One of about a thousand gags that left me weak with laughter in “The 40-Year-Old Virgin” went a little something like this:
You know how I know that you’re gay?
You like the movie “Maid in Manhattan.”
You know how I know you’re gay?
I saw you make a spinach dip in a loaf of sourdough bread once.If GLAAD gets its way, movies may not have those kind of quips much longer.
The trailer for the upcoming comedy “The Dilemma” features Vince Vaughn’s character saying the following:
“Electric cars … are gay. Well, not homosexual gay, but ‘my parents are chaperoning the dance’ gay.”Or, should we say, “featured.”
Universal yanked the trailer once GLAAD and other folks, like CNN’s Anderson Cooper, spoke out about the sequence.
(Cooper, who said of the incident that words can be weapons, is the same news anchor who belittled the most organic political uprising in decades by calling its members “Tea baggers.”)
The cultural moment comes in the wake of several suicides of young gay males, making an already toxic situation a heartbreaking one.
Vaughn issued a carefully parsed statement regarding the controversy:
“Let me add my voice of support to the people outraged by the bullying and persecution of people for their differences, whatever those differences may be. Comedy and joking about our differences breaks tension and brings us together. Drawing dividing lines over what we can and cannot joke about does exactly that; it divides us. Most importantly, where does it stop?”WWTW leans right on most issues, but has no beef with, to quote ex-Gov. James McGreevey, “Gay Americans.” The fact that some young, confused gay people consider suicide rather than face a world where they’ll be assaulted for their sexual desires is a stain on our culture, nothing less.
Yet it feels like this “Dilemma” not only provides no new answers but clamps down on creative expression.
We don’t know the context of Vaughn’s statement within the film. Maybe his character is a lout, or just someone who speaks first and thinks a half hour later. Or maybe he’s the guy who tells off-color jokes 24/7 but you’d trust him with your life in a heartbeat all the same because his heart is pure and good.
Does it really matter?
Howard Stern taunts gays and the gay lifestyle endlessly on his radio show, but regular listeners know he’s one of the most pro-gay voices in the media.
Our culture tends to use moments like this to curb speech, to set up new language restrictions and, ultimately, to start facile conversations about big issues without ever offering real solutions. What if a Muslim group demanded action for a joke involving a Islamic terrorist? Or a Christian group raised heck over a faith-based character played for cruel laughs (See “Easy A” for a real-life example of the latter)?
Yes, we’d only be losing a few jokes if “The Dilemma” example spreads. But it will set an uncomfortable precedent that won’t go unnoticed by those seeking to further clamp down on free expression.