Last week, I couldn’t even have told you whether there still was such a thing as a “Miss USA Pageant,” let alone that it had been held over the weekend. Nor, needless to say, had I ever heard of someone named Carrie Prejean. Had Prejean won the aforementioned competition, I feel pretty certain that none of these facts would have blipped across my radar screen. But I couldn’t avoid noticing the flurry of controversy surrounding Prejean’s loss, which judge Perez Hilton, in a video-blogged attack on the contestant, attributed to Miss California’s halfwitted answer to a question about same-sex marriage. (She prefers “opposite marriage,” if for some incomprehensible reason you care.)
So, have we really not figured out how this works yet? Didn’t we learn anything from the deservedly-mocked Gathering Homo Storm ad that made the rounds online last week? The last ploy remaining to the culture war’s dead enders is a desperate lurch at victimhood. By and large, these attempts come across as pathetic, ludicrous, or (as with last week’s ad) both at once. But Hilton’s ill-fated attempt to create a nice headline—wholesome, all-American mannequin endorses equality! photos inside!—coupled with his angry reaction gives the narrative a shot of adrenaline. People’s general preference for a principle of “live and let live” should be a natural ally of equality here; punishing someone for holding a dumb view you solicited flips the perception. For every viewer who has a strong view either way on the substantive policy question, there’s probably five who are lukewarm but thinking: “well, gosh, she’s at least entitled to her opinion, isn’t she?” Contrast what everyone seems to have thought was an incredibly powerful bit of messaging, the Don’t Divorce Us video. Instead of focusing on how stupid or cruel opponents of gay marriage are, it highlighted the loving families they were planning to disrupt, bringing to the fore considerations of equality, fairness, and universal human needs. The predictable repsonse to tactics like Hilton’s is: “You see, it’s not about equal treatment under the law, it’s about forcing everybody to hold the same approved view.” Opponents of equality are on the wrong side of history, and they apparently know it. They’ll probably be sufficiently demoralized to fade away a lot more quickly without rallying points like Prejean.