The faces of network Late Night have over the past couple of years changed guard, ushering in what would seem to be a new era, but that doesn’t mean a more socially conscious, smarter Late Night. The formats are still the same. White men still sit at the helm on the major networks, despite clear interest in seeing new kinds of faces demonstrated in the success of Samantha Bee, Trevor Noah, Larry Wilmore and Rachel Maddow on other networks. But CBS, ABC and NBC are far from revolutionary, and they’re coronating a new set of white male gods the same way they did with Letterman, Leno and Carson before. And unfortunately that means having to watch these white men try to be serious without any social responsibility. Case and point, when they each offered thoughts on The Orlando shooting with all of the poignancy the patriarchy can muster—meaning they did so without mentioning the key fact that beyond being the most fatal mass shooting in American history, it was also the worst hate crime ever committed on US soil. And to add insult to injury, over the next few days many sites were running headlines about how beautiful and powerful their sloppy soliloquies had been.
Luckily this past week provided an antidote in the form of an almost twenty-minute video created by Ryan Murphy in collaboration with the Human Rights Campaign, in which forty-nine celebrities each read a different victim’s name, age, and some touching, personal information about them. Not only did this humanize the victims of the Orlando shooting, people who unfortunately often just become names on a list, but this video acknowledges their queerness, the lives they lived, and most importantly their love. The video heart-wrenchingly points out the mother and son who were lost, multiple husbands and couples who died together, and friends who shielded one another. At the end of video the actors not only beg for common sense gun legislation, but also for equality and protection of the LGBT community—proving that the two are not mutually exclusive in this tragedy, or in this world.
It is easy after a mass shooting to condemn gun violence. Apparently, it is not easy, despite it being 2016, to show solidarity with the LGBT community after their people were targeted and then slaughtered. For example, Jimmy Fallon was widely applauded for his reverence. But endearing the public by talking about “accepting our differences” is worthless if you don’t have the balls to mention the LGBT community, or use the words “gay club” and “hate crime,.” Instead he used the jargon of all the other white mainstream media of “dance club” and “terrorist attack,” which strips an already disenfranchised group of its own tragedy. It’s the perfect slight of hand. By framing it the way he did, his homophobic viewership doesn’t have to be confronted with a direct reference to the LGBT community, and Fallon assuages the LGBT community in his mind by admitting we’re all different. No shit.
Then you have Colbert, who was also awarded a gold star for his thoughts on despair and love, such as “Despair is a victory for hate,” and, “Let’s remember that love is a verb. It means to do something.” What exactly is he doing, then, when his only reference to the LGBT community was that the victims of the shooting were, “targeted for who they love.” Yes that’s a pretty vague reference to the LGBT community; he too could not directly say the word “gay.” And that’s the problem. He kept it safe, as to not ruffle any viewership feathers. He did what a lot of moderately homophobic people do who refuse to acknowledge their homophobia, which is to pander “Aw, they all are just trying to love, too,” focusing only on the love and not the just general fact that LGBT people are normal humans. They don’t need you to validate their love for one another just so you can find a way to accept them.
Conan, the more irreverent of Late Night hosts, and also unburdened by major network overlords, was the most disappointing. He made zero reference to the LGBT community at all, not even a pandering one such as that of Colbert and Fallon. He did admit, “I am not a pundit, I am not an expert and I’ve always, always made it a policy to stick to my job and keep my opinions to myself.” But that’s a cop out, because he had no problem passionately going on for three minutes about how much we need stricter gun control, but he can’t make a nod to the people that our ineffective gun control laws just killed. And yet still articles were written about how passionately he cares.
In the face of tragedy, to rebuke the good people of this world feels nasty, but sometimes criticizing reactions is the most productive way to turn a horrific event into change. White men getting the world’s applause for mere gestures, while the rest of us must perform, shout, toil and defy odds for the same praise has become so normal, that we often forget to even acknowledge it anymore. And that is why the round of major network Late Night responses to the Orlando shootings deserve a firm slap on the wrist. These men set trends and standards, and them more directly acknowledging the LGBT community in their statements could have had a huge impact in making everyday Americans frame the shooting as a hate crime, which it was. Colbert said, “You have a pretty good idea of what people will say,” in regards to the fact that we all have the same shocked, sad routine after a mass shooting because they are so common. But I don’t know what people will say anymore, honestly. Because I expected Late Night hosts to be a cut above buttoned up news men and stand up for the LGBT community, but I was wrong.