Of Jihads and Gay Agendas

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A Palestinian man whose face is covered with a kefeyya emblazoned with Arabic writing points his Kalashnikov at the viewer. Images of crescents, red stars, Kalashnikov rifles, al-Qaeda, Hamas, and Hezbollah move across the screen. A quote from conservative philosopher Edmund Burke proclaims: “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” So begins the film Obsession: Radical Islam’s Threat to the West, which warns of the threat of a global Jihad arrayed against western, liberal values, and reports that Islam is the “most dangerous force since the rise of Nazism.”

I first encountered Obsession in 2008, when 26 million copies were inserted in seventy different newspapers, including the New York Times, and dropped on doorsteps in political swing states, timed to coincide with the seventh anniversary of the September 2001 attacks, and the Republican National Convention. The video was followed by Third Jihad: Radical Islam’s Vision for America, and Iranium.[i]

When I first saw these videos they reminded me of The Gay Agenda, a 20-minute video that produced and distributed by the Washington, DC-based Family Research Council, which I saw in the early 1990s—when the Oregon Citizens Alliance distributed the video, as part of their campaign for Ballot Measure 9, which charged that a stealth movement was seeking “special rights” for gays and lesbians.

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The notion that gays and lesbians are seeking “special rights”—rather than the same rights and privileges as everyone else—has recently been invoked by Florida Senator Marco Rubio. When asked about the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), a bill to make discrimination against LGBT individuals illegal across the country, Rubio said, “I’m not for any special protections based on orientation.” This rhetoric first emerged twenty years ago, as part of a Christian right strategy to portray gays and lesbians as undeserving of legal protections.

The Gay Agenda featured a series of clips of male, leather-clad sadomasochists and drag queens flaunting “perverse” sexuality in public. A series of “experts”—psychotherapists, doctors, lawyers, and former members of the gay subculture, all white men–comment on different aspects of the threat posed by homosexuality, such as harmful sexual activities (such as “rimming”) which have dangerous public health consequences, including increased rates of syphilis.

The video warned viewers that the most ominous threat gay men pose is to children, dramatized through clips of a NAMBLA contingent marching in a parade, juxtaposed against “expert” talking heads. Interviews with reformed ex-gays declared that homosexuality is a choice: individuals can exercise control over their desires and ultimately leave the subculture behind. Though ostensibly differentiating between “good gays” and “bad gays,” the film, in effect, blurred the two, suggesting that gays cannot be trusted, and that the only “good gay” is an “ex-gay.” It conjured a dystopic vision of an American culture where homosexuality is normalized, and homosexuals (defined primarily as hypermasculine gay men) are bent upon aggressively destroying America.

Much like homophobic videos before them, Islamophobic media such as Obsession and The Third Jihad are “pseudo-documentaries” which utilize some of the conventions of the documentary genre–the claim to “fairness and accuracy,” the use of “experts,” and the incorporation of news footage, testimonies and “facts” — and are expressly made to persuade and mobilize through distortion.

(thanks to Zakia Salime, with whom I’m collaborating on a larger analysis of these videos)


[i] Obsession was produced by the Clarion Fund. See Obsession for Hate.com. http://www.obsessionforhate.com/thefunders.php

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2 thoughts on “Of Jihads and Gay Agendas

  1. The Gay Agenda was produced and distributed by Springs of Life Ministries in California. FRC may have acquired some copies of the film and distributed them, it did not make the film. Your post raises an interesting question: Where is the line b/t a documentary and a pseudo-documentary? The Gay Agenda is surely a piece of vile propaganda, but what makes it a pseudo-documentary as opposed to a slanted documentary? If it is its one-sided presentation or its manipulative use of music and photography, then why isn’t The Times of Harvey Milk or Fahrenheit 911 a pseudo-documentary?

    I recently had the chance to see “Ballot Measure 9,” a film with which you are probably very familiar. I had been meaning to see it for years, and I finally got the chance. To be honest, I was disappointed. The subject matter is compelling. There are moments which are absolutely riveting, as when the film allows OCA officials and anti-gay Oregonians to speak freely and explain their warped view of gay people. This could have been one of the best LGB-related documentaries ever made. But the filmmakers were on a mission to “educate” the viewer, not about the ballot measure but about how to think correctly about the ballot measure. And it was painfully obvious that they were afraid that their lesson might be lost if the “other side” were allowed too much screen time. So those raw, fascinating scenes of anti-gay activists were never allowed to go more than a minute before the film yanks the viewer back to some office conference room for a series of long, turgid lectures from the No on 9 people. The result was a frustrating, overbearing film. Too bad they left their best stuff on the cutting room floor. They not only diminished their film but they robbed the historical record of important examples of virulent homophobia in the 1990s.

    • Interesting, comment, DB, on the line between doc and pseudu-doc, which as you rightly point out, is not always easily definable. All docs, particularly ones about politicized topics, mean to persuade. But films like The Gay Agenda are filled with so many deliberate untruths and distortions that they constitute a different kind of media object, I believe–hence the pseudo-doc label. Call me old-fashioned, but I think we need to distinguish between persuasion and deliberate mis-information. Thanks for your provocation!

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