The Daily Tar Heel

Serving the students and the University community since 1893

Thursday May 19th

Column: Andrew Garfield and Ryan Reynold's kissing saga wasn't cute. It was belittling.


Online managing editor Danny Nett

Thanks to their quasi-candid kiss during the Golden Globes last week, Andrew Garfield and Ryan Reynolds have set the internet abuzz, with media outlets that are typically aware of queer topics swirling out blogs on how funny, cute or otherwise charming the encounter was.

Even more pieces followed in the wake of Garfield’s appearance on “The Late Show,” where he offered a queerbaiting explanation about wanting to be a supportive friend to Reynolds before entering a cringeworthy bit in which he repeatedly kissed Colbert on camera, book-ended by audience laughter, to express his comfort with same-sex affection.

I’ll concede that this might seem like a petty thing to write a column about. But the whole saga gets at a pervasive double standard that’s often brushed over by mainstream media and the public conscience.

When Michael Sam kissed his boyfriend after being drafted to the St. Louis Rams in 2014, the NFL player received a flurry of homophobic comments and public criticism from future teammates and national news anchors.

When the world watched Olympic gold medalist Tom Daley compete in Rio last summer, NBC glossed right over his relationship with his Oscar-winning fiance, who was supporting him in the bleachers. The network did, however, pay attention to the personal lives of other Olympians, publishing pieces on golfer Justin Rose’s wife’s reaction when he received his medal and gymnast Simone Biles’ “Brazilian boyfriend” (whom she wasn’t actually dating), to name a few.

Even outside the realm of sports, queer people and characters are rarely allotted the privilege of publicly expressing their love. A scene featuring a welcome-home kiss between a married gay couple in 2016’s “Star Trek Beyond” was ultimately cut from the final film. And I’m sure most of us still remember the shit storm that ensued when “The Walking Dead” strayed from its depictions of murder and cannibalism to show a kiss between two men in a relationship.

Compare those situations to Garfield’s recent antics, or Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly kissing on a megatron at a Lakers game, or Bryan Cranston and James Corden making out on “The Late Late Show” last week.

When two straight men kiss each other on national television, there are no personal lives or careers or network ratings on the line. And that fact feels wildly belittling for those of us who are constantly affected by anti-queer bias.

Which is why, on a personal level, watching Andrew Garfield kiss a man on CBS and promptly stroll back to his regularly scheduled life felt an awful lot like throwing something in our faces — especially when many queer people still don’t even feel comfortable holding hands with their significant others in public.

There is an argument to be made that high-profile celebrities kissing one another is a push toward normalizing same-sex affection. But the net helpfulness of those actions hardly outweighs the influence that real LGBTQ representation would have — and two straight guys kissing doesn’t really score any points for queer visibility.

To some degree, two straight men publicly kissing each other is just an affirmation of their own heterosexuality; a demonstration of an almost paternal level of straight acceptance; and, more insidiously, it uses queerness as a mechanism for humor. This dehumanizing trope has dogged “queer” people in the media since at least the black-and-white films of the early 1900s.

I'm not trying to undermine the fact that these actors are, at the end of the day, allies for the LGBTQ community. Colbert has been a vocal critic of anti-queer politics for years. Garfield published a beautiful essay in “Time Out London” to honor the victims of the Pulse massacre in June.

But this motif of straight men kissing each other to evoke humor — or, frankly, just because they can — is washed up, more than a little belittling, and has stayed far past its welcome in popular media.


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