The media are key tools that shape ethics of modern society. Therefore, it is important to be aware of what kind of message a media bears in any of its issue.
The phenomenon of homosexuality is a fairly common theme in our time. The theme of sexual orientation is widely and hotly debated in all mass media: in everyday news, TV shows, movies, books, magazines, radio and the Internet.
Public attitude toward homosexuals is not equal. Although, many people believe that gays and lesbians do not differ much from other people in society, they still think that homosexuality is immoral. Different views on this issue generate different views on sexual minorities and stereotypes. People – consciously or unconsciously – learn a certain attitude towards homosexuals through the mass media.
Thematic magazines, aimed at gay and lesbian audience, are usually issued by the gay and lesbian. That is why study of these periodicals is so important to understand their psychology. In the Western Europe and America there is a great deal of different magazines for gay men, and they also give different points of view on the gays.
Thus, the magazines Out and Instinct create the impression that gay men are only interested in sex, style and money. Stereotypes, which are generated in such periodicals, create the impression that gays are concerned only about the satisfaction of sexual needs. On the other hand, there is another image of the gay men in some Western magazines.
For example, Genre and The Advocate is more focused on common themes: career, culture, relationships, gadgets, health, travel, etc. Although, the target audience of Genre and The Advocate are gay men, these magazines are interesting also for heterosexuals. Through the Genre and The Advocate gays position themselves as intelligent people.
All of these periodicals have the common theme, but they differ also in the points of view on the appearance of a gay man. For example, a famous American gay magazine BEAR is totally devoted to bears subculture.
Gay culture of bears was born in the late 1970s and early 1980s in the U.S. (primarily California) as a response to traditional public stereotyping of homosexuals and showing them as effeminate men. “If most gay people felt isolated, shunned or in the closet in the 80’s, the masculine gay man was the shadow in the corner. For whatever reason, the style of shaven male bodies became the norm” (Wolfe 10).
Many gays of United States did not want to correspond to these stereotypes. Such a social protest against womanliness was connected with the spread of fashion on fitness centers, bodybuilding and trends to increase of muscles with the help of steroids that make the body more masculine. It was especially popular fashion in Los Angeles with its strong influence of Hollywood.
So called straight-acting or homolook moved to the first place among the desirable features of gay culture and greatly superseded the traditional “effeminate” gay perception, although it was not completely eliminated. Effete, effeminate gay men were forced to outline the new borders of their own subcultures with their own attributes, as many gays of the LGBT community were actively engaged in the process of active masculinization at that time.
In 1987, there was founded a new magazine, BEAR, that defined the new subculture within the scope of the greater LGBT community. It was the founder of the BEAR Magazine, Richard Bulger, who gave the name to this new subculture.
So, let’s consider how BEAR Magazine portrays the representatives of the gay culture.
There is no consensus on how a true “bear” should look like, what he should wear and how he should behave. Different opinions about the “bears” exist in the bear clubs, but there are some common characteristics and features that allow defining a bear.
The BEAR Magazine portrays a bear as a man (by the way, not necessarily gay) with big (not fat) body, with a beard and mustache or hair on the body: hairy chest, abdomen, back, arms and legs. One could see it very well on the cover of the 75th issue of the magazine. Bears are brutal men, with natural appearance and no signs of affectation. Today the bears are quite an old subculture that has already developed stereotypes, as well as a set of attributes, social and sexual roles.
Depending on the social role, age and build, a bear gay culture distinguishes several major types of gay appearance: bear, wolf, cub, chaser, chubby, daddy and silver (polar) bear. Bears and their admirers are the target audience of the BEAR Magazine. Steven Wolfe, publisher and editor-in-chief of the magazine, writes in his article: “As we celebrate our landmark 75th issue, it’s clear that the sine qua non of bear culture over the past couple of decades focused on the unapologetic appreciation of the natural masculine, bearded man” (Wolfe 4).
The editor-in-chief shows also his positive attitude to all the types of the bears, he says that BEAR Magazine was founded for entertainment, it also covers problems of the modern bear community and it doesn’t matter for him what kind of “bear” reads the magazine. The magazine is full of articles, pictures and advertisements featuring photographs of masculine men. The periodical contains the best exclusive photographs made by professional photographers and stylists, and features professional models.
It shows that the magazine is a reputable source of information for gay community. The pictures are mostly erotic and made to increase the bears’ identity. There one could find a lot of photographs devoted to the fashion. They are mostly the advertisements of underwear brands. Stories of the magazine cover all the themes that could be interesting to the bears and their fans. There is a personals section, which is intended to help readers to find long-distance or regional connections.
Further on, there are the stories devoted to the bear culture: the reviews of the bear performances, the bands and artists that have some attitude to the culture or could be interesting to a reader. Every issue of the magazine covers political and sport themes, as well as fashion and sport events. Most of the articles are devoted to sex, relations and psychology. They are written in a rather free style, blended with humor, but the content is written very skillfully. The language of the magazine shows a quite high level of the audience education.
In general, one could refer to the audience of the magazine sufficiently intelligent and mature, interested in culture and self-confident men. The articles also tell about the great personalities meaningful to the gay culture. So, the 75th issue of the BEAR Magazine contains an interesting article devoted to porn star and “AIDS hero” Richard Locke and features his erotic photographs.
For all the 24 years of activity, the BEAR Magazine has been exerting great influence over the gay community. It actually shows the example of a “bear” man and forms taste and ideals of the whole generation of “bears”. “We cannot feature everyone’s fantasies in every issue. But we can direct people to special interest groups and resources which might be able to address their libidos”, writes the founder and the original editor of BEAR Magazine, Richard Bulger, in response to a reader’s letter BEAR, issue #15, 1991(Bugler 32).
Analysis of the representation of sexual minorities by the media shows that in our society there are opposing views on issues related to homosexuality. There is a tendency for tolerance toward homosexuality, but the most of the American media conduce to the creation of negative stereotypes of homosexuals, rather than objective coverage of the facts. Most of the media publishes materials about homosexuality or the sensational news that are mainly materials of a bad taste.
Images of gays and lesbians created by the media are characterized by stereotyping and caricature traits. Quite different point of views on the gays and lesbians lead to the question about finding or developing of a correct and adequate representation of the culture. The BEAR Magazine and other serious and reputable periodicals devoted to gay culture make a great contribution to development of a right image of the subculture, but several media are not enough for solution of the problem.
However, due to the large differences between gay communities, it seems impossible to release a single strict representation. It means that one should strive to overcome the stereotypes imposed by various mass media and learn to see, first and foremost, a human and his or her inner world in any representative of sexual minority.
Bulger, Richard. “The Fundamental Bear”. BEAR MAGAZINE. Issue 75, (2011): 32-36. Print.
Wolfe, Steven. “A Bear…is a Bear…is a Beard!” BEAR MAGAZINE. Issue 75, (2011): 4-36. Print.