Brain Pickings

The Homosexuals: A CBS “Documentary” from 1967

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A vintage signpost for how far we’ve come and how far we have yet to go.

In 1967, CBS aired an episode of the network’s CBS Reports series exploring homosexuality, a topic so taboo and controversial at the time that it took three years in the making, several revisions and a change of two producers to finally air the program. Titled The Homosexuals, the hour-long broadcast was anchored by Mike Wallace, whom you may recall from his provocative conversation with Ayn Rand on morality and love as a business deal, and was the first American network documentary to ever explore the topic of homosexuality on national television. It featured interviews with a number of gay men from San Francisco, Philadelphia, Charlotte and New York, legal experts, cultural critics, priests and psychiatrists, as well as footage of young men interacting in a gay bar and a teenager being arrested during a police sting operation, complete with psychoanalysis that pegged it all on the inevitable domineering mother.

Particularly poignant is this short interview with a young man identified as “Warren Adkins,” who is in fact the prominent gay rights activist Jack Jichols, founder of the Mattachine Society:

The innermost aspects of a person’s personality is his sexual orientation, and I can’t imagine myself giving this up, and I don’t think most other people who are sure of their sexuality, whether they’re homosexuals or heterosexuals, can imagine giving that up either.”

When asked about the “cause” of his homosexuality and whether he dwells on it, Nichols responds with a kind of quiet bravery certainly far ahead of its time and in many ways still more evolved than the opinions of many on the subject even today:

I have thought about it, but it really doesn’t concern me very much. I never would imagine if I had blond hair that I would worry about what genes and what chromosomes caused my blond hair, or if I had brown eyes… My homosexuality to me is very much in the same category. I feel no more guilt about my homosexuality or about my sexual orientation than a person with blond hair or with dark skin or with light skin would feel about what they had.”

As part of the research for the broadcast, CBS conducted a survey that found 90% of Americans saw homosexuality as an illness and the vast majority favored legal punishment even for homosexual acts done in private between two consenting adults. But what’s most fascinating is that the segment portrays gay men — and, mind you, completely neglects gay women as part of the homosexual community — as inherently promiscuous, incapable of sustaining long-term monogamous relationships. And yet, even as we cringe at the general trauma and civil rights failures around the issue in 1967, here we are nearly half a century later, still debating gay marriage and questioning the rights of those men and women who do want to legally enact these loving long-term monogamous relationships. One has to wonder whether a documentary on today’s gay rights opponents would sound just as foreign and antiquated half a century from now.

But, hey, one thing we’ve made unabashed progress on is gay rights sign design.

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Tom Gauld’s Both: If Edward Gorey Did Contemporary Quirk-Comics

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What a morally outraged sweetcorn kernel has to do with some not-so-bright astronauts and Mexican wrestlers.

London-based cartoonist and artist Tom Gauld might just be the Edward Gorey of our time, channeling his wry humor and macabre aesthetic through exquisite black-and-white illustrations. In 2002, he collaborated with fellow RCA alum Simone Lia on Both — a lovely little book blending two previous volumes, unequivocally titled First and Second. It’s a quirky story about, well, a morally outraged sweetcorn kernel, some Mexican wrestlers, some astronauts, a rabbit, bread and bhagis, among other oddballs, who explore the bittersweetness of the world through offbeat vignettes and minimalist narratives full of sometimes subtle, sometimes laugh-out-loud funny humor.

Though the book is currently out of print, you can snag a used copy on Amazon for as little as $8 or try hunting it down at your favorite local offbeat bookstore.

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Illegal Drugs, Explained in LEGO: A 1970s PSA

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The architecture of addiction, or why mixed metaphors might be more harmful than marijuana.

In the 1950s and 60s, singer Anita Bryant made a name for herself as a vocal gay rights opponent. (Take that, Anita.) In the 1970s, she added illegal drugs to her roster of targets and narrated a short “documentary” on the evils of drugs titled Drugs Are Like That, in which two school-aged children discuss their knowledge of drugs whilst constructing a giant LEGO monster. Though many of its metaphors make little sense, its odd medley of campy and condescending is a head-scratcher, and a number of its arguments are scientifically questionable, the film is nonetheless visually beautiful and creatively innovative for its time. That, or at the very least an entertaining paleofuture treat for your Wednesday. (For a better metaphor using LEGOs, see my thoughts on networked knowledge and combinatorial creativity.)

Watch or download the full 16-minute version from the Prelinger Archives — it’s public domain footage, which makes it remix material of the finest kind, ahem…

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