During the 1980s and 90s the gay scene in London, Manchester, Brighton and other towns and cities across the UK began to bring in serious money and the homosexual market segment became a desirable demographic. Justin Bengry, Honorary Research Fellow at Birkbeck College takes a look at the history of the Pink Pound:
The Pink Pound is not what you think it is. Or rather, I hope to convince you that it’s a lot more than you think it is. Generally defined as the economic or spending power of gay men and lesbians, the Pink Pound for many signals queer political power as well. Money, after all, can often translate into power.
Capitalists have sought this lucrative group of consumers relatively openly since the onset of Gay Liberation in the 1970s, but particularly from the 1980s and 1990s growth of a more public gay and lesbian community.
Queer men in particular, but also women, have been targeted as a valuable market segment ever since. They are assumed to have higher incomes and lower financial responsibilities than other consumers, greater interest in leisure services and related goods, and also to be eager and early adopters of new products. They were already in 2006, according to an Ingenious Group marketing conference, worth some £70 billion to British business, with their estimated value only growing since then. But what happens when we look historically to other incentives and other relationships between homosexuality and consumer capitalism?
I want to suggest that we redefine the Pink Pound more broadly to include all economic incentives offered by homosexuality, and that it need not be restricted by the sexuality of the consumer. This can include the standard definition above, highlighting the economic power of homosexuals as consumers. It can also include politicised treatments of homosexuality in the commercial sphere, both progressive and even anti-homosexual, which find support among consumers. And finally, we can also look at the strategic use of scandal and titillation to attract audiences of any sexuality by employing homosexual experience and desire for commercial gain. Consumption is key, whether selling to homosexuals or the ‘selling’ understandings of homosexuality to all consumers.
Take, for example, anti-homosexual vitriol in the tabloid press from mid-twentieth-century newspapers like the Mirror and Sunday Pictorial (later the Sunday Mirror). Mirror Group executives like Cecil Harmsworth King and Hugh Cudlipp knew that sensational coverage of queer scandal and exploitation of the public’s fear of homosexuality was a winning tactic in the tabloid circulation wars of the 1950s and 1960s. Thus, in 1952, the Sunday Pictorial accelerated sensational tabloid coverage of homosexuality in Britain by reintroducing the homosexual exposé to readers in its three-part series ‘Evil Men’. The series suggested an unseen homosexual menace from which every Briton was at risk, particularly children.
In addition to ‘Evil Men’, a number of articles in both papers continued and even amplified the strategy over the next decades. ‘The Squalid Truth’ (1955) and ‘How to Spot a Possible Homo’ (1963) among many others all commodified homosexual scandal and desire to shock and titillate an eager audience of tabloid readers. The use of homosexuality by both papers was part of an overall strategy to sensationalise sex for public consumption and increase circulations figures. And it worked. By 1964, the Mirror achieved average daily sale of 5,000,000, which corresponded to a readership of 14,000,000 for each issue, making it in Hugh Cudlipp’s own words, ‘the greatest commercial success of any newspaper in the Western world’.
Responding in 1963 to the range of anti-homosexual content long circulating in the British tabloid press, author Douglas Plummer recognized both the lucrative nature of the vitriol, but also the commercial complicity of queer Britons as consumers of it. He called for a boycott: ‘If homosexuals stopped buying those particular newspapers,’ he asserted, ‘some circulations would drop by many hundreds of thousands of copies. Intolerance, ignorance, and lack of understanding is no excuse for abusing us.’
The virtually exponential growth of recognition and interest in queer consumers over the last decades of the twentieth century and first years of the twenty-first has actually obscured the existence of a long and dynamic relationship between homosexuality and consumer capitalism throughout the twentieth century. Relationships between queer consumers and business enterprise go beyond our tendency to see such interactions only as relatively recent and unidirectional expressions either of oppression or opposition.
A history of the Pink Pound illuminates multiple messages and complex interactions that existed between homosexuality and the marketplace even before the partial decriminalization of male homosexual acts in 1967.
You can hear Justin talking more about the pink market in our workshop The Pink Pound.
Spend an exciting afternoon exploring the ways in which gay, lesbian and trans characters have been represented in British television soaps over the years. Speakers include Daran Little, BAFTA-award winning TV writer, formerly a writer for Coronation Street and now writing for EastEnders and John Partridge, The hugely popular actor, dancer and singer who is best-known for his role as Christian Clarke in EastEnders.
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Lesbian And Gay Newsmedia Archive (LAGNA) is based at Bishopsgate Institute.