Garrison Keillor Adds to Gay Stereotypes

Garrison Keillor (of public radio’s “A Prairie Home Companion”) has an essay up on Salon where he writes the following:

I grew up the child of a mixed-gender marriage that lasted until death parted them, and I could tell you about how good that is for children, and you could pay me whatever you think it’s worth.

Nature is about continuation of the species — in other words, children.

Under the old monogamous system, we didn’t have the problem of apportioning Thanksgiving and Christmas among your mother and stepdad, your dad and his third wife, your mother-in-law and her boyfriend Hal, and your father-in-law and his boyfriend Chuck.

If [gay men] want to be accepted as couples and daddies, however, the flamboyance may have to be brought under control. Parents are supposed to stand in back and not wear chartreuse pants and black polka-dot shirts. That’s for the kids. It’s their show.

If you’re offended by that, you’re not alone. Thankfully, we have Dan Savage (of Savage Love) to rip him a new one.

Just read Savage’s rant. Quoting wouldn’t do him justice.

(via Dispatches from the Culture Wars)


[tags]atheist, atheism, homosexuality, gay, lesbian, Garrison Keillor, A Prairie Home Companion, Salon, Dan Savage, Savage Love[/tags]

  • Logos

    Ahhh, Garrison Keillor is just an old poop!

  • http://inthenuts.blogspot.com King Aardvark

    “Parents are supposed to stand in back and not wear chartreuse pants and black polka-dot shirts”

    I wish someone had told my (straight) parents that. Would have saved me some visual scarring.

  • http://emergingpensees.blogspot.com/ Mike C

    I have to confess that I’m a big fan of Keillor’s. (Maybe it’s because we have similar backgrounds: raised in the upper rural Midwest by conservative Christian parents but becoming more liberal when we went to college.)

    Sadly, Savage seems to have completely missed Keillor’s tongue-in-cheek, fake-nostalgic tone. Ripped out of context (as you also do here Hemant) those quotes may seem mildly offensive, and it might seem as if Keillor is criticizing gay marriage. Reading the whole article (and being very familiar with his usual satirical style – note: whenever GK “fondly” reminisces about the “good old days” he’s usually being slightly mocking of them), I got the exact opposite impression. Keillor admits that these are sterotypes of gays, not how he thinks they actually are, and his main point seems to be just about self-centered, self-indulgent adults (regardless of orientation). And it seemed to me that he was actually supporting gay marriage (in his own typically understated way).

    It seemed to me that Savage took Keillor entirely literally, totally missed the satire and ironic tone, and thus didn’t have a clue as to what GK was actually saying. Reading his rant I kept thinking “Well, that’s not really what he meant.” and “Lighten up, he was just trying to be funny.”

    I guess it’s not just Fundamentalists that are literalists.

  • http://www.friendlyatheist.com Hemant

    Mike– Honestly, I hope you’re right (because it’d be awful if Keillor meant it)… and I don’t know Keillor well enough to know when he’s serious or joking.

    But when I read his piece, I saw nothing that indicated it might be satire. I mean, even The Onion says it’s just joking. Where’s the disclaimer or byline in this piece?

    If it’s not there, I’m not surprised that so many people are taking it seriously.

    I tried reading it as if he were joking. But even then, he goes back and forth from “Here’s what I’m thinking” to “Here’s my satirical flashback.” His non-flashback moments would reap of bigotry to me. Or at least ignorance.

    Here’s one paragraph you said I took out of context:

    The country has come to accept stereotypical gay men — sardonic fellows with fussy hair who live in over-decorated apartments with a striped sofa and a small weird dog and who worship campy performers and go in for flamboyance now and then themselves. If they want to be accepted as couples and daddies, however, the flamboyance may have to be brought under control. Parents are supposed to stand in back and not wear chartreuse pants and black polka-dot shirts. That’s for the kids. It’s their show.

    Even if the first part is a joke on stereotypes, I’m not sure what the second part is.

    I tend to understand different types of humor, even if I don’t find them funny… but I just don’t see it here…

    Help me understand it, Mike! :)

  • Anthony Rasmussen

    “Satires which the censor can understand are justly forbidden.” –Karl Kraus

    Satire or not… fellow atheists, please help me do battle with this horrible misunderstanding:

    “Nature is about continuation of the species — in other words, children.”

    Natural selection works at the level of the selfish gene. Human purpose is not absolutely to reproduce; that is the job of some little bundles of DNA.

  • http://emergingpensees.blogspot.com/ Mike C

    The satire disclaimer is just in the very fact that it’s a piece by Garrison Keillor. I’ve rarely known him to write anything else. I listen to Prairie Home Companion (especially Lake Woebegone) all the time, have his “Homegrown Democrat” book, and try to read his Wednesday column in the Tribune as often as I can. This is just his style. It’s always this sort of tongue-in-cheek, subtly poking fun at his own background kind of thing. There’s no real clear line between the satire and his own serious opinion. It’s all just meandering observational storytelling.

    So when he contrasts today’s complex families with the monogamous, mixed-gender families of his past, I don’t think he’s endorsing one over the other. When he says “and I suppose we’ll get used to it”, I take that to mean (again, knowing that understatement is a very common technique of GK’s), “It’s not a big deal. Complex families are not going to destroy America. We just have to make sure we’re still putting the children first.”

    I think that was his only point there. I think he probably brought up the gay stereotype stuff just for a laugh and perhaps to remind readers that not all gays actually are like that. At least, that’s what I took from it.

    BTW, I was mainly complaining about Savage (not you) taking the piece out of context and going way overboard in his rant. IMHO, the hateful language that he and the other commenters used against GK on that blog goes way, way beyond anything offensive GK may or may not have said. Not exactly “friendly” if you know what I mean. :)

    But I in no way mean to lump your reaction in with the extreme that Savage goes to. Don’t hear my criticism of him as a criticism of you.

  • http://emergingpensees.blogspot.com/ Mike C
    “Nature is about continuation of the species — in other words, children.”

    Natural selection works at the level of the selfish gene. Human purpose is not absolutely to reproduce; that is the job of some little bundles of DNA.

    I’m very curious what you mean. I admit to not being an expert on evolutionary science, but it’s always been my understanding that once an organism reproduces and provides for the survival of their offspring, that their role in the evolutionary process is done. You seem to be implying otherwise, but I’m not sure what you’re referring to. Please explain. I’d really like to know.

  • Anthony Rasmussen

    Evolution by natural selection is a gene-level event. There are no gene->anatomy 1-on-1 mappings. Just genes interacting with other genes. If the gene mutates once and is passed on, it begins to spread. If it continues to pass on, then nature has selected it.

    It’s not that genes evolved to create a “hand”. It’s that this gene interacting with that gene tended to survive after a mutation in that particular combo, and that combo happened to produce that 5 digit hand (which was the reason why it tended to survive). In other words, the gene doesn’t “care” about the anatomy it creates. It “cares” about the ability to transcribe and replicate. The anatomy is just the flavor of the month for the gene, if that makes sense :) And the word ‘care’ is a bad choice of words on my part.

    Notice how a person has no responsibility in this process. No person is responsible for doing the gene’s bidding. That’s not your job. It is not your (the human named Mike) purpose to reproduce, unless you choose it to be of course. It’s your genes “absolute” job, not yours.

    organism reproduces and provides for the survival of their offspring

    This is an explanation for natural selection; describing at the phenotype level what is happening at the genotype level. This isn’t a “purpose”.

  • http://off-the-map.org/atheist/ Siamang

    I think what he means, Mike C, is that as human beings we can have lives and purposes beyond and sometimes counter to what our biological nature is.

  • http://emergingpensees.blogspot.com/ Mike C

    It seems like what you’re saying is that nature has no “purposes” as such. It just does what it does. Am on the right track?

    I would tend to agree – teleology (the philosophy of “purpose”) is something that only makes sense in relation to conscious beings (whether human or divine), not to the non-sentient natural world.

    But I still don’t see how that contradicts what Keillor said. Even if “nature” just refers to genes and not the whole conscious organism, it’s still all about children (i.e. the reproduction) isn’t it?

    But on the other hand, it would seem that our conscious purposes must have some relation to gene reproduction. I mean, wouldn’t a conscious drive to produce children be a positive survival trait that would likely get passed along in the genes? (To whatever degree conscious drives can be attributed to our genes.)

    I don’t know, I’m confusing myself now. It’s late, I’ve been working non-stop all day, and I’m not done yet. :(

  • Anthony Rasmussen

    It seems like what you’re saying is that nature has no “purposes” as such. It just does what it does. Am on the right track?

    hehe.. really, my initial post was my to make it clear to folks that natural selection works at the level of the gene, and not the anatomy. I believe this misunderstanding confuses and turns some people away from evolution. Nature doesn’t give a hoot about the species – it cares about the gene.

    it would seem that our conscious purposes must have some relation to gene reproduction

    I think this is true for most animals. But language significantly altered the human experience. Now, humans can do all sorts of non-reproductive behaviors. In fact, religion is a great example. It requires high investment, even celibacy. Many things humans do now is a combination of language and evolutionary by-products (such as attributing unknown causes to another human, aka god).

    Ultimately, though, there is no “purpose” gene. There are only genes that tended to survive when mixed with other genes that just so happened to create, say, a prefrontal cortex and dopamine. As a 21st century human with this detailed knowledge, you have unbelievable power to pick your own purpose.

  • http://off-the-map.org/atheist/ Siamang

    But I still don’t see how that contradicts what Keillor said. Even if “nature” just refers to genes and not the whole conscious organism, it’s still all about children (i.e. the reproduction) isn’t it?

    Well, I don’t get what Keillor is saying at all in the entire piece, except to say vauguely that the good old days were something that he was less bewildered about.

    Dan Savage takes that sentence to mean that keillor is saying gay people shoudn’t be married if they can’t biologically have children. Obviously marriage is more than just about raising biological offspring. Adoption for one. But beyond child-rearing, there is something about pairing up that we just do, gays and straights alike.

    I don’t read it the way Savage does, to me Keillor doesn’t seem to be saying anything fairly specific at all.

    I think it’s supposed to sound folksy and rambling and charming, but to me it doesn’t translate.

  • MTran

    I’ve got to agree with Mike C’s take on the article. GK’s a satirist and from the looks of it this article got read by a lot of people who don’t understand or like his humor. It’s a tough job writing as many columns as GK has and keeping it fresh. He doesn’t always hit the right notes, but there isn’t any reason to read too much into his typical, “gee, the times they are changing and so is my remembered past, guess it’ll all work out somehow.” His default approach seems to be “I’m still just muddlin’ through, guys.”

  • http://lfab-uvm.blogspot.com/ C. L. Hanson

    Okay, now I’m ashamed that Garrison Keillor is cousins with the husband of my best friend from high school. Yay, Dan Savage!!!

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