Driving home from Minnesota weekend-before-last, we listened to the AFC championship game on the radio, and we kept hearing a promo for this year’s Super Bowl halftime show that called it “historic,” referring to Madonna’s appearance as headliner. But the day when that would been considered “historic”—as in groundbreaking or different or even interesting—was 25 years ago. Had the controversial Madonna of 1987 appeared back then, when the Super Bowl halftime show still belonged to marching bands, drill teams, dancers, beauty queens, and the occasional old-time Las Vegas has-been, it would have been a pop-cultural earthquake. In 2012, news of her appearance was greeted by millions thinking, “Oh, is she still around?”
Here’s something else about this year’s halftime show that won’t be “historic”: One of Madonna’s dancers was reportedly overheard saying that she’s “bringing gay to the Super Bowl.” Last week Slate ranked all 45 shows on Alfred Kinsey’s scale of human sexuality, which is hilarious, and revealed that it’s been done, Madge. The Super Bowl XVI show in 1992, which featured Gloria Estefan and figure skaters Brian Boitano and Dorothy Hamill, ranks as the gayest, followed closely by the Super Bowl XXX show in 1996, which starred Diana Ross. (The title of that show was officially The Oscar Meyer Super Bowl Halftime Show, which made wiener and baloney jokes inevitable.) Equally hilarious: the Blues Brothers show at Super Bowl XXXI and the Black Eyed Peas last year ranked as “asexual.”
Perhaps the difference between 2012 and 1992 or 1996 is that people will openly acknowledge that yes, there are gay themes in the Super Bowl halftime show, and not care. Our collective gaydar is stronger now than it used to be, and so is our acceptance of homosexuality, no matter what some culture warriors would prefer.
As it happens, I witnessed an early opening of the closet over 30 years ago, at my small-town college in Wisconsin. The story is another in our intermittent series of Off-Topic Tuesday posts, and it appeared at my first blog, the Daily Aneurysm, on May 25, 2006. It’s on the flip, and you can skip it if you want.
In the fall of 1980, the University of Wisconsin at Platteville got its first gay and lesbian organization. When the group tried to get official sanction and funding from student fees, controversy erupted. Platteville was small-town Wisconsin, and UWP a school attended largely by small-town and rural kids. A good bit of the opposition to the gay group was of the “icky icky eww gross” variety, as it dawned on the small-town and rural kids that there were gay people in their midst. That unfamiliarity with gay people plunged the campus into a swirl of misinformation and bigotry. Some students argued that if gays and lesbians were granted official university recognition, “witch covens, cults, and anti-American organizations” would be next. A few students formed an organization designed to protect heterosexual rights. (And probably grew up to become Republicans.)
The gay-student organization made a critical misstep at the beginning that made it easier for people to think of them as icky. They called themselves “Gays and Lesbians of Platteville,” which was quickly condensed to its acronym: “GLOP.”
A certain campus newspaper columnist whose regular beat was music thought the anti-gay students were way out of line. So he wrote an impassioned screed about the GLOP affair, defending the right of gay and lesbian students to organize, and criticizing those who criticized them. He waited until just before deadline to turn it in, in place of his usual music column. He figured this would force the editors to run the thing, even though he had been told several times to stick to music and leave the politics to other writers. He was right. The columnist wrote:
Although I wouldn’t want my kid to be homosexual (were such a thing up to me), the fact remains that some people are. And as far as I’m concerned, so what? These folks (known far and wide, it seems, as the G.L.O.P.) aren’t likely to set up a table in the Student Center hallway and hold a recruiting drive. I don’t expect them to enter a float in the Homecoming parade, but they have the right to if they want to. . . .
In the past month or so, at times the ignorance on this campus and in the Platteville community has been so thick you could cut it with the proverbial knife. There’s been a great over abundance of bigoted, close-minded rhetoric, which is disappointing coming from an institution that is supposed to be a place of education and enlightenment. In the face of all that, it takes a hell of a lot of courage to admit to a taboo like homosexuality, and it is mighty admirable to try and improve the lot of those who are [gay], even in a small way.
I was a rural kid from a small-town high school, and I’d never met a gay person in my life as far as I knew—but the position I took in that column was the only one that made sense to me, even though homosexuality was as foreign to me as Sanskrit. . . . I’m not especially proud of many columns I wrote for the paper between 1979 and 1981. The rhetorical tics I had back then make me squirm with embarrassment now; neither do I agree today with every opinion I held then. In fact, I often wonder what the hell I could have been thinking.
Not this time.
Almost six years later, I don’t agree with all of this: It would no longer matter to me one way or the other if my kid were homosexual. And I also think that the GLOP probably should have set up a recruiting table in the Student Center and had a float in the homecoming parade. In later years, perhaps they did.