By: Lisa Leitz
During the January 26, 2014 Grammy Awards Queen Latifah presided over 33 couples that wed during Macklemore, Ryan Lewis, and Mary Lambert’s “Same Love” mashup with Madonna’s “Open Your Heart.” Recent posts have critiqued the heteronormativity in both CBS news coverage and the Grammy focus on the straight stars in the event and its de-politicization of the song.
While others have analyzed the political message of the song to conclude it as barely more than straight “rappers” heralding the assimilationist agenda of HRC, I look around my current rural state of Arkansas and can’t help but wonder- can we understand the Grammy Weddings to be a political tactic or are they merely feeding the pocketbooks of already-mega-rich pop stars?
One answer lies in outcomes, which we have so much difficulty measuring as social movement scholars. Changes in attitudes toward same-sex weddings would be hard to trace (in the aggregate) to one event like this. We need to continue to develop methods for systematically analyzing social media and audiences (like marketing pros use) to better get at researching the success of tactics.
Another answer seems to lie in what we believe to be an acceptable outcome of a tactic like this- queering our notions of marriage or simply marriage equality, and that gets at a fundamental divide, not just in the queer community but throughout organizing and social movement scholarship, about radical vs. mainstream organizing. Are only radical politics/tactics worthwhile? Do tactics that push toward the middle also aid the margins? And if so to what end? Sure marriage has real consequences for those in the LGBTQIA community who can obtain them, but in the end are we only reifying a structure that marginalizes those in other types of families & genders? Here we need long-term outcome studies that help us understand when and how radical and more mainstream social movement tactics work, separately and in tandem. Some of this work was started in Bernstein & Taylor’s The Marrying Kind, but clearly more is needed.
While the critiques of the “Same Love” lyrics, as well as the music and television industries’ “add gays and stir” attitude toward LGBTQIA issues is warranted, I can’t help but think that given the political realities of America (and its pop culture, if we are to be honest with ourselves) watered down messages like this have a place in trying to reach people where they are at. Macklemore shouldn’t be heralded as an edgy activist but as a savvy political framer, whose words can reach a wider audience than most radical critics could dream. Yes, his message offers a soft and sweet version of same-sex love that a wide variety of people can relate to, therefore leaving many problematic assumptions of gender and sexuality unchallenged. However, if his music is played even in conservative communities, doesn’t it have real consequences? Not all live in the more-queer-friendly spaces of academia, New York City, or Southern California, from which many of the critiques came. Had Macklemore, Lewis, and Lambert sung a song that challenged too much of mainstream culture, it probably wouldn’t have saturated the airwaves or the awards. A wide variety of tactics, many of them imperfect, are necessary for change.