Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Why Did Jones Win?

With less fanfare than one might expect, Joe.My.God declared Mike Jones the winner of the Queer of the Year poll. Jones gathered almost double the votes of any of the other nominations. Some of this might reflect who reads Joe’s blog, but it is still an interesting choice. Jones did not have my personal vote, but I became intrigued by the amount of attention he received all through the nomination and voting process. Only Rosie O’Donnell had the same level of praise and admonishment (who also did not get my vote).

For those who don’t know, Jones gained fame when he reported that he had been hired by the evangelical-Christian leader Ted Haggard to supply sex and drugs. Haggard had built a fortune and a mini-religious-empire in Colorado by attacking gays and lesbians, undermining women’s rights, claiming a moral Truth, and preaching a simplistic message of salvation through conformity. He also served as the President of the National Association of Evangelicals. Great Hera! With all of that and constantly lying to himself about his real sexual desires, no wonder he became a meth addict.

During the past election cycle, Haggard had been outspoken in his support of an amendment banning same-sex marriage in Colorado. When Jones learned of Haggard’s real identity (Haggard used a pseudonym during their three year relationship), Jones stated that he felt a moral duty to reveal the minister’s hypocrisy.

Many expressed their dismay at Jones’ nomination and selection as Queer of the Year. Some objected on moralistic grounds, either because they disdained supporting a prostitute and tina supplier or because they disdained supporting a prostitute and tina dealer who named names.

Others wondered about the image that Jones presented of the queer community. In many ways, the media loved this story because of its scintillation and scandal. Jones’ image floated in the media because it could capture the imagination of both the left and the right simultaneously. For the left, he single-handedly took down one of the most virulent and hateful religious leaders in the nation. For the right, though, he also confirmed their assumptions about queer people as thugish criminals who push drugs and illicit sex on good (though weak) married men.

Indeed, Jones’ allegations fit within an entire year of media obsession over “gay scandals.” The media had a ball over the launch of former-governor and “gay-American” James McGreevey’s confessional book, unimaginatively titled The Confession (Jones has signed a deal for his own tell-all – One can only assume that it will be named Tell All). Likewise, Representative Mark Foley’s hands-on approach to interns basically consumed all of the news-feeds in the last weeks of October. The media loves these types of scandals because there is something for everybody. The Jones story packed in all the extremes. The media then simplified it by framing it as a battle between the hypocritical Christian minister and the drug-supplying hooker.

We never really learned much about Jones as a real person or as an individual. Sure the media had plenty to say about Haggard. They could trace his life story – His rise to power, his 14,000 member church, and of course, his wife and his children. Boy, did we hear about the fact that he had a wife and children. News folk usually popped mention of Sally-Stay-At-Home and her kiddies in a lament about how the scandal must be making them suffer. Now, I am no psychologist, but I am going to guess that living with a closeted, ├╝ber-Christian, meth-addict probably predated their suffering to somewhere before Jones’ revelation.

Discussion of Jones, though, usually stopped at “a male prostitute.” If he had a family, other lovers, or even a dog, we never knew it. Apparently Jones spent twenty-four hours a day being a prostitute or obtaining drugs, because there was little else the news could report about him.

So, why did Jones win Queer of the Year? Well, I can only guess at the collective motives of those who voted for Jones.

Beyond the main-stream media, Jones’ story revealed schisms and issues within the queer community. Jones media-image repudiated the sanitized and homogenized vision of queers that groups like HRC, MassEquality, or GLAAD want to present. Jones was seemingly indifferent to monogamous marriage, children, or even a career. Instead, he was presented (and often presented himself) as a party-man who used his looks and alleged bodily-proportions to ease-by in life. He remained unapologetic about being a prostitute. Some likely found this an appealing alternative to the ever-increasing demand that queers conform to heterosexual standards and institutions.

Jones’ decisions also brought to the surface debates about “outing.” The virulent support and equally adamant condemnation suggests that the queer community lacks consensus on outing.

Perhaps, though, part of Jones appeal originates in his contrast and defeat of Haggard. There is a general satisfaction when somebody who has been so hateful falls from power.

With Haggard, though, there is also the issue that he is (whether we like it or not) an enemy within the queer category. Haggard had sexual desires for other men, but spent his life repudiating them. Even now, he has joined a “reparative therapy” group headed by Focus on the Family’s James Dobson. Haggard claims that queers, including himself, can be “cured.”

Jones, meanwhile, appeared to more than enjoy his queer inclinations. He also believed in the necessity of making those inclinations public in order to achieve political goals.

The queers who supported Jones probably saw the potential for revolt and even victory against the seemingly unstoppable Religious Right. While I doubt that he will be remembered in the long term, he captured the attention and emotions of a lot of queer folk at the end of 2006.


Chris said...

I think your first observation is by far the most likely reason for the "win." The votes reflect the JMG reader demographic, not some larger "gay mindset."

And I am positively tearing my fingers off the keyboard before I say any more on the subject, because I quite simply cannot stomach actually ... seriously, I'm stopping right now.

Anonymous said...

I voted for Laurel Hester, because she changed a policy. I don't care that Mike Jones was a prostitute, but the crystal............I wouldn't wish that on my worse enemy.

Anonymous said...

And I enjoy Joe's blog, but he's so in your face politcally correct. A year ago he sent me a series of private emails because he was so angry with the comments I left on his blog. Thou doth protest too much, Joey.

seekeronos said...

I think Haggard fell not because Jones finked on him... but because Haggard was a hypocrite. Haggard got too proud, too boastful in his station as pastor of a (disturbingly huge) mega-church, which too all appearances is on the brink of falling away from following God's word... if it hadn't already during Haggard's tenure.

For thus saith the Lord:

"For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again." (Matthew 7:2)

I wouldn't be surprised if years down the road, we find Haggard reconciled as a gay minister in a liberal or mainline church... or completely removed from any semblance of his faith.

Who knows though... he might truly be drawn to repentance, and forsake following after his own lusts through Christ's power... because that is the power of obedience by faith in Christ: He gets the glory, and not us.

As for Jones - he hardly deserves any recognition in my book. He is just an opportunistic man who was in the right place at the right time who made the right conclusions about his "client".

No doubt Jones made some contribution here... but I do not think he deserves the lion's share of credit for bringing down the "Vast Evil Right Wing Conspiracy" any more so than Tom Foley's pages, Dennis Hastert's waffling, or Bush's general lack of communication and/or ignorance.

Hopefully we on the right will learn our lessons not to let *our* heads get too big for our britches, if we ever get a congressional majority in my lifetime again.

Not to mention keeping our members practicing what they preach.

vuboq said...

Good point about the media failing to provide any more details on Mr. Jones, other than drug-supplying prostitute. I hadn't thought about that.

So, who did you vote for and why? [If you don't mind sharing, that is]

Doug said...

Mike Jones won because he's cute. Oh, and he took down one of our biggest enemies. Right. ;)

My $0.02.

I didn't vote because I don't really care who the queer of the year was. Why does there always have to be just one person at the top? All the people who got gay-bashed, everyone who spent countless hours volunteering for AIDS organizations, all the people who have HIV, everyone who can't come out of the closet for fear of something, all the people who donated money to gay-related organizations.......the list goes on. Those are the queers of the year. And they're the queers of every year because they keep doing what they're doing.

Ok, now I'm up to $0.04.

Anonymous said...

I also think there's just something romantic to people about the idea of a social outsider displaying some principles and taking down a powerful moral hypocrite. It appeals to the kid in us, a defensiveness about our own feelings of outsiderness, the rooting for the underdog, etc. It's almost Capra-esque!

Jones' actions and their consequences seem more symbolic to me than anything; I've yet to be convinced that he and Haggard made a real difference in the midterm elections, and I don't know of any specific, qualitative political or social gains by his actions either (or organized commitment to political or social change, for that matter), which I could argue for more easily with some of the other candidates. Still, it was kind of remarkable.

Anonymous said...

I think it's just because a lot of the readership thought he was "cute". I guess if oddly shaped, spongey muscles and a Tina addiction turn you on, he's the guy for you. Also, in this age of spite and anger his story is particularly satisfying to some--and I would include myself in that group. Still--did not vote for him. I think I voted for the cop who lost her benefits or something.

Huntington said...

I think Jones won in part because the mainstream gay-rights organizations wouldn't touch him with a ten-foot pole. That's why I was tempted to vote for him...until I thought again and voted for Laurel Hester. I know what she did will make a difference.

I do detect a lot of cruel hypocrisy regarding the crystal issue. Is addiction an illness, or isn't it? If it is, don't addicts (if Jones even is one, something I've never seen asserted) deserve nonjudgmental compassion and treatment, not vilification and the attendant stigma that keeps so many from getting help?

Dorian said...

I didn't "vote" for Jones in the poll, but I don't feel troubled that he won. Do I suspect that some selected him because of some gay men's fascination with prostitutes and trade? Certainly. But I think a larger factor was the fact that he exposed a significant enemy of gay rights as a hypocrite, at some risk to himself and his profession, and was thanked not one bit by the big gay rights groups. Who were all apparently too busy lauding Lance Bass and Reichen Lehmkuhl for, what, being pretty? If a web-site poll is the only place his actions are recognized as being lauditory, well, so be it.

Antonio said...

The media didn't cover much of Jones' private life because he wasn't the story. The story is about a prominent and powerful man's fall. Jones' tales of decadent behavior and drug use add to sensationalism of the story, but Jones himself functions mainly as a provider of hard evidence. If a video tape and/or photos were the evidence, and not Mike Jones' testimony, it would've had the same effect.

Look at other similar situations. We know almost nothing about Divine Brown (I'm amazed I remember her name) because the story is that Hugh Grant picked up a hooker. The same can be said about Eddie Murphy.

Anonymous said...

This was a great analysis, GP. You covered all the angles of things (Jones/Haggard story as well as why Jones won) that are more complicated than they might seem on the surface. Thanks.

seekeronos said...

I think we can see that our cultural appreciation for Schadenfreude over the fall of a villian overshadows Jones being a hooker and a tina dealer.

Anonymous said...

In case you hadn't heard, Josh Whedon is working on a Wonder Woman movie.


GayProf said...

Chris: Maybe it's a JMG demographic, but JMG is pretty darn popular across the queer blogosphere. Given Jones raised such an emotional response in you, it does suggest that he taped into something....

Night & Day: But I am PC... Are you saying that you don't worship and adore me?

Seeker: I love the word schadenfreude. Those crazy Germans have a word for everything.

VUBOQ: I voted for Kim Coco Iwamoto. Transgender people are rarely recognized, even within queer circles. To be honest, though, I would have liked to also see a group like Iraq-LGBT mentioned. They are actually dying to defend queer people (which receives little attention).

Doug: I appreciate the sentiment. Then again, people need heroes, no?

Frank -WL: Karl Rove credited Jones with impacting the election. Of course, I was never really convinced by Rove's alleged "political genius," which just seemed to involve lying -- and badly.

Whit: Though many people claim Jones' appearance had something to do with his victory, I wonder how many people would be able to identify him from a photo array.

After Kim Coco Iwamoto, it was a toss-up for me between the cop and Lane Hudson (mostly because of the way that he inadvertently exposed HRC's complete uselessness as a queer organization).

Huntington: I am not sure that Jones was the tina addict. He seemed more on the supply-side (which, to be honest, does seem not so good).

Dorian: HRC, GLAAD, and those other groups are now void. We need new groups that are less enchanted with celebrity and/or hetero conformity, IMHO.

Antonio: You get super bonus points for recalling Divine Brown's name. Who knew?

I guess, though, I would express the same discomfort in her dehumanization by the national media.

Arthur: Eh -- We'll see how well this assessment holds up.

Anon: Oh, yeah, we know all about Whedon and his presumed "buffy-ication" of Wonder Woman. We, at CoG, have great doubts about his ability to helm this project. Unless, of course, he calls a certain gay professor in as a consultant. In which case, we have total faith in his artistic ability.

Chris said...

It isn't the Jones thing that brought the reaction, it is the whole larger issue. And I think that counting the "gay blogosphere" as a barometer for all things gay is probably short sighted.

Anonymous said...

The question I have to ask is what's new here? Isn't this just an updated version of Elmer Gantry? In the book the first line reads, "Elmer Gantry was drunk." In the film (darling) Shirley Jones played a hooker - and won the Oscar.

The book was published in 1927 and banned in many places including, interestingly enough, Boston. It was written by Sinclair Lewis who (over fifty years ago) made this observation:

"When fascism comes to America, it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross."

Sound familiar?

The Queer of the Year contest on Joe’s blog seems to me typical of politics in America. i.e. The lesser of two evils. Both Haggard and Jones are representatives of Queer Nation, whether you voted or not. Maybe what we are truly asking is, “Which would I rather be?”, or even, “Which would I rather sleep with?” Jones would probably win on the first count and undoubtedly on the second, but how much of Haggard’s disgrace can we give him credit for? Isn’t Haggard the one who really brought Haggard down?

This current (yawn) scandal is a tired, old story, but one that makes for great drama, and my guess is that we see ourselves in Jones. In the book, Sinclair lets Gantry get away with it, but in our version, as fame-happy and hung-over as we are, we don’t have to.

Anonymous said...

I used to like the idea of him, then I read this quote in the advocate from him. "I’m very manly. People think that we’re all nelly or in drag. I’m just here to say, “I happen to be gay and I could kick your ass.”" I'm less than entralled anymore. So much for queer.

Chad said...

It's a very minor Internet pole, but I do admit I am disappointed that people with tangible accomplishments have been ignored in favor of someone who just happened to sleep with a well-known hypocrite and tried to get media attention from the fact.

I wish I could just chalk it up to that particular blog's readership, but sadly I think it's indicative of attitudes among the gay community at large. Thank God I'm so used to being disappointed in my LGBT peers (and I guess the Queer of the Year could have been Andrew Sullivan *shudder*).