of article and roll their eyes but they've got things to do, you can't respond to every one of these stupid things. And so it goes on, day after day, people pick up the paper and read this stuff and believe that it accurately reflects what is going on in the world.