By postgraduate student Ari Virtanen.
Translated by Richard Foley. Illustration by Niina Huuskonen.
Global popular culture teems with a wide variety of references to non-heterosexual behaviour.
Is there anyone who hasn’t seen the complicated relationships of the fictitious lesbians in the TV series The L Word, or reality TV’s homosexual contestants remodelling houses (The Block), travelling around the world (Amazing Race), or agreeing to be locked up in the same house (Big Brother)? When pop singer Jari Sillanpää came out, it was quite a media event in Finland, and prime time viewers followed the life of gay character Kalle Laitela in the popular Finnish series Salatut Elämät (Hidden Lives).
The list of examples seems almost endless.
What kinds of images of homosexuals does popular culture portray? What are the terms on which these images are produced?
In popular culture, homosexual men in particular are readily described as stereotypical “superconsumers”: They know the best bars in town, the most stylish decorating trends, the latest fashion and the hottest of the hot pop hits.
This interest in the gay community has everything to do with its potential as a market segment, yet at the same time gay men and women are being exploited to entertain popular culture’s straight audience. The consumer behaviour described in popular culture has become a significant identity position for homosexuals – one that might even be able to guide straight men safely through the consumer jungle out there, as in the American series Queer Eye for the Straight Guy and its Finnish version Sillä Silmällä (lit. “with that certain eye”).
In my virtual ethnography research, my particular interest is how the images we see in popular culture fit into the northern Finnish landscape. What kinds of identities might these images afford homosexual men and women in Lapland?
Rather little is known of the conditions under which sexual minorities in rural areas and Lapland live. The general assessment is that things are more difficult for them than in the cities.
Lapland has not avoided global trends, however. Virtuality has reshaped the private and public spaces in which individuals’ identities are formed. Attitudes towards homosexuality have slowly changed, and become more positive. Homosexuality is sometimes even seen as a fad of sorts, as the following message sent to a gay chat forum suggests:
What? Huh? Becoming a fad? :D You can’t see gays or lesbians anywhere in Rovaniemi :D. At least I haven’t noticed anyone showing it openly (at least compared to Helsinki) and how can you tell the real and the “trendy” lesbians on the street? :D Isn’t it for the best that people dare to come out in this crappy little town :D? (Actually, Rovaniemi’s ok :DD)
Today a growing number of homosexuals in Lapland, as elsewhere, are able to define themselves as individuals and as part of the community, engaged in the interaction of the global and local, the virtual and real, and the images and markets. The reality in the northern Finnish landscape might be different, however.