As these videos have matured, so have their subject matter.
The new age of “inspirational” viral videos often deal with issues that connect emotionally with their audience, hence their intense popularity.
The most recent example of this was “First Kiss,” a video that manipulated the public’s fascination with love and attraction in order to sell clothes.
Many of these videos mean well and strive to provoke critical thinking about the issues they present, which is to be commended. However, occasionally, these videos do nothing but manipulate our emotions and reinforce negative stereotypes and dangerous thinking.
After “First Kiss,” a slew of parody videos premiered, including “First Gay Hug.” The video is billed as a homophobic experiment and appears genuine at first.
“We didn’t just want to do a spoof but do a version that had meaning behind it,” said Sarah Rotella, one of the creators of The Gay Women Channel on which the video aired.
However, upon watching the video, several stereotypes immediately begin to manifest: one woman makes the Sign of the Cross after being introduced to a lesbian, and another exclaims, “You’re so pretty to be gay!”
It’s still being debated whether or not the video is scripted, but this is ultimately irrelevant. It doesn’t matter if these people are real homophobes or not: The whole thing is still extremely offensive.
“That doesn’t hurt,” remarks an elderly woman as her gay hugging partner puts his arms around her.
I can admit freely that I love getting swept up by overly saccharine, empathetic videos on the Internet. But the only thing the cloying, patronizing “First Gay Hug” managed to do was dehumanize and insult the gay men and women in the video. That there was any time or exposure given to the insulting generalizations and stereotypes in the video sickens me.
Fans of the video say putting these taboo subjects up for scrutiny opens the floor for discussion and openness about these issues and help to bridge gaps.
“The video focuses on the reactions of both parties, capturing the uncomfortable exchange and the realization of common ground,” wrote State Press opinion columnist Becca Smouse.
But the issue here is that this realization never happens.
The main reason this video is so highly uncomfortable to watch is because we all know that nothing is accomplished at the end.
“You seem like a cool guy,” one straight male remarks at the end of the video. “It’s just that I think your whole sex thing is kind of gross.”
Clearly this video was another chance to glorify “acceptance” and “equality” without having to do any of the work to actually be accepting and empathetic.
The huggers eventually part ways with no real lifestyle changes. While the homophobes are able to overcome their prejudice for a brief spell, they won’t make any lasting changes to their belief systems because of one hug.
“We asked homophobes to hug gay strangers for the first time,” reads the description of the video by the channel. “Make sure to like + subscribe!”
Conveniently, a link to the channel’s merchandise site is also included above this sweet description.
While these videos can be well-meaning, we should never stop being skeptical about what is being shown to us and the problems with this media. If we stop asking questions and thinking critically about these problems in media portrayal, then these videos ultimately accomplish nothing and do nothing but perpetrate the same tired clichés that wound our community.
Reach the columnist at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter @lolonghi