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Sunday, April 18, 2010

Reaction to Dr. Sloop's Article

During his lecture and Q&A sessions, Dr. Sloop was always very careful to avoid making value-judgments or assumptions. He justified this by claiming to be interested only in the discourse surrounding the issues. However, in his "What These Lips Have Kissed" article, he seems to confuse certain examples of discourse with broader social norms. He argues that same-sex kisses are "immediately marked…because they are understood, often viscerally, as an unnatural and dangerous erotic expression—as exigent representation" (4). But to whom are they dangerous? Sloop clearly means this to be the American mainstream—after all, it wouldn't make sense to call gay public kissing a "juggernaut" were not effective on a very large level. Sloop takes a number of especially outspoken examples against public gay kissing and suggests that these are representative of broader cultural beliefs. He says things like, "For example, two men kissing in public have often suffered verbal or physical bashing" (13). While such "examples" are obviously terrible, I don't think it's legitimate to project them on to the American public at large. Perhaps most Americans have no problem with gay public kissing. We simply don't know without direct evidence.
In fact, it seems like the last thing Sloop tries to do is get an accurate reading of the feelings of the American public. Giving a quote from "Robert Knight, director of the rightwing Culture and Family Institute" hardly gives his readers an objective standpoint (2). Of course Robert Knight will find this activity threatening! Wasn't it just a few years ago that James Dobson of Focus on the Family felt threatened by Spongebob Squarpants for the same reason? None of these views are representative of my views or the views of the vast majority of Americans. The closest thing he gets to a "poll" would be the 100 or so letters he samples from the Post-Dispatch controversy (16). Of course, any statistician knows that voluntary response bias makes these results entirely unreliable. Whenever you give a "sample" the option to respond, there is an overwhelming tendency for those with highly negative opinions to respond. Those readers of the Dispatch who have neutral or positive feelings will rarely take the time to express their opinions. Thus, when Sloop says, "Post-Dispatch readers understand or interpret the photograph [of a married gay couple kissing] as immoral," I find it strange that he does not qualify these statements as merely examples—and highly unreliable ones at that (18).
Much of what Sloop argues is undoubtedly accurate, but I would have liked this article far better had he been more careful to qualify his statements. Perhaps he could have said that queer public kissing is disruptive to some people, or to a certain segment of society. It may have made his article sound less impressive, but I think it would have made it more accurate.

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