Cable Channel Re-Airs 1967's Classic TV Documentary
By Liz Tracey
On Saturday, October 10, CBS Eye on People, the network's cable venture, re-aired a controversial 1967 documentary entitled The Homosexuals.
Eye on People showed the Mike Wallace report as a segment of its CBS: The Classics series, with new commentary by Morley Safer and from lesbian and gay community leaders framing the piece.
The original production featured extensive interviews with virulent homophobe and "reparative therapist" Dr. Charles Socarides; a closeted gay man literally seated behind a potted plant; conservative clergy; and footage from murky, dark bars showing a "homosexual underworld."
But Wallace also interviewed representatives from the Mattachine Society, who provided more positive comments on the lesbian and gay community.
Safer opens the re-broadcast: "This subject was arguably television's greatest taboo, but you're about to see the program that broke it," continuing to say that "in 1967, homosexuality did not exist on television. But on the night of March the 7th, homosexuals were right there for the first time in America's living rooms."
Safer put the show in context by saying, "This documentary is a period piece. Another time, another sensibility. But it still retains the power to shock."
In place of the network promotions it would normally have aired during the five segment breaks of the re-broadcast, Eye on People chose to run bumpers featuring comments from veteran AIDS and lesbian and gay community activist Jim Fouratt; Richard Burns, executive director of the Lesbian and Gay Community Services Center in New York; Dr. Jack Drescher, a New York-based psychiatrist who has done extensive research on Socarides and so-called "reparative" therapy; Adele Starr of Parents, Friends and Families of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG); and GLAAD Executive Director Joan M. Garry.
Safer closed the piece by noting a growing acceptance of most communities, but his final words were: "there is an exception, one group many say they will not accept: the homosexuals."
Safer's closing remarks were unfortunate, contradicting the message he had provided in his intro, noting that it ran in 1967, "[a]nother time, another sensibility."
But the inclusion of commentary from lesbian and gay community leaders served to frame the piece as an historical document. As GLAAD's Garry said: "There's a part of me that feels that a piece like this should not be re-aired.
On the other hand, I think the piece has a lot to teach us: that thirty years ago was not such a long time ago and that media images have a really profound impact on how people are seen and I believe that this program really created images in people's minds that we are still attempting to undo as a community."
She added, "I think that CBS, in this piece, patted itself on the back a little too much, frankly. I think they deserve the credit for actually exploring the issue, but they should also take responsibility for the damaging stereotypes they created as part of it."
Please thank CBS Eye on People for their inclusion of modern lesbian and gay voices in the re-broadcast - let them know it put the piece in perspective.
Contact Morley Safer, too, and let him know that while many of his comments were interesting, his pessimistic words at the end of the piece made his earlier remarks seem ingenuous.
Ms. Michelle Scanlon Ipomeni