The Washington Post

Reaction to Newsweek’s ‘gay’ Obama cover: Death of the metaphor

The hullabaloo over the Newsweek cover of President Obama beneath a rainbow-colored halo and dubbed “The First Gay President” says a lot about publisher Tina Brown’s prowess for publicity. But the negative reaction not only to the cover but, more important, to the headline says a lot about how people view gay men and lesbians.


Just mere mention on Twitter yesterdayof the headline of a forthcoming post — “Calling Obama the first gay president seems about right” — elicited negative knee-jerk reactions. Upon seeing only the headline, @RenegadeGirl tweeted, “I would rethink unless you like negative drama.” When I counseled that she wait to read the piece, she replied, “Because you pretty much told me what its [sic] about. There is nothing ‘about right’ about defining Obama as the first Gay POTUS.”

@RenegadeGirl ultimately read the piece. “I never looked at Clinton being called Black that way before so in THAT light, I guess the Obama comparison is ok,” she tweeted grudgingly. Still, her initial reaction was indicative of a lot of the comments I got on Facebook and Twitter. Reading them left me wondering if people actually bother to read anymore. In this 140-character world that substitutes for discourse, people react to headlines and what they’ve heard rather than actually reading the “offending” piece in context.

This led me to pose a question on my Facebook page: “Why was calling President Clinton ‘the first black president’ considered praise but calling President Obama ‘the first gay president’ considered a pejorative?!” The responses ran the range from maddening to downright silly. “Are you implying that he is gay,” asked Jack Almand. “I don't see that.” Thankfully, more than a few people get it.

“Don’t understand what the uproar is about the Newsweek cover,” commented Greg Taylor. “I liken it to President Obama being called the ‘first inclusive President’ or the ‘first President to recognize the rights of all people.’ Should be nothing negative in that. Newsweek is trying to sell magazines. Nothing more than that.” But Michael Hansen pithily pinpointed the problem. “It’s clear that the art of the metaphor has skipped present generations.”

Jonathan Capehart is a member of the Post editorial board and writes about politics and social issues for the PostPartisan blog.


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