The conservative Christian group Focus on the Family’s entertainment review site, Plugged In, recently reviewed Taylor Swift‘s newest single, “You Need to Calm Down.”
Because the song is a message to homophobes set to catchy pop music, reviewers Kristin Smith and Adam R. Holz were predictably unhappy with the lyrics, even making the stereotypical claim about how Swift is intolerant of their intolerance.
Taylor Swift clearly believes that she occupies the high moral ground here. And what she does from that space is mock, belittle and stereotype anyone who disagrees with her.
Just as the camera spends time on Taylor and her friends, it also focuses on a group of dirty, disheveled men and women who are obviously depicted as ignorant, backward and uneducated. They protest homosexuality with crudely painted signs that say things such as “Adam and Eve not Adam and Steve,” and “Homosekuality is a Sin.” (The latter’s misspelling is apparently intended to helps us see how backward these people are, in case we somehow missed it.)
Swift’s point isn’t subtle. Nor is her scathingly smug, self-righteous condemnation of anyone who’s not in lockstep with her worldview.
Ironically, Taylor’s right in one sense: Being rude, condescending, prejudiced and mean-spirited almost never changes someone’s mind about a deeply held conviction. But it turns out Taylor hasn’t quite learned that lesson yet herself. Instead, she seems to believe she can shame and browbeat those who disagree with her into amending their “backward” ways.
It’s hard to imagine Swift’s song was intended to change minds so much as celebrating those who are already accepting of LGBTQ people. The song isn’t an argument. She’s not actually talking to conservative Christians when she sings:
You just need to take several seats and then try to restore the peace
And control your urges to scream about all the people you hate
‘Cause shade never made anybody less gay
While we’re at it, standing up for a marginalized community is taking the moral high ground. Tolerance is only admirable when we’re talking about beliefs and opinions that are inherently benign, such as “Coffee is better than tea” or “Winter is better than summer.” It’s not a good quality when we’re talking about the inherent dignity of an entire class of people with little to no political power, who are frequently demonized by conservative Christians who have plenty of it.
The idea that being LGBTQ is somehow wrong causes real harm to real people. The people at Focus on the Family may think they’re not in that mix because they don’t advocate violence or bullying, but their beliefs and rhetoric have created an environment in which anti-LGBTQ actions can thrive. It’s not hypocritical to refuse to be tolerant of a toxic belief system.
Smith and Holz are right that Swift’s depiction of people like them is harsh. But it’s never easy to see yourself as others see you, especially when the reflection doesn’t look a thing like you imagine.
The staff at Focus on the Family believes that homosexuality is inherently harmful, that accepting it as normal hurts society, and that it can be changed through therapy — all things scientists and psychologists alike have refuted many times over.
But that doesn’t stop the reviewers here from including a link in their piece to an article about how the Equality Act is an “assault” on freedom and safety.