The Middle Ground

I’ve stumbled across this ‘Middle Ground’ show on Youtube – the thing was pushing a video on Christians and queer people at me. The basic premise of the show is that you get a bunch of people from opposite sides and make them sit down and talk to each other, and see if they can come to an understanding. The video’s here, and we’re going to talk about it. 

There’s definitely some attraction to the idea of a middle ground show. Obviously we talk a lot about how everyone’s really divided at the moment – although, to be honest, I wonder how much of an American narrative that is. I’m over in New Zealand, and I’ve not seen any riots or protester/counter-protester battles. We haven’t had a deeply divisive election, right, as far as I can tell most of us get on with each other okay. We don’t have police shootings and a race-baiting president – we’ve just got a prime minister with a baby. So I’m a little bit hesitant about this ‘divided world’ narrative in the first place. I think it’s a very American framework, and I kinda resent it.

But within that American context, okay, fine, there are significantly divided groups of people and they’re doing this thing to bring them together. And there are some tough conversations in this video – there’s definitely a lot of tension and pain between the two groups. There is some relationship building that’s going on, even if, uh, one of the Christians does refer to being gay as detestable (whoops).

But in some ways, even as we’ve got this middle ground thing going on, I can’t help but wonder if the show isn’t sort of exacerbating the issue – or at least the perception – of a divided country. It’s all very well to bring conservative Christians into a room with gay people and make a big show of building bridges between them, but what about all the people in the middle? What about the more liberal Christians, those who are gay-affirming, or even those Christians that don’t have strong views on gay marriage? What about the queer Christians? If you really want a middle ground between the queer community and the Christians – hey, something in that bracket exists! They’re called queer Christians, and they’re both Christians and queer – how about that.

Part of the issue, I think, is that the show is premised on extremes. You can’t introduce queer Christians, because that doesn’t fit into the divided country narrative. You need people who are divided in order to carry out the whole bridge-building exercise in the first place – so the more complex or even non-divided views on the spectrum are going to be passed over. In a sense, the show is actually reinforcing the divided country narrative. It’s not all bad – even if it is reinforcing the narrative, it’s trying to show how we can overcome the issue by talking to each other more. Fair enough, but it’s got to make you wonder – what if we tried to overcome the issue by rejecting the oversimplification of a range of different views? What if we fought the issue of polarised groups not by reaching across party lines but by recognising that polarisation is a lie that under-represents the diverse spectrum of views that real people hold in the world? I dunno – maybe I’m just reacting to ‘Christian’ being used as short-hand for ‘anti-gay’. Ugh.

A while back we had Yassir Morsi come and give a talk on his new book, Radical Skin / Moderate Masks. It’s a play on Frantz Fanon’s Black Skin / White Masks, but it’s about Islam instead of black people. Anyway, Morsi talked about how he’d received a phone call from this Australian TV group who were wanting to do like a Muslim Big Brother. It’s out now – I think it’s called Muslims Like Us. The producers called up Morsi and asked him to be on the show – they wanted to sound out some of his views so they could put him in a box and tick off their quota. They wanted a conservative Muslim and like a more liberal Muslim and a bunch of other ‘types’, and they wanted to put them all in a room together and make them have a conversation. And so they asked Morsi these questions to try and put him in a box, and it – well, it didn’t really work out. His opinions were complicated and he wasn’t always convinced one way or the other. And eventually the producers gave up and moved on. The show is out now – they got their little quotas – and I’m not necessarily saying that it’s bad. I’ve seen some relatively positive reviews. But again there’s this fundamental issue of oversimplifying. The producers wanted their quotas. They wanted people with clearly defined views so they could show an opposition and then perhaps a growing mutual understanding across party lines.

I’m not saying, then, that having a range of people is going to make it any less artificial than just having two extremes. Maybe it’s the nature of television (or Youtube) to be reductive. And in a sense, I’m not necessarily saying that this Middle Ground thing shouldn’t exist either. It’s not the worst thing in the world. I just think we can do better.

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