- The Washington Times - Friday, June 29, 2001

There she was, partaking of that quintessential fin (and debut) de siecle event known as the gay pride parade, when she was overcome with revulsion and embarrassment at what else? something revolting and embarrassing. There, in midtown Manhattan, in the middle of the day, in full sight of children and even politicians, was something so horrific that Sarah Schulman, author and lesbian activist, never attended a gay pride parade again. It was a gay-pride float sponsored (shriek) by Coors beer.
Coors beer wasn't that the official brew of the Nicaraguan Contras? Not that Ms. Schulman's reaction had a thing to do with Old War politics. According to the Wall Street Journal, her objections were more basic. This was a matter of survival of gasping for cultural existence amid the ever-swelling waters of the mainstream, which are fast-subsuming a cause that once thrived where Coors (let alone Fleet Boston Financial Corp., US Airways Group Inc. and Viacom Inc.) dared not go, and certainly not with holiday floats. As Ms. Schulman put it, "A political movement simply can't have corporate sponsorship."
Unless, of course, the "movement" has arrived. That's the hard truth for Ms. Schulman and other homosexual activists turned off by the ardent embrace of American corporations. In San Francisco, for example, corporate sponsorship of the city's "pride festival" has expanded to cover one-third of its $1 million budget. Hewlett Packard alone has upped its "pride" ante to back celebrations in San Jose, Denver and Atlanta. But some people, alas, are never happy. "Critics complain that the pride parades are more about partying and selling rainbow-colored flags and teddy bears," the newspaper reported, "than about protesting continued discrimination."
Isn't acceptance, and even approval, what "pride" is all about? There's no better measure of both than widespread teddy-bear-trafficking, that weird badge of significance in contemporary America, where every event, gay or grim, to capture national attention strikes the populace as an irresistible call to amass vast public stockpiles of stuffed animals.
Although perhaps not Brooklyn's "Gay Shame" rally. This is one of a growing number of events organized to protest the crass (naturally) commercialization of pride parades of the apple-pie persuasion. According to the Journal, Brooklyn's "renegade group, whose slogan is 'It's a movement, not a market,' will stage a more sober affair, with speeches about prison reform and civil rights for transgender people." Don't miss it.
Besides Mother Marketplace, the Journal noted that some are protesting "further assimilation" into the mainstream. "For example, some people resent attempts to make the parades family friendly by censoring bare skin and bawdy behavior." Here's the rub: As the mainstream fills and swells to carry along chunks of humanity historically left in a kind of high and dry isolation, those chunks change, at least a little, if only because of their new center-stream position on a float parading down Main Street, for example, with the local chamber of commerce. Frankly, pushing to expand the already "inclusive" mainstream a tad more (how much skin is left to bare?) bears less resemblance to a weighty political cause than to the truculence of the spoiler. Maybe realizing that the movement has hit the end of the line is the source of this evident hard-core restlessness and discontent.
A somewhat different kind of malaise afflicts other equally triumphant cultural movements. Take liberated women. The female executive may be as much a part of American business as corporate "pride," but she, too, has an argument with success: The mainstream hasn't changed enough for her, either. "So Where Are the Corporate Husbands?" the headline to a hefty feature in the New York Times recently wondered. "For Women at the Top, Something is Missing: Social, Wifely Support." This is not a joke. Marie Knowles, a woman who last year climbed down from the sky-scraping heights of having been executive vice president and chief financial officer of Atlantic Richfield Oil Co., describes executive women who have to compete with executive men assisted by "corporate wives" as nothing less than "disadvantaged."
Disadvantaged? How, one wonders, besides just rolling along, might the mainstream be expected to level this playing field? Could be that teddy bears or even bare skin might help. Executive grousing aside, the cultural mainstream is now so wide and deep, it has hit the point where nothing makes much of a splash. Remember Comedy Central's "South Park"? When that scatologically inclined cartoon show began airing a few years ago, its naughty words and stories were fresh bait to hungry critics. Last week, an episode featured one particular four-letter word 162 times to zero critique. "No one cares anymore," co-creator Matt Stone told the New York Times. "The standards are almost gone." He almost sounds disappointed. But this is no cause for despair; it's probably cause for a parade.

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