Alex Blaze

The Brita Filter Theory of Conservative Politics

Filed By Alex Blaze | July 31, 2007 8:13 PM | comments

Filed in: Marriage Equality, Politics
Tags: homophobic behavior, impurity, McFamily, Mitt Romney, political ads, purity discourse


Is it just me, or does this seem more like an ad for a Brita Filter than actual political discourse? Then again, their sort of politics could easily be described with a Brita Filter.

This is one of Mitt Romney's latest official campaign ads. Serena calls it "ridiculous", but I wouldn't go that far. It may come across as rather silly to people who aren't going to buy into Romney's message anyway, but that doesn't mean that it isn't speaking in code to people who are watching it. "Culture", "perversions", "clean up", and "family values" hot button issues are codes that LGBTQueer people are all too familiar with. Romney doesn't even have to say the word "gay" to talk about the gays anymore, and his idea of "cleaning up the waters" seems to have more to do with preserving imagery than with actual good policy-making.

It seems that the main goal for social conservatives nowadays is cleanliness with regards to sexuality. (At one point "clean" signifiers like "cleansing" and "purity" were applied openly to racial discourse. It's almost like the target changed but it's still the same system....) Whether it's telling girls that they have to wait until marriage for sex unless they want to be dirty sluts, making younger girls go to purity balls, or setting up an angel/whore dichotomy that stresses absolute purity over negotiated, situationally specific sexual decisions, the message is clear: "clean" is king. The same applies to gays, as we can't seem to be able to be insulted without words like "confused" or "dirty" coming up.

The rhetoric reaches fever pitch, though, when applied to imagery and ideology. Yesterday Steve commented on the notion of "real conservatives" and how different factions within the Republican party will delegitimize each other by claiming that phrase for themselves. They, of course, expect everyone to reach the same politics to carry the mantle of conservatism properly to an extent that I don't see liberals doing. In fact, messiness is probably the root of their being bothered by moral relativism or its cousins (such as multiple interpretations of the Bible, the Constitution, etc.), or their demonization of messy concepts like shared responsibility for social ills instead of a single culprit. And so demanding ideological purity from their politicians becomes a substitute for good political discourse.

Since we're Americans, this whole purity mess comes down to an image, a singular, clean image of what people should do and what people are doing. Conservatism maintains a clean, unnuanced nostalgic wetdream of the Leave It to Beaver 50's, without racial strife, violence against women, adultery, fornication, or, of course, queers. And that's the sort of image that Romney was plugging into when he made that ad. The wild waters (in brown sepia, naturally) were turned into what appeared to be clear bottled water by the end, as impurities were removed. These folks find security in purity, even if that purity comes at the expense of others' rights and livelihoods.

I often think that this discourse is at the heart of policy towards gays. We have to remember when they say that they oppose any legal recognition of same-sex relationships that these are people who think that homosexuality is merely a sin caused by other impurities (in fact, I remember sin being described to me by a conservative Protestant as "impurity before God"). Their narratives about pornography or adultery leading someone to homosexuality are laughable to us, but if you think that one sexual impurity in a person's life means that that person has crossed over to the other side of the clean/dirty dichotomy, then it begins to make more sense. So if the government begins to recognize same-sex relationships, then the clean image it provides by only legitimizing McFamilies (working male with non-working female and their shared biological children) is tarnished. Things become impure, messy, tarnished, complicated, and scary.

(This might be a better way to understand conservative Christian opposition to same-sex marriage - letting the queers into that institution makes it "impure" and recognizes some of the vastly different ways that people interact with one another, destabilizing patriarchy to a degree, which of course hurts those who benefit from that patriarchy.)

So what social conservatives would do, if it were possible, is run society through a giant Brita Filter, getting rid of all the impurities and impure people, and then everything would be stable and secure (again). Purity discourse is an easy way to blame those at the margins of society for society's ills. Even though by any reasonable calculus queers are pretty powerless, if being able to infect the system could actually destroy it, then we're constructed as a threat to people's livelihoods.

So when Romney lists off drugs, pornography, sex on TV, and "cleaning up the culture", he doesn't have to say "gay" to let people know he's talking about the gays. All of those code words are things that would be caught in that metaphorical Brita Filter, and we know that they want us there as they engage in a sexual cleansing of society.

Oh wait, just the behavior, because homosexuality is just sin. Hate the sin, love the sinner.

It's really hard for someone inherently impure to remember.

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In Catholicism sin is defined as "anything that causes you to turn away from God." The irony here is that many GLBT folk discover their truest spirituality once they accept themselves for who they are. One wonderful source on the relationship between spirituality (in it's many forms) and queer sexuality is the book "Blessed Bi Spirit" edited by Debra Kolodny, particularly the third & fourth sections of the book: "Communion with Spirit: Wholeness is Holy," & "Wrestling with Spirit: Who Defines Holiness?"

One of the other ironies, in terms of marriage, is that hisrorically marriage is about property exchange and-- globally-- it is rarely monogamous. So the "Leave It to Beaver" model is the exception rather than the rule.

Jen Jorczak | August 1, 2007 9:15 AM

um... didn't Hitler use the whole "purity" and "cleanliness" trip to describe his "Final Solution"?

Wow, Alex. I was going to use this video as a YGST when it first came out but decided against it since I didn't know what to say with it. You, however, had no problem with "something to say." I would never have come up with all of this.

And you're right on the money too!