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Image: Katy Perry
Nekesa Mumbi Moody  /  AP
Katy Perry may be kidding around with her two current gay-unfriendly hits, but the media adulation she's getting just isn't funny.
msnbc.com contributor
updated 7/22/2008 3:55:05 PM ET 2008-07-22T19:55:05

Well, it’s official. It’s cool to make fun of gay people again.

How do we know? Because the folks in Medialand told us as much by relentlessly cheerleading two gay-unfriendly songs by newcomer Katy Perry: “Ur So Gay” and “I Kissed a Girl.” The first derides an emo guy with a barrage of gay stereotypes that were cliché even in Boy George’s heyday. The second addresses same-sex kissing (and, by extension, bisexuality) by putting forth the judgment that such a smooch is “not what, good girls do… not how they should behave.”

Although these tunes have definitely amused mainstream listeners, with “I Kissed a Girl” staying at No. 1 for several weeks, they’ve been less welcome by some members of the gay community and the alternative press.

Blogger Duane Moody, for example, asked “What Do You Have Against Gay People, Katy Perry?” The Washington Blade’s review lampooned Perry’s CD title, “One of the Boys” as “One of the Clueless.” It also singled out “Ur So Gay” as “a song that delivers no enjoyment, only confusion as to how anyone could be so shortsighted about its connotative meaning.” The Philadelphia Weekly was equally as unenthusiastic in its review.

The New Gay conducted a confrontational interview that had a rattled Perry actually say, “My closest friends happen to be gay.” She wasn’t being ironic. Celebrity blogger Mollygood pointed out Perry comes from a religious upbringing (she used to record Christian music as Katy Hudson) and in her New Gay interview, Perry talks about how in her “strict, suppressed household,” homosexuality was considered “wrong.” But as Mollygood also says, that’s not so far removed from the message she’s sending with her hit songs, whether she realizes it or not.

The feminist blog, Feministe, chimed in as well, with blogger Fatemeh accusing Perry of reinforcing old stereotypes and playing into gender clichés. The blog’s commenters were even more negative.

Clearly Perry, who is straight, is kidding around with these songs. Both are clever, if simplistic tunes and both obvious bids for attention — which the 23-year-old is definitely getting. But the real problem shouldn’t be with Perry herself. Artists in a free society should have the prerogative to say whatever they want, even if it’s offensive to some.

Media hypocrisy
The trouble has to do with media hypocrisy. For over a decade, anti-gay prejudice messages have been put forth in everything from public service announcements to movies to award shows. Because of this and some societal factors, a mindset has taken hold (especially among people under age 30) where deriding someone for being gay is just not done.

But that was so yesterday. Once the media found it had a hot babe with a smart mouth to promote, their tune changed pretty quickly. “Ur So Gay” became the toast of MTV, probably because it played into the popular trend of male bashing. “I Kissed a Girl,” with its “Girls Gone Wild” overtones followed, and now Katy Perry is the “it girl,” with every writer apparently legally required to call her “sassy” and “rebellious.” Of course the “rebellion” comes neatly packaged courtesy of the Capitol Music Group.

Not only is the media sending a mixed message in heralding Perry, they’re undermining any stand they might want to take in support of gays in the future. How can anyone heed their warnings not to disrespect gays when they roll out the red carpet for an artist who has done exactly that? The real point seems to be they’ll do anything for an audience.

‘Ur so….What?’
The litmus test of hypocrisy here is that if you substituted a different minority in Perry’s tunes, they’d never get airplay. “I Kissed a Black Guy” or “Ur So Korean” would not be Top 40 bound. For that matter, a song called “I Kissed a Boy,” sung by a guy, would probably die on the vine.

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Ethnic jabs are now largely seen as déclassé and gay insults were following suit. But now those insults have returned — with an inferred stamp of approval, no less. The media have used some discretion in the past, like when MTV nixed airing Prodigy’s “Smack My Bitch Up.” You’d think some judgment might have been used here, considering that gay teens attempt suicide four times as much as straight kids.

Slideshow: Celebrity Sightings This isn’t a call for a ban on either song, just a question about why the high holy mass treatment is given to some politically incorrect works of art and not others. Let’s look to the past for a good example: It was one thing to have Frank Zappa’s 1979 song “Jewish Princess” known only as a below-the-radar satire (which in itself caused protests). But had that song been sent blaring from every radio in the country, it would have sent another message to the Jewish community

Perry’s supporters note she’s bringing up issues that used to be whitewashed. That’s true, but we live in a more gay-friendly world now. TV has a gay talk show host whose biggest recent controversy was about dog adoption, not sexuality. The biggest pop star of the 1970s is out and has the appellation “Sir” before his name. Doogie Howser’s coming out elicited…indifference. “Ur So Gay” and “I Kissed a Girl” aren’t so much starting a discussion as reviving one — the juvenile one we used to hear in the pre-Ellen era.

It’s fine if the media wants to give a big promotional push to songs with unpleasant messages. They just need to be equal opportunity offenders, so to speak. If that ever comes to pass, I respectfully request MTV lift their broadcast ban on the God-des & She’s “Lick It” and 50 Cent’s “I Still Kill.”

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