Every once in a while, BuzzFeed releases an LGBT-centric video that just oozes with sticky pink tolerance for the queer community. They’re about all kinds of things—coming out, misgendering, marriage, and LGBT refugees—and are generally well-intentioned and well-made. And though I might think videos like this one, about how a gay couple treats its dog, are a little smarmy and hideously written/acted, I respect their existence. Truly. I’m happy the channel’s millions of teen subscribers see queer people represented along with all the straight people. Visibility at any cost, and all that. Hell yeah, hand me my rainbow flag.
But though I’m happy BuzzFeed is using their admirably diverse staff and millions of dollars in VC funding to make the occasional piece that gets things right, those are specks of diamond dust in the landfill of eagerly reinforced gender norms and barely buried gay panic that makes up the bulk of BuzzFeed Video. For every upload that asks its young, impressionable audience to treat people of all sexualities and identities with the utmost respect, there are four more that lift up the more traditional (read: straight, cis-gender) values that have made the lives of queer people so miserable for so long.
Today, after watching a video made by BuzzFeed Australia entitled “Iconic Romantic Films Reimagined By LGBT People,” I thought, cool: this is poorly conceived, but ultimately harmless. Then I watched “Questions Brothers Ask Sisters,” and thought, cool: this is poorly conceived, and reinforces the tired idea that all men are dopes who know nothing about women.
BuzzFeed loves reinforcing gender norms in their videos for the sake of easy laughs, as you can see through concepts like:
Isn’t it weird for men to compliment each other?
Isn’t it weird for men to say, “I love you,” to each other?
Isn’t it weird for men to see other penises?
Isn’t it weird to watch a man have something put up his ass?
That last one was from the Try Guys, a much loved group of everydudes who “try” things on camera for a living. Things like wearing wedding dresses, wearing women’s underwear, wearing women’s “sexy Halloween costumes,” wearing makeup, and changing dirty diapers. Notice a trend there? Those are things ladies usually do! But wait, the Try Guys aren’t ladies—they’re guys! Can you believe it? In this day and age? Men changing a diaper? Men wearing dresses? Will someone punch me in the face and wake me up from this dream where I’m somehow not in the nineteen fucking fifties?
There’s an argument to be made about their wild and crazy antics being meant to pulverize the walls between the constructs we know as the male and female genders, but that argument does not hold water when you watch footage of them screaming “YOU LOOK SO WEIRD” to each other while trying on dresses. And even though, in that same video, Eugene is complimented for looking great in the dress, it’s tough to read that sentiment as progressive when it lives inside a concept that relies entirely on the assumption that audiences will laugh when people don’t perform their genders in they way they’re expected to.
But for years, the people who make BuzzFeed videos have found success by gleefully presenting their childlike (and, frankly, distressing) obsession with gender that hovers only slightly above the level of screaming “BOYS RULE AND GIRLS DROOL.” Just watch these two companion series called “If Guy Best Friends _____ Like Girl Best Friends” and “If Girl Best Friends _____ Like Guy Best Friends.” Is it nice that they’re giving men and women equal opportunities to lampoon each other? I guess! But there’s something dishonest about seeing videos of straight men doing their best and most reductive impressions of women right alongside more serious videos like “What’s It Like to be Intersex.” It’s especially dishonest that BuzzFeed spotlights the latter while gaining enormous amounts of revenue for the former.
You can’t have it both ways, especially when you give the worst of those ways significantly more airtime. You can’t make video after video that attempts to scrape up some entertainment value with what is essentially gay panic, then think it gets canceled out because you had the Try Guys march in a Pride Parade. You can’t get away with hundreds of gay jokes just because you have one gay friend.
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