Is Alec Baldwin Homophobic? Are you?

November 27th, 2013 | Categories: Uncategorized

I want to introduce you to a concept I coined in my book, The Communicated Stereotype: From Celebrity Vilification to Everyday Talk. The term is ‘celebrity vilification.’ What is currently going on with Alec Baldwin in the media is an example of this concept. Celebrity vilification is the process by which ire and punishment is doled out to celebrities for their communication of stereotypes.

The Process of Celebrity Vilification

Celebrity Apologizes
In each case of celebrity vilification, a well known celebrity at the top of their profession communicates a stereotype. The celebrity’s stereotyping incident is made public and in most of the cases the celebrity apologizes in public and humiliating ways. The celebrity defends himself or herself on the grounds of some personal misconduct. At times other celebrities and friends even come to the defense of the celebrity who is now vilified in the media as a racist, homophobic, anti-Semitic, or misogynist. However, no matter who the celebrity is or how much credibility, as in Don Imus‘ case 30 years and Michael Richards on one of the top shows paid over 1 million an episode, the proselytizing is not enough.

Media is Skeptical of Apology
Instead the media and public appear to want more as if extracting water from a stone. The apology, statements intended to clear their names, personal affirmations that they are not racist, sexist, antisemitic, homophobic, and so forth such as with Richards and Imus, and colleagues who come to their defense such as with Mel Gibson are insufficient to clear their names. Whoopie Goldberg preferred to call Mel Gibson a “bonehead” on national television rather than having him perceived as a racist. Still, this was not sufficient. One commenter in the Richards case, for example, said “I find his “apology” more irritating than the actual outburst” (Anonymous, November 20, 2006).

Celebrity is Punished
Regardless of apologies to various constituents presumably affected by the comments, the celebrity is persecuted resulting in ruined careers among other penalties. With the exception of Don Imus, these celebrities are hard-pressed to recover from this vilification depending on the severity of the stereotype communicated, the number of times the celebrity has made similar messages, and the extent of his or her apologia.

Celebrity Becomes Representative of the Ills of Society
When a celebrity is vilified in the media for communicating a stereotype, the celebrity is no longer viewed as an individual but as a representative of the ills of society. John Rocker was condemned by the anti-defamation league, who released a statement that Rocker’s comments “should be swiftly and strongly condemned. . . they have no place in our beloved national pastime” (Anti Defamation League). The firing of Don Imus was viewed by Jesse Jackson as a “victory for public decency” according to a CBS news online report.

Sharpton demonstrated how the focus is not on the particular celebrity but on that person as a representation of the bad behavior, “It’s not about taking Imus down” according to Sharpton, “It’s about lifting decency up.” Sharpton also said that Imus’ behavior could “set a precedent.” In this way, the celebrity is sacrificed via his career being ended or at least substantially displaced for the greater good. When a celebrity is vilified the issue is bigger than any single celebrity vilified in the media. The vilification of stereotypers as evidenced in the examples above serves as deterrent to stereotyping. When non-celebrities view the consequences that celebrities receive they are warned not to stereotype.

The Public Scapegoats the Celebrity
At the heart of celebrity vilification is a scapegoating process. Surprisingly, celebrity vilification has little to do with whether the celebrity stereotypers actually view the group they stereotype negatively since this can never be known because we can’t go inside their heads to know with 100% certainty their views. After all, studies by, for example, Sherif and associates (e.g., Sherif, Harvey, White, Hood, & Sherif, 1961/1988) demonstrate that people who previously held no ill will against others will begin to when put into a situation in which they benefit from doing so in that moment. This research has been used to explain the atrocities of Nazi Germany in which seemingly unprejudiced Germans took part in heinous acts against Jews and other groups. Despite not being able to know whether a stereotyper is indeed prejudiced, it is nonetheless to the public’s benefit to view the communication of a stereotype by celebrities as reflective of innermost racial hatred, homophobia, anti-Semitism, sexism, misogyny, and prejudice rather than as simply a mistake.

Social identity theory (Tajfel & Turner, 1979) argues that people gain a positive view of themselves if they have a positive view of the groups they belong to. Often this is accomplished through viewing the groups they don’t belong to in a negative way to provide a contrast. Non-celebrities get to vilify the celebrity for communicating the stereotype. In doing so they get to view themselves as people who would never say something ‘like that.’ In other words they get to view themselves as better, more sophisticated, more politically correct, and nicer than the celebrities. Celebrity vilification allows people to contrast the ‘us’ from the ‘them’. None of ‘us’ would communicate in such a heinous way like ‘they’ do. The only problem is… we do. We do communicate stereotypes. We do all the time. But, because we scapegoat celebrities, we get to pretend like we don’t. Celebrity vilification allows us to ignore all the stereotypes we communicate on a regular basis. Remember the last time you said “men/women are like that” or “you know how they are”? Those were stereotypes! You just didn’t notice it because you were too busy vilifying the new celebrity d’jour for communicating them.

Another example of celebrity vilification has occurred. Check out Alec Baldwin’s latest rant. By calling this a case of celebrity vilification I don’t mean to say that Alec Baldwin isn’t homophobic. How would I know? I couldn’t. I do mean to say though that he is making poor communication choices. If you hear his response to the accusations that’s how he pleads his case.

As reported by TMZ on November 14, 2013,

“Up Late” has been on a two-week hiatus, following Baldwin’s suspension from the network in the wake of video footage of the actor allegedly shouting homophobic slurs to a paparazzo earlier in November. Baldwin has said he did not realize his first statement was a slur and has vowed to choose his words more carefully; he denied saying the second one.

“I did not intend to hurt or offend anyone with my choice of words, but clearly I have — and for that I am deeply sorry,” Baldwin said in a statement when his show was suspended. “Words are important. I understand that and will choose mine with great care going forward.”

In an earlier tirade shouted to photographers, Baldwin made other homophobic slurs. According to TMZ on June 28, 2013,

Here’s what Baldwin had to say:

“The idea of me calling this guy a ‘queen’ and that being something that people thought is homophobic … a queen to me has a different meaning. It’s somebody who’s just above. It doesn’t have any necessarily sexual connotations. To me a queen … I know women that act queeny, I know men that are straight that act queeny, and I know gay men that act queeny. It doesn’t have to be a definite sexual connotation, or a homophobic connotation. To me those are people who think the rules don’t apply to them.”

There are two sayings that perfectly capture the point I am trying to make in this blog. The first is “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.” For those who are not fond of quotes from scripture try, “The pot calling the kettle black.” The point is essentially the same in both quotes. If you want to vilify celebrities like Alec Baldwin for communicating a stereotype by accusing him of being homophobic, first look to your own behavior. When was the last time you said “gay” in a pejorative way? Do you consider yourself homophobic?

Sherif, M., Harvey, O. J., Jack White, B., Hood, W. R., & Sherif, C. W. (1961/1988). Intergroup conflict and cooperation: The Robbers Cave experiment. Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press.

Tajfel, H., & Turner, J. C. (1986). An integrative theory of intergroup conflict. In S. Worchel & W. G. Austin (Eds.), Psychology of intergroup relations (pp. 2-24). Chicago: Nelson-Hall.

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