[Editor’s note: It’s the turn of the century… “gay” is a four-letter word… the naked human form is more disturbing than torture porn… and in the world of fictionalized biopics, sexism that is, in fact, very real should be omitted… all for the sake of our sensitive moral sensibilities. It seems that the 21st Century is a time for walking on eggshells… a time for self-censorship in fear of offending someone… a time to avoid conflict. People don’t want to rock the boat. In other words, the 21st century is when we all become big pussies…
Does that offend you? Well, these things happen. I don’t believe in “four-letter words,” not in the sense that they’re bad anyway. There are no “bad” words, just words. The thing about freedom of speech is that it protects ALL speech, even the speech you don’t like. That’s kinda the point. So, I’m sorry if when someone uses the word “gay” as a pejorative it hurts your feelings, but it’s not actually going to cause you any physical harm. It’s just a word. “Gay” in the pejorative sense isn’t even in the dictionary, whereas all the negative connotations for “black” are still there, clear as day and still in common usage. And as a black man, does that bother me? No. It’s just a word.
As Lenny Bruce once said (or at least Dustin Hoffman as Lenny Bruce in the film Lenny), “It’s the suppression of the word that give it the power, the violence, the viciousness.” I support equal rights for all, but I do not support the suppression of any word. These ideas of “bad words” and nudity being offensive and art that only shows us positive things all seem very provincial, very Puritanical and very boring. Life without conflict is boring. Everyone is equal, yes, but that doesn’t mean we all have to get along. You don’t have to like what I have to say, but you don’t get to tell me I can’t say it. Sorry, that’s the beauty of freedom of expression… and fuck ’em if they can’t take a joke.]
Recently, Universal was pressured into altering a trailer for a horrible looking Vince Vaughn film called The Dilemma. The gist of it is a lot of people, mainly GLADD and Anderson Cooper, were offended by the use of the word “gay” as a pejorative. The studio buckled and GLADD put another feather in their cap (although the joke will still be in the actual movie). There are also a number of people upset by the alleged sexism of The Social Network, allegations screenwriter, Aaron Sorkin, was quick to dismiss. And then, the MPAA has also ruffled some feathers with their continued incompetence, first by unfairly giving Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams’ Academy Award-baiting film festival darling, Blue Valentine, the kiss of death that is an NC-17 rating, and then by instituting their new policy of distinguishing nudity by gender. None of these stories or issues are necessarily “alarming,” since I don’t really expect people to be anything but dumb. They are, however, interesting, frustrating, and connected by this new obsession with trying to appease everyone, even at the cost of our entertainment, or worse, our art.
Gay rights are already in the spotlight this month (National Coming Out Day, 26th Annual AIDS Walk Los Angeles). It is an important issue and I would never want to belittle any equal rights movement. On the other hand, getting upset about the words people use is just silly. Last year the word was “fag” and next year it will be “queer” and maybe one day everyone will hold hands, sing, and drink coca-cola. Wait, that’s not what I want. I want for someday people not to care so much about words. Easy for me to say, cause I’m a white man and there’s nothing you can really call me that’ll ruin my day.
The trailer in question really landed at the worst possible moment. There’s the Rutgers thing, don’t ask don’t tell, and the apparent rise in bullying and suicides. The bullying is awful and I sympathize, but it’s nothing new (just ask a giant movie geek, but don’t call me “geek” cause that’s offensive). The suicides, well, I have no pity for anyone who offs themselves. I don’t care how bad it you’ve got it, that’s beyond selfish.
A word is not causing all this damage; ignorance and intolerance are the real culprit. I’m not going to sit here and explain how the word really means something else now and blah blah blah. No one wants the word they use to identify themselves to also be used as a general pejorative term. And I understand activist’s sort of knee-jerk reaction to such blatant occurrences when we still live in a world with idiots on talk radio spouting off about homosexuality being a choice and a bad one at that. In the battle for equal rights, the need to fight the other end of the spectrum over every issue, when they could dedicate more time to bigger issues (gay marriage, gay adoption, etc.), can really exacerbate things. And a lot of us get stuck in the middle. I’m all for equal rights, but I also have no problem with calling things “gay” once in a while and it doesn’t bother me if a movie or TV show has characters that do the same (South Park and The 40-Year-Old Virgin spring to mind). The problem here is so much bigger than name-calling… and what’s in a name?
Of course, the recent “male nudity” warnings are another kind of censorship and homophobia/sexism. Though, there are so many things wrong (and hilarious) with specifying what kind of genitalia you’ll be privy to after you buy your movie ticket. The thing you have to remember is, the MPAA is voluntary. There is no legal mandate for it to exist. It is by parents for parents. I do think there should be some kind of resource for people to find out about the adult content in a movie (and the internet has plenty). The problem with the MPAA is they’re so inconsistent, oblivious, and back-asswards. Instead of labeling a film “dirty,” especially one that by all accounts is anything but (read: Blue Valentine), they should provide the information parents need, without the obvious prejudice toward independent film and old-fashioned ideas about nudity. Damn you pilgrims!
As for The Social Network being sexist, this seems way too easy to explain, which is why it’s confusing everyone. Movies do not represent every person on Earth. They tell a story about certain characters. If a character is a slut, it does not mean every woman on Earth is a slut. There are such things as sluts in real life, and it is not a movie’s job to represent the broad scope of female personalities in two hours time. Some movies will have dumb girls, some smart, some ball busters, and others no women at all.
If things continue along this path, we’ll end up with the Hays Code all over again, official rules for filmmaking. You won’t be allowed to call anybody anything derogatory, every film will require a strong female character (and a gay one, and a black one, etc), and there will be nothing offensive or interesting about movies anymore. Or we might end up with something worse, self-censorship. There’s nothing more artistically compromising than altering your work for fear it might offend. Bland will become the new standard, for fear of appraisals from the loudest protester.
The good news is, you can’t please everyone. So, plenty of filmmakers won’t ever try. Someone is always going to complain that there’s not enough black people, or that something is a stereotype, or that a word is offensive, or this movie has way too much penis. My feeling is, if you are a homosexual and me calling something “gay” offends you, then that’s gay. If you think a movie is sexist for having a slutty character, then maybe you just have a problem with sluts. And if you don’t like male nudity, then maybe you’re sexist. Nudity is nudity. I think I might have gotten sidetracked there.
Seriously, sticks and stones… (and penises) people. I’m not saying gay rights and feminism and being mindful of what your children are exposed to aren’t important. I just think there are better ways to further the cause than reactionary measures and censorship. Once everyone with an agenda realizes this, I’ll be pleased.