A recent tweet by the Oatmeal seemed to cause some controversy the other day on Twitter. I follow the @Oatmeal on Twitter, and a tweet the Oatmeal posted elicited accusations of homophobia:
If you follow the link in the tweet, it takes you to this artwork by the Oatmeal (for copyright reasons, I can’t embed the artwork in this post).
The artwork laments Matthew Inman’s (the Oatmeal’s creator) Google search status:
The second search result is the result that Inman laments: “matthew inman gay.” Now, I do not know if Inman is gay or not (and it’s none of my business), but since I started following his work a few years ago, I have never known him to be homophobic. If you look through the Oatmeal, I doubt you will find artwork that is clearly homophobic. Much of his work is satirical and observational addressing societal and cultural issues. In addition, I’ve never considered Inman’s work politically correct nor would I ever want to see his work become politically correct. He is part entertainer, part artist, and he’s excellent at embodying the role of a satirist.
When Inman was accused of being a homophobic bully, I was surprised because I’ve never seen anything to support such an accusation. Here’s the accusation retweeted by Inman:
After Inman retweeted this accusation by @shanaqui, a barrage of vitriol exploded between those who considered Inman’s tweet and artwork homophobic and those who did not. Inman has a loyal and active fan base who revel in the chance to attack anyone who disagrees with the object of their worship. Despite the obvious danger of sicking your fans on unsuspecting people, the larger issue that requires attention is defining homophobia.
Why some considered Inman’s artwork homophobic and some did not is an important question, and I think it illustrates how some in and outside the LBGT community define aspects of discrimination, homophobia, and gay rights differently. I posted a poll in my Twitter and Facebook feeds for 24 hours regarding the Oatmeal’s tweet:
By “this work,” I’m referring to the Oatmeal’s alleged homophobic work (for some reason, Twtpoll wouldn’t embed the link in the results). Since I only left the poll up for a short time, I didn’t get as many results as possible; however, I just wanted to get a sense of what people thought. I’m not sure if the poll results would change dramatically if it was disseminated over a larger population, but I do find the results interesting. Overwhelmingly, those who responded found Inman’s artwork not homophobic. (Full disclosure: I do not find the work homophobic, and I recused myself from voting in the poll.)
According to Dictionary.com, homophobia is defined as an “unreasoning fear of or antipathy toward homosexuals and homosexuality.” So, is Inman’s artwork homophobic based on the current definition? I would say, no. Inman’s artwork doesn’t seem to exhibit “unreasoning fear of or antipathy toward” the LGBT community, yet some people clearly considered it homophobic. What is the cause of this disconnect?
I think that definitions are moving targets, and they only have the meaning we give to them (Kenneth Burke, anyone?). It’s easy to believe that some may have different definitions of homophobia than others. Everyone grows up differently; they have different life experiences and different perspectives, which influence their world view. I don’t consider Inman’s work homophobic, but that doesn’t mean others don’t consider it homophobic. Unfortunately, for those in the minority, the burden of justifying why Inman’s work is homophobic is on them. They have to prove that it is homophobic; otherwise, they’ll just be accused of being too sensitive.
Inman is an artist, social critic, and comedian rolled into one, but a homophobe? I don’t think so.
What do you think?