There are several different types of media outlets and myriad perspectives when it comes the to addressing gay marriage. To adequately examine the many texts within the same-sex marriage topic, it is important to examine texts from both the supporting and opposing sides of the debate.
The Rhetorical Situation
1) Cultural Contexts Within Which The Text Was Produced
The current cultural climate has rendered the same-sex marriage debate to be one with strong religious and political implications. If one were to sum up the current zeitgeist based on only the information they had acquired from cable news, they would probably conclude that we live in highly polarized times; essentially, they would probably conclude that the average citizen is either a Republican or a Democrat, or either Christian or Atheistic. Thus, the cultural context from which the media cover the gay marriage debate is one where reporters and journalists must take an “either with us or against us” stance. Rarely is coverage of the topic presented without any political or religious spin. Instead, texts that are pro gay-marriage are typically produced by liberal news mediums, and texts that are anti gay-marriage are typically produced by conservative news mediums (and often news mediums that present their information with a Christian viewpoint, considering that the “one man one woman” mantra has roots in New Testament ideology). Ultimately, in a polarized cultural landscape where viewers want the news to be presented to them in a manner that is inline with their own personal biases, media communicators must serve this purpose - ultimately pandering to those who already agree with them.
2) Standpoints of the Author or Publishing Company
The personal standpoints of the media communicators play a significant role in the myriad coverage of the same-sex marriage topic. For example, Ellen Degeneres’ outspoken gay rights advocacy stems from the fact that she herself is an out lesbian. The voices of the opposition – such as Glenn Beck and Bill O’Reilly – express their anti gay marriage views in a manner that reflects their strong and impassioned personal beliefs.
3) Cultural Context Within Which The Text is Being Read The current cultural landscape is, again, quite polarized. Thus, it is important to note that those who read, watch, or consume various texts relating to the same-sex marriage topic are likely to already have a strong opinion on the matter. This stems from the fact that one’s personal views on gay marriage are typically inextricably linked to their political and religious beliefs. For example, an individual who is devoutly Catholic or Protestant is unlikely to be swayed by even the most impassioned pleas of an Ellen Degeneres-type public figure, as seen in this Pew Research poll:
“More than three-quarters of white evangelical Protestants (77%) and two-thirds of black Protestants (66%) oppose same-sex marriage, as do half of white mainline Protestants (50%). Overall, a strong majority of those who attend services at least weekly oppose same-sex marriage (71%), while about half of those who seldom or never attend religious services favor it (54%). This pattern is evident within Catholicism and evangelical Protestantism. Most regularly attending white Catholics in the survey oppose same-sex marriage; while most white Catholics who attend Mass less often favor it. Among white evangelicals, 85% of those who attend services at least weekly oppose same-sex marriage, 21 percentage points higher than among less-observant white evangelicals,” (Pew Forum).Thus, the cultural context creates a scenario where one could argue that any persuasive attempts by media communicators from either side are rather useless, as most have already formed strong opinions based on their political or religious convictions. A topic such as health care may leave more “wiggle room” for one to stray from their political party’s or religious group’s official stance – gay marriage seems to not share this quality.
4) Standpoints of Readers and Audience
Media consumers will react to coverage of the same-sex marriage debate based on their own standpoint on the issue. As previously stated, a conservative Christian would most likely agree with an O’Reilly or Beck, while viewing the opinions of a Degeneres with scorn. Concurrently, a liberal non-devout monotheist, atheist, or agnostic would be more inclined to discount the views of Bill O’Reilly while praising the text of Ellen Degeneres’ program. It is also obviously important to acknowledge how a homosexual would view coverage of the topic, versus the opinion of a heterosexual. While there could theoretically be a handful of homosexuals who are opposed to gay marriage (perhaps for Christian or Islamic religious convictions), it is safe to assume that the vast majority of homosexuals are pro gay marriage. When a gay person views coverage of the debate, they are viewing it in the context of their own personal civil liberties and freedoms. Thus, the discourse carries more weight and significance for them. Even if a heterosexual is extremely impassioned about the gay marriage debate, they will never experience the debate as someone who is deeply and personally entrenched in the outcome. They can never experience the issue as a first-hand player; they can only ultimately view the discourse as a spectator.
Photo Credit: Associated Press
Silverblatt, A. (2008). Media literacy: keys to interpreting media messages. Westport, CT: Praeger Publishers.
(2009, October 9). The pew forum: on religion and public life. Retrieved from http://pewforum.org/docs/?DocID=481