author: marty grande-sherbert | op-ed editor
flickr via national museum of American history Smithsonian institution
Despite my best efforts not to be affected by celebrity culture, I find myself once again writing about Ariana Grande. She’s sure causing a stir lately. I wonder all the time what it’s like to be so absurdly visible that you make the news every time you write a social media post – I heard someone on the radio the other day talking about her “what soup would you be if you were a soup” tweet. I can’t understand the obsession. But this article isn’t about any of that (I would be a broccoli cheddar soup, by the way [EIC’s note: SOUP GROUP, pop culture edition]). This is about the issues that arise from Ariana Grande performing as the headliner at Manchester Pride Live this year.
The event is a UK Pride party in August, the so-called climax of an approximately week-long Pride event in the same vein as Regina Pride’s white party. Having parties and concerts at Pride has become par for the course, turning many events for the LGBTQ+ community into spectacles for which a ticket is required upon entry. We in Regina have had our own issues with this framing of Pride in the past – you may remember contributor Cat Haines’ op-ed on the history of Pride, for example, explaining that Pride as an event has its roots in radical activism and advocating for a continued spirit of protest, not partying. This same concern with the commercialization and spectacle-making carries over into the Manchester news, especially in light of the fact that tickets to Manchester Pride Live are going to cost double what they did last year, with weekend passes going for £64.50 or about 113 Canadian dollars.
So, the most widely advertised event at Manchester Pride is an over–one–hundred–dollar concert headlined by Ariana Grande, a straight woman who (if you read my article last week) recently portrayed a romantic encounter between women in her music video that was widely received as inappropriate by a wlw (women loving women) audience. I am always annoyed when Pride is represented by cis, straight people simply because they’re famous, but the price of those tickets is what drives it home – not just as an isolated case, but as an example of the commercial mania that inevitably dominates Pride around the world. Whether the product being sold is a performance by Grande or not, I’m tired of Pride being about selling things at all.
Yes, the money from Manchester Pride Live is going to causes that will support the community – this is good – but the outrageous price still effectively shuts out a great number of people who the event is supposed to be serving. Marginalized people who are more likely to experience homelessness and poverty should be honored with celebrations that are as free and community-based as possible; if you want to have an exclusive party with celebrity appearances just for the thrill of it, that’s fine, but to call such a thing the Pride experience makes the whole history of Pride feel shallow.
In addition to concert and event tickets, the other things sold at Pride can be not only superficial, but actively harmful to participants. Businesses know that they will experience more sales as people are out for the parade (not a bad thing in itself), so promotions and deals in the summer that target LGBTQ+ people specifically are common. Sure, it’s fun and even comforting to see rainbow Oreos or commercials with same-gender couples around that time of year, but after a while, the novelty of being validated by a company gives way to the realization that they probably don’t care about you, just your shopping habits. Being LGBTQ+, then, becomes another factor in an algorithm that seeks out customers, and gradually corporate entities see Pride as a business opportunity divorced from any of its social or political intention. Those who have money to spend on “Pride merchandise” come home with a fair bit of mass-produced novelty junk and those without the money are, again, forgotten.
One particularly insidious part of a commercial Pride that I’ve experienced, a part highly represented at concerts like the one in Manchester, is the increased sale of intoxicants. People like to party at Pride and that’s good, I think – it’s good to celebrate and good to have a space where we feel like we can let loose without judgment. But, when alcohol is promoted to us, commercially, shrouded in LGBTQ+ positive messages, it feels less like we’re drinking at our own discretion.
When companies like Bud Light sponsor Pride Toronto, and a direct link between Pride and alcohol is made, I become worried. LGBTQ+ people experience not only higher rates of poverty than straight and cisgender people, but higher rates of substance abuse as well. When I attended Los Angeles Pride last summer, where cannabis had been legalized for a long time, I had spokespeople from dispensaries hand me buttons with weed leaves in rainbow colours. It was fun, sure, but it leaves me a little wary when I realize that the community has become a definite market for anything and everything, especially considering how vulnerable young LGBTQ+ people can be. It’s not an environment I would have wanted for myself at a younger age, before I knew to look away from where advertisements directed me.
When we go to Pride, we’ve earned our place there by virtue of surviving and thriving as LGBTQ+ people. We certainly don’t need a corporation’s blessing to be proud every summer, and we don’t need celebrities to create spaces for us when Pride is about carving out our own space. It’s a celebration of the ground we’ve travelled and a demand to cover more ground, and it has its roots in gatherings that were seen as fringe, radical, even unwanted. It’s great that we can have Pride events now that we don’t worry about getting shut down or interrupted by police presence, but there is a real danger now of Pride being defined by people who are entirely removed from what makes it necessary.
I know where my Pride comes from – my ancestors paved the way for it, and it’s inherent in me, cultivated after years of wrestling with internalized shame. I don’t need Ariana Grande to tell me I’m worth celebrating when she clearly doesn’t understand the obstacles I face in doing so. I don’t need Pride to be offered or sold to me by cis, straight individuals or faceless corporate entities, and you don’t either. It’s already your legacy, and our defiance of oppression is never bought. It’s taken.