I doubt that anyone reading this doubts there's a deep-seated thread of homophobic behavior running through Western society. Just in case you might have forgotten, a few links.
This post isn't about 'is this the case?' but about trying to express some of what is so damaging about this, to many people. I'll be touching on a matter that doesn't get addressed often as a more subtle- and to my view, more damaging- form of homophobia. This one expresses itself most often as "I just wish they'd act straight in public".
So as a few people have been noticing and commenting on broadly in the media, over the last decade or so, the ideal of female beauty in advertising has a direct link to the modern prevalence of anorexia in young women. Show a young woman many photographs of [ed: italicized text added @ feyandstrange's suggestion] women photoshopped to look like Kate Moss, and she'll look at the curves of her own body and feel she's overweight by comparison to this 'ideal form'- even if a woman actually built like that would probably put your eye out with her pelvis if you went down on her, let alone snap her own neck if she looked to the side too fast.
In my own experience- I used to be an absolute twig of a thing. I had a congenital heart defect, which left my heart burning through TONS of calories every day and left me, at 6'1", with a 28" waist. When I started to fill out into something resembling a human's contours from that, in my late 20s, I felt like I was a HORRIBLE FAT DISGUSTING OBESE MONSTER- after years of being built like a pole. It took me a lot of work to figure out that in fact, I had been unpleasantly skinny and probably looked deathly ill because of it. But what we believe is normal can shape perception to such an extent that we can be 50 pounds lighter than everyone else and think we look just like everyone else.
Now, what else do we see in advertising media? Others have pointed out that folks in ads are often mysteriously non-ethic; they've illustrated this point repeatedly and eloquently, so I think we can take that as a given (in case you need some resources to support this claim, I like this bibliography of various papers on gender and race in advertising).
Oh yes, we also see various examples of gender inequality in advertisement. Two women whose poise suggests they're fighting over which of them gets the honor of having a man light their cigarette, two women together only with eyes for each other while a group of men stand around the edges of the frame and examine them somewhat lewdly.
See, the thing about all three of these (race, gender, weight) is that to an extent, on a less than conscious level, we look at these pictures and think they're a picture of What The World Is. Not a picture of What the Ad Exec Thinks The World Should Look Like. This is an important dichotomy to keep in mind when one interacts with advertising media, folks: what's in the frame on the screen, or the billboard, or the ad page in the magazine? That isn't the real world. Even if it looks a lot like it sometimes.
Now I know what you're thinking. "colubra, you said you were gonna talk about homophobia. Why this long sidebar into gender, weight, and race in advertising?" The kind of systemic homophobia I want to point out here is actually quite related. The point of the sidebar there was to point out the way we interact with advertising- how it shapes our mental perceptions of the world we inhabit.
So- well and good, advertising shapes our world. What does this have to do with homophobia? There's this interesting behavior that I find absolutely cringe-inducing that crops up all the time among straight people I know- "God, why are those two guys over there holding hands/giving each other a peck on the cheek/hugging in public?" When I say that I don't see anything wrong with it, they're quick to backpedal and point out "oh well of course I don't dislike gay people... I just don't approve of public displays of affection". I'm spotting a bit of what I've been terming 'aversive homophobia' here: holding homophobic views but pretending they're not what they are because you'd hate to be identified as the hateful homophobe.
Now, I was originally thinking I'd go grab a bit of advertising to bolster my point here, but I think it would actually be more interesting for you to find your own.
So, your mission: Pick up a mainstream magazine (no science mags, geeks!), or watch the TV commercials that are aired over an hour of broadcast TV. In either one, I just about guarantee you will see a heterosexual couple holding hands, kissing, hugging, sharing an intimate laugh, leaning against one another. The last I looked at one, I remember noticing the ads in a woman's magazine seemed to be a bit more heteronormative (that is: asserting a norm that is heterosexual) than in say, National Geographic.
So, grab your magazine or your hour of TV, and explore. I'll wait.
So this little experiment was mostly intended for heterosexual readers. Imagine, now, that you aren't interested in the opposite sex. You're a teenaged boy who likes boys, you're a young woman who likes women. You're looking around the world for something to identify with- something you can point at and excitedly shout 'That's me! THAT'S ME!!!' Some way to not feel quite so... alien. And you look at the advertising around you- crammed chock full of stuff that says 'a guy and a girl is how it's supposed to be', just like it says 'persons of color are marginalized and that's how it's supposed to be', or 'women are supposed to be deferential towards men, or an object for men to desire'.
What do you think this young gay or lesbian person would come away from this glut of guy-on-girl-action in advertising thinking about themselves?
Now that we've touched on the first point I wanted to make (all this heteronormative sex in advertising is alienating towards a significant number of people), here comes the second. Now that you've been through your magazine or your hour of TV and really attended to what the messages are in that advertisement- what do you think it feels like to a woman or man who's gay to hear from their straight friends 'why do you people have to be so demonstrative in public'? There are... dozens upon dozens of advertisements showing happy hetero funtimes on every street corner, and I'm not allowed to hold hands with my boyfriend, lest I offend someone? How do you think it'd feel if that was you, being told not to hold hands with your beloved on the street because someone Might Be Offended, while all around you are photos and commercials featuring two someones else making out like maniacs?
By the way- the 'I just don't go for public displays of affection' demurrer here just doesn't work: if you don't go for these things, why aren't you bitching about 23834573472 street-level displays publically exhibiting heterosexual displays of affection, often at a scale that's larger-than-life? That's just a cop-out-- or if you don't mean it to be one, it definitely comes off as a cop-out. To me, at least, it sounds more as if what's being said is 'I just don't go for your public displays of affection'.
Do I think there shouldn't be sex in advertising? Oh hell no! That said- I can think of ways of incorporating sex in advertising that isn't heteronormative- Emporio Armani's advertisements come to mind. Hey look, it's a pretty man in a pair of underpants, lounging on something. Now sure, that is sexy... but it's not saying 'and he is hitting on women like he's supposed to'. He's just laying there being gratuitously oiled, freshly exerted so that his musculature's emphasized (and is there a message in all this beefcake? I think there is, and I think it's evidenced by how many gym queens populate the homosexual community, anymore, but that's another story). Do I look at it and think 'that's sexy'? OF COURSE I do. But- and this is an important distinction- so do heterosexual women (at least some of them). So- see what EA did, there? They created advertising that appeals to the majority of the people who actually buy fancy underwear for men. Because I'm sorry, I've gotten straight guys out of their jeans. Hot straight guys. Guys who attend their appearance meticulously.
Every single one? White (or started-out-as white) briefs w/ the Y-front.
Straight boys, I'm forced to assume, don't often buy themselves $60 Calvin Klein manties.
So. What is my point?
Simple: people who are gay should probably NOT be told 'I wish you wouldn't do that in public', when 'in public' is full of images of other people doing exactly that, but that's okay because it's advertisements and anyways they're heterosexual. That may not be what the speaker intends here, but it's definitely an underlying commentary in society's monologue about what's right and wrong with people's sexuality- and 'I wish you wouldn't do that in public', in any fashion, just shores up that monologue. Sometimes I consider saying 'would you prefer if instead we went and fucked on that park bench over there, like the billboard behind it features a man and a woman doing?' (I have a terrible habit of wise-assery- for instance, I DO almost always answer the statement 'god, that movie/book/tv show is so gay' with 'Oh? Did it introduce you to its lifepartner or something? Or did you just see it sucking cock?').
But mostly, I just choke down the bile and carry on: sometimes categorizing the thoughtless person who said it as less important to me than I'd thought- sometimes not. The bile is secondary and passes, after all. Unfortunately, the sickening feeling that this person's dismissed a part of who I am, without even pausing long enough to acknowledge me in doing so- that doesn't pass as readily- or as completely. That leaves a bit of a mark on my psyche, and leaves me just a bit less... confident that the person involved's a friend, or cares about me at all.
Now, I know that's not your heterosexual intention here, friend- but it does kind of come off to me as a slap in the face. It seems like a direct indication that you do not gauge me as equal to someone else, on the basis of which sort of partner I choose.
I do my best to ignore it, generally- but it might not hurt if you spent as much effort to avoid doing it.