I remember the first time I read about the possibility that the truth of the Matthew Sheppard case may not have been accurately depicted in the media. After reading an article reviewing author Stephen Jiminez’s book entitled “The Book of Matt: Hidden Truths About the Murder of Matthew Sheppard” I decided to read the book because I was curious. The narrative of the Sheppard story was a powerful one that affected gay and bisexual people on a personal level. The issue was one of safety for us and in certain ways, freedom. Were we free to love, to hold hands, to simply be ourselves, particularly in smaller or religious communities? In 1998 I had been out of the closet for seven years and had witnessed brutality towards people perceived to be gay. I saw the bruises on the face of a teenage friend who had been tied up in his parent’s basement, beaten, and thrown out by his dad. The Matthew Sheppard case seemed easily plausible to many of us then because of the reality of violence toward us. Why at the time would anyone who was or supported gay and bisexual people doubt the narrative?
After reading Jiminez’s compelling work I thought long and hard about what was represented to the public via the media. Any person who thinks about media enough will concede that it is often used to stir up emotions and even manipulate public thought and discourse. But most of us think were discerning enough to see through anything nefarious. In fact many of us would say we watch/read the “good” or “accurate” channel or newspaper. Some say NPR or Democracy Now is the real deal whilst others say Fox or Breitbart is true. But really almost all news is some way is owned by someone who has an agenda. Maybe the agenda is only to make money, but what exactly is sacrificed to bring in more revenue (btw I’m in no way anti-capitalist)? Is it possible that since all news sources ultimately wish to stay in business, that at some point they have to go with whatever the most compelling sound bite sized narrative is so people will keep paying attention to them? Is it possible that in this dance of terror as a twisted form of entertainment, that accuracy sometimes goes out the window?
At the end of the day even facts can be subjective due to interpretations based on previous experiences and expectations. That being said, it’s always helpful for thinking people to have whatever facts are available and not purposely obscured. Even better is to present information in a way that lets people decide for themselves what is or isn’t true when it comes to events, crimes, and situations. William Randolph Hearst knew that neutrality didn’t sell papers nor did truth in its purer forms. Before we vilify him though we must remember that he sold those papers filled with yellow journalism because people like you and me most likely bought them. It’s likely even then people knew they weren’t being told of many of the facts but they just didn’t want to know that they knew. Is media really any different today and are we any less (allowing of being) fooled, regardless of news source?
Hearst was also rather smart in his technique of expanding his readership by way of combining some facts or some truth with the narratives that were being disseminated. Few people are likely to bother reading/watching/listening to something that is perceived with assurance as false. Some part of the story has to have a percentage of reality or potential for reality in order to peak interest. A carrot must at least look like a carrot before we’re willing to take a bite and mass media is no different. If a story comes out and we know the situation is possible because of previous experiences or narratives we’ve been exposed to, then we are more likely to take a proverbial bite. As a lady who’s spent time in a boat with a rod and reel, I’ve learned they don’t call it fishing for nothing.
“The Book of Matt” presented new information about the potentially previously misunderstood or deliberately misrepresented narrative about Matthew Sheppard’s murder. Do I know for sure if he was killed for being gay or killed for methamphetamine dealing? No. None of us ever will except for those involved. But now I have a different perspective that challenged me to discern what I was initially told. If the tables had been turned and the story was represented with big flashing lights, tears, and drama about drugs, and a campaign had been launched that changed not only opinion but laws, and in reality his death was really more about him being gay, I’d feel the same way. I’d feel like I would have liked to know more about the facts than the fiction of the event.
Today is June 23rd 2016 and the latest narrative about gay people has to do with a mass shooting at a gay themed nightclub in Florida. Almost 20 years later we’re seeing the same flashing lights, tears, and drama. Only this time we have not only TV, papers, and radio, we have social media that serves as the great distractor and constant reminder that whatever we’re being told by the media is “true”. I don’t know about this Love is Love campaign but I can say tragedy is tragedy. And if indeed a shooting occurred and people died, then this tragedy is no laughing matter regardless of the murder’s motives or who was involved.
Since we live in a time where people can and do sometimes question mass media in particular, stories have come out disputing the narrative around the whole event from whether it actually happened at all to if the killer’s motivation was hatred of gays. Most of us know by now it is easy to find people willing to lie so that they may get attention or money. We also know attempts to shape opinion by how a story is told and what facts are or are not included is possible if not probable in a great deal of major stories (WMD’s for example). We’re really no different from folks during Hearst’s journalistic reign. If it seems to have the possibility of truth with enough attention grabbing technique, we’ll bite. I’d like to think that nowadays we’d think a bit more before we chew and digest what is told to us. And some do with websites and blogs featuring their version of truth and facts that differ greatly from the popular narratives. Yet these sources I believe are no better or worse than those they seek to differentiate themselves from, especially if their information is also presented in a sensational way.
Personally I question the gay hate narrative from this Florida event and so does my wife and a number of other people. But I don’t have to seek out mainstream or alternative internet sources or any other narratives. All I have to do is go with experiences from the past which helps me to employ a healthy dose of skepticism to anything I see or hear from a screen. In addition because we don’t pay attention to the news and don’t participate in social media (other than this blog) my wife and I are able to sometimes see a bigger picture that is not obscured by the “bread & circus” of it all. “For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also (Matthew 6:21). Our treasure is where we spend our time and where our money goes. If my attention is spent getting emotional by purposely exposing myself to half-truths presented sensationally then that says a lot about my values or what I treasure. Satan is the father of lies. It’s important to remember that, which is why I pray for the Lord’s protection from the snares of evil in all things.
One more thing I want to say is that those going around saying “love is love is love is love” don’t represent me or my wife. The only reason I even found out about this Florida story is because an older and very emotional woman came up to us in the parking lot of our local organic grocer and started crying and touching us and telling us how we needed to “watch out for each other.” Though I love my neighbor, I don’t appreciate being targeted by anyone, regardless of how well meaning they are, because I’m in a same-sex relationship. We don’t like being used to further some possible agenda that we don’t belong to even if we appear to. I’ve been contacted by old friends concerned for us and a currently married to a man ex. girlfriend told me she put a 20+ year old photo of us on her facebook profile page as what I assume was a sign of support for the victims in the Florida case. Even family has sent photos with rainbows as a show of solidarity. Typically when a major news story happens I can look away but this time it became personal, and my sense is all the hype has many people upset who care about gay and bisexual people.
But what happened in that bar has nothing to do with my family. Love is not dancing in a nightclub, getting inebriated, cruising for sex, or loud music. That all may be fun for a lot of people regardless of romantic orientation but it is not love. Perhaps the saying should be “fun is fun is fun” because people don’t generally go to bars and clubs for love but for fun. And fun is fine. This is a free country and since it’s legal to drink, dance, and cruise, then by golly people can do that. But those activities don’t represent a shred of our lives as a couple now or when we got together. We have no “gay lifestyle.” A lifestyle is the way you live by way of who you spend time with, where you go, what you do, and what you pay attention to. I don’t appreciate anyone assuming to know, regardless of intentions or alliances, what our so-called style of living is. Yes I’m married to a woman but that is not who I am or how I live and I certainly don’t define real love by being in a crowded bar regardless of who is there. Bias goes both ways in terms of liberal and conservative. It’s ugly regardless. Bias may sell papers and make people cry, but it doesn’t mean whatever media represents the event as, is or was, true.
No one speaks for our sake. Not gay movements, nor those trying to ban guns, nor those who say their looking out for “people like us.” My wife and I are not interested in any rainbow lies (whether or not they are for supposedly our sake). If it could happen to Matthew Sheppard, then it could be happening now. Don’t believe the hype indeed.