Friday, 27 April 2012

385: Anita Bryant 1 - Art Buchwald

Anita Bryant was a singer who from the late 1960s onwards was then most famous as the spokeswoman in TV adverts for Florida Orange Juice. That was until 1977 when Dade County, Florida passed an ordinance prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. Bryant became the vocal leader of a conservative Christian family values campaign, Save Our Children (since homosexuals are sick sinful perverts who want to indoctrinate innocent children) to repeal the ordinance. Bryant became the nationally recognised face of anti-gay sentiments. This provoked an equally high profile gay rights campaign opposing Bryant and boycotting Florida orange juice.

Cover of "Newsweek" 6 June 1977

Bryant’s campaign to repeal the anti-discrimination ordinance was successful but in the process she made herself a national joke. As you can imagine many of these jokes are about homosexuality, and that’s where I come in, as an easy gag against Bryant is just as likely to employ an easy gay joke.

An early instance of this was “Anita Bryant’s Homo No-Mo” in National Lampoon, May 1977

Art Buchwald was a political newspaper humourist whose column was syndicated in American papers forever. Very lightly humorous to be honest most of the time, sometimes it was impossible to tell if he was treading water or if it was just a dead mans’ float. A humourist is a comedian who isn’t really funny may be an unkind but honest assessment, but most of the time he’s brief which is a small mercy.
Anita Bryant and the correlating suddenly vocal campaign for gay rights is the issue of the day. How to find a little non-controversial humour in it that won’t upset anybody’s breakfast reading?
So here Art is with his little thought piece attempting to essay a little humour from the precarious position of the Orange Juice industry in the whole Anita Bryant hoo ha. This column also make a nice introduction for all the jokes Bryant elicited, because Buchwald makes explicit that Bryant had become irrefutably associated with homosexuality in the public’s mind. Buchwald employs no gay slurs or stereotypes, and the whole column is an ingenious zig and zag away from the rights and the wrongs of the issue. Unless of course the mere idea of having a gay spokesman is supposed to be ridiculous in and of itself – a nicety that the passing of time has now erased.
Then there’s his final little fillip, suggesting on his exit line that he might even be gay. Oh you prankster.


“Orange Blues” by Art Buchwald
Syndicated late June 1977

Pity the poor Florida orange growers. They are caught in a quandary since Anita Bryant’s victory against homosexual rights in Dade County. The orange growers pay Miss Bryant $100,000 a year to push Florida orange juice, a job that she has done magnificently.

Anita Bryant meant orange juice and orange juice meant Anita 8ryant. it is this instant celebrity identification that sponsors dream of. When you speak of Bob Hope, you're supposed to think of Texaco; mention joe Namath and people are supposed to have a vision of pantyhose. Danny Thomas goes better with Maxwell House coffee; and. Recently, when you see a picture of former Senator Sam Ervin, it is hoped your first thought is of an American Express credit card.

The problem in Florida is that people now see Anita Bryant on television, the first thing that comes to mind is "gay," not as in breakfast but as in "homosexual”.

The Florida orange juice people are not interested in selling homosexuals. That's not their business. A majority, I would guess, are sympathetic with Miss Bryant's stand on the issue, but the trouble with fighting homosexuals is that it doesn't sell orange juice.

First of all, no one knows how many homosexuals there are in this country because, despite all the publicity, many of them have still not come out of the closet.

Secondly, there are no figures on how many of them drink orange juice. But there are presumably enough of them to hurt the sale of Florida oranges. A sudden switch to California orange juice by gay people in this country could cost the Florida orange grove owners millions of dollars.

At the same time, the Florida orange juice industry is aware that if Anita Bryant is fired there could be a backlash from the heterosexuals in this country who would boycott Florida oranges in protest.

There is a solution to the problem, which I hesitate to suggest, since I don't want to get involved in the controversy. But I will because I believe the Florida orange growers need all the help they can get.

What the Florida orange industry could do is break down its TV budget. Half of it would go to Miss Bryant to continue pushing Florida orange juice to the "straight" people, and half would go to a gay spokesperson who would appeal to the homosexual drinkers. It would mean cutting Miss Bryant's fee to $50,000 a years, so the gay person would get paid the same as she does. But at the same time, Miss Bryant would only be required to make half the number or TV commercials. It seems to me that this would satisfy everyone. The heterosexuals would be pleased to see that Miss Bryant was still selling orange juice, and the gays would be delighted to have finally broken through on big-time television. Florida orange juice consumption would have to go up because the TV commercials would appeal to everyone, regardless of race, religion or sexual preference.

Of course, the advertising agency for the Florida orange growers would have to find a gay spokesperson who could sing as well as Miss Bryant. But that shouldn't be a problem. Many of our finest performers come from the gay community and would be happy to supplement their income by doing orange juice commercials.

I would do it myself, but unfortunately I can't carry a tune.

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