Here's a poorly written story about Bears.
It's a story from June 19th on Canada.com called "Where the Bears Don't Fear To Tread." Probably the worst headline in years.
At first I thought about making some cheap shot about the paper that ran the story, but the more that I think about it, it’s not the paper’s fault. Any newspaper in North America could run the story, just as it was written, and as the writer, Robert Fulford, suggests, many heterosexuals don’t know what “Bear” means, how would an editor not know that the story was a pile of crap? Therefore, I must say that the fault of the reporting falls squarely on the reporter.
First, let’s look at how he starts his story. He focuses in on one person, and suddenly that one person becomes the image of the bear community. I’d have not one problem with this, if who he chose was an average bear on the street. It’s certainly not hard to find someone in Toronto who could be a fine model for the story.
Instead, he chooses Andrew Sullivan. Truthfully, I like Andrew and read his blog. I tend to agree with much of what he says, though not all. He has, through the years shined a small spotlight on the bear community, including the well known 2003 essay that the article’s author uses for his story. Unfortunately that essay is from the perspective of an outsider looking into the world of bears. While Andrew may be getting more comfortable with being bear-ish as he ages, I don’t think he’s actually decided to be Bear-Identified.
As I was telling Chris last night, there’s a trend of older gay men who think they’ll just slide into the bear community as their youth fades away. The problem is, they don’t understand bears at all. They just have trouble with the ageism of their own clique that has now turned them out. Most of the true bears and cubs that I’ve known seem to understand that they were never going to fit into the twink world and bears seemed to be the more accepting, Average Joe kind of place. More often than not, it isn’t a choice to “go bear.” One is or isn’t.
Another person the author decides to spotlight is Esera Tuaolo, the out former football player. While the bears might love to look at him, again, here’s a guy who doesn’t identify with the bears.
Part of the trouble is that the bear community (and I’m sorry, I never know whether to capitalize that or not) doesn’t have any celebrities. Sure, those of us in the communities can choose people that every bear should know, say, Jack Radcliffe, but he’s not identifiable to the outside world, and even worse, a mainstream newspaper doesn’t want to interview someone who’s known because he’s a porn star. Most of the famous people we look to, say James Gandolfini or Kevin Smith shares some bearish qualities but aren’t bears and really can’t contribute to the story.
Let’s face it; while there are many different definitions of a “bear” within our community, the main thing differentiating us from being a group of average joe type men is the fact that we love cock. Of course, you can’t exactly say that in a news story. I could go on about the fact that just using the word “gay” in a story already brings up problems, because we are defined by the sex we choose to pursue. It often makes for some difficult decisions for both writer and publisher when you have to identify a group this way, so often they look for the trivial or the scandalous ways to show differences between gays and straights rather than by their relationships. This is generally done by showing off the drag queens and leathermen, the visible side of cock-chugging, I suppose.
So what do you do with a community who doesn’t always go to those extremes? Sure, the bear community has it’s shares of the queens and the leather daddies, but the job is to highlight the guy who looks like all of those straight guys out there. As most mainstream stories of bears go, they always end up with the conclusion that bears “are just like any regular guy, but with a difference. Here’s the big irony - Hee hee - they like guys like them!”
There’s one reason, and one reason only that the writer of this piece chose to mention Andrew Sullivan and Esera Tuaolo. The author got his hands on the Spring Issue of A Bear’s Life Magazine. Suddenly he thinks he’s gotten the bible on all things bear.
I like A Bear’s Life, but there’s certainly problems with the magazine’s contents and choices. It’s fluffy and silly and it’s doing just what any other magazine is trying to do, get the most readers it can, and lure advertisers. In this, Steve and Mike have done something remarkable – sell a magazine to the community that doesn’t have porn. Seeing where the porn magazines have failed and folded (except for the more widely focused 100% Beef), it’s surprising that a Bear’s Life is working at all.
A Bear’s Life is a spin on what would have been called a women’s magazine. There’s dating columns and decorating tips and travelogues, but on the whole it isn’t a issues driven work, nor does it want to be. Heck, the magazine, except for some medical tips, seems to overlook sex altogether. While I think it’s a good way to show the growth of the bear movement, and to give some insight, it’s certainly not representative of the group as a whole.
This is the biggest problem of this article. The whole article is based on the two biggest names he saw in the magazine, likely picked up off the shelf at a Border’s Bookstore, and he went to get a quote or two from them. Well, Esra is only quoted from the article, so that’s one then. Then he goes on to speak to Steve, the editor of A Bear’s life, looking for the eternally hard to pin down question, “What is a Bear?” Start your Bears Mailing list jokes now.
The real problem of the article isn’t the definition of a bear, or, in the long run who he chooses to focus on, but the lazy journalism. The reference to the Bear Books and the “history” could have been culled from wikipedia. He does acknowledge the website we got the information from (www.bearhistory.com) and the site’s owner, but it doesn’t seem like he ever contacted Mr. Wright. Unless a lot was left on the features desk floor, he only interviewed two people for the story, and didn’t question much of what he saw in the one magazine he picked up.
Even if you only have one reference point, couldn’t you have done more legwork? The magazine has more than 15 writers in it. Could you not get other perspectives from them? Just because they are not names (sorry Larry Flick), doesn’t mean they can’t give a quote or represent our community. Too often journalists stick to reporting celebrity and not news, and this story is just the same.
Far too often journalist write stories about press conferences, about scheduled media events and – the worst kind of journalism, period - just reprint press releases as news. While this seems to appeal to my lazy side, it’s one of the things that made me shy away from news reporting. No one’s actually asking questions or trying to search beyond the surface. This story is a great example of this.
Why couldn’t the author go out to a Bear Night. Or find if the Toronto Bears had a Bear coffee? Why not make the story local instead of trying to find national figures in a group that seems to eschew them.
How can you write about a group made of everyday men and expect to find celebrity? The whole point of being average is being out of the spotlight, but still, here’s the mirror, looking for a name to represent us. He gets closer by interviewing Steve, but that was more for the author to understand what he was reading in the magazine, not to find one of those average joes.
I’d like to see this author really spend some time on this story. It would be good if he found not only the drag queens and leathermen but also the artists, the teachers, the customer service agents, the decorators, the construction workers, the diversity of the bear community. I’d like to see the history represented as something more than just finding a few references to the word “bear” used in a gay subtext from books and articles from long, long ago. What about the bear clubs, and the bars and the websites that did their job of helping like people find each other and then find a sense of community? This isn’t spoken of in this article; it’s the search for North America’s biggest name that happens to be gay and has a beard (sometimes).
If Andrew Sullivan wants to join us, then that’s fine. It is, and hopefully will be a big tent in the future. If bearish guys want to say that they aren’t a bear, or call themselves post-bear, I’m cool with that too, but what I don’t need is some guy stating that the bear community was made credible because Sullivan wrote about it. That’s the same as saying that the bear community is now credible because the Canadian National Post did a puff piece on it.
As always, the bear community is both simple and terribly difficult to define, and maybe I’m asking far too much from someone who was working on a pride Month puff piece for a features page. I’m also defensive about the image of bears, and want to see better depictions, but what really makes me hate the job Fulford does here is that I can see how little work he put into it when it’s not difficult to get bears to talk about bears. Unfortunately it’s just another sign of lazy, sloppy reporting.
In the long run, the story isn’t as important as say, reporting the Iraq war, but we’ve seen the media do a pretty lousy job on that, too. For now, let’s just say if you can’t take the time to get the real story, don’t write it. It’s not like we need the publicity. We’re just Average Joes here.