My New Years’ Day reverie was jarred by a historic moment.  Among the award-winning floats was the entry from the AIDS Health Foundation.   Its theme was “Love” and its central feature was a wedding cake on top of which a gay couple was being married by a clergy-woman-of color.

The float was also comprised of other Gay and Lesbian Couples.  A real watershed.  And the prepared script for the on-air commentators clearly highlighted the moment, giving a brief narrative of the couple-being-married.  It was all very clear–as long as you were watching the coverage on the Hallmark Channel–which we were.  Hallmark’s on-street commentator dutifully read the script, observing that doves had been relased from the float to commemorate the moment.  While it was not in close-up, the cameras stayed on the float while the now-married exchanged a first kiss.

(Checking online, I noted there had been some controversy in advance).

Thanks to modern technology, I was able to check out the coverage of the event on NBC, which I had recorded on my DVR.  Well, over there, Al Roker seemed to have gotten–or improvised–a different script.  He stressed the work of the Foundation, as the camera stayed discreetly distant from the action on top of the float. He did repeat the theme of the float, that love was the best antidote to AIDS. But that was about it.  Almost as an afterthought, he ended his commentary with a terse “…best wishes to the happy couples….”

So on NBC, you’d have to have tried a bit harder to ge the point of the float.  But at least they showed the float, ABC chose to break for a commercial and skipped both the marriage float and the one that immediately followed it (see below).

Back on Hallmark, an ironic–and religiously significant–juxtaposition.  The float immediatly after the AIDS entry was from the Lutheran Laymen’s League, a group that would decidedly *not* be copacetic with a gay marriage message.  It turned out that they had doves, too (or perhaps all the doves were theirs!)  The script for that float, as ready by the Hallmark crew, rather blandly repeated the common media bromides about the good works of religion and the League.  An uncomfortable conicidence (at least for those in the audience who were attuned to the current religious culture wars) was elided and glossed.  But that was better than NBC, where the truth of the moment was conveniently glossed over.

Religion was explicit in both floats.  On the AIDS Foundation float, a cleric-of-color performed an actual act of that office, a radical act that publicly and visibly in an excellent context for ritual public education.  But religion was not explicitly recognized in the official narrative read by the commentators.  The Lutheran Laymen’s float showed religion in the form of a little chapel surrounded by what appeared to be happy clerical couples of a certain age, and the text directed commentary toward the uncontroversial and tacit banality into which religion has been confined in American media discourse.

 It was a breakout moment, but one that evidenced some insights into what we are able to talk about and how.

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