There's been a lot of outrage recently over a joke which appeared in the trailer of Vince Vaughn's new movie, The Dilemma. Now... my support for LGBT Political and Social issues is unequivocal. In that past there have been times where I've wavered, but right now, I can safety and happily say that there is no part of the "radical gay agenda" (as the Right refers to it) that I am not behind 100%. I'll go into what that exactly means, to me, in a moment, but suffice to say, that the LGBT community has a staunch ally and supporter in this blogger.
That being said? This joke is fine. This joke in not homophobic. This joke is not even harmful In fact... I'll go so far as to say that this joke actually illustrates the very point that outrage appears to be all about in the first place! Now, I realize that I probably have a bunch of people saying, "You just don't GET it!" All I ask is that you give me a few paragraphs to explain my point, and show you that, yes, I actually do get it. In fact, I can absolutely empathize with you on the very issue of casual pejoratives.
Anyway, for those who have been living under a rock, here's the joke:
"Electric cars are gay. I mean, not 'homosexual' gay but 'my parents are chaperoning the dance' gay."OK... I am in complete agreement with GLAAD, etc... that the word "gay" should not be used as a casual pejorative. The thing is? The way I interpreted this joke, when I first heard it? Is that this is exactly what the joke is saying as well!
To me, the whole point of the joke, the only way it really works, the only interpretation by which it is the least bit funny, is as an acknowledgement that we use the word “gay” to mean “bad” or “stupid” when it shouldnt' be used that way! The very fact that they whole joke revolves around him having to make that awkward clarification, I took as evidence that, at best, this is a clumsy descriptor, and for the sake of clear communication, if nothing else, it really needs to go.
Do I really believe that he's trying to make some profound socio-political point here? Oh, heck no! It is Vince Vaughn, after all! But given the context as I saw it - and hey: I could be wrong! - but given that, if you can’t see beyond the mere use of the word, and find the deeper meaning here (and you don’t have to go that deep, it is Vince Vaughn after all!) then you are just being too sensitive about it!
OK. Now I'm sure I've really gotten some people angry at this. And your anger is justified. Too sensitive? How dare I?! (Right?) Who am I to tell you how too feel about something? And you have a point. So assuming I haven't put you off for good, I beg that you now allow me to put down the shovel and endeavour to climb out of this hole I'm probably in.
The first obvious problem is that, not being gay, trans, etc... myself, one might say that I have no idea how hurtful these casual pejoratives really are.
Ah... but not so.
You see... There’s a synonym for the word “gay,” when it's used in this context.
Think about it… Almost any time someone is mis-using the word “gay,” as in, “This policy is gay!” you can almost always substitute the word, “retarded” and it will mean the same thing: “This policy is retarded!”
Well, guess what?
I have two autistic sons.
And I hate that [expletive deleted] word.
And I hate to hear someone called a “Retard.”
And I hate to hear "retarded" used to mean, "something I don't agree with or don't understand."
And I HATE anything that makes fun of the mentally handicapped.
It absolutely tears my heart out.
Now... Is it the same thing? No. No it's not. But I offer that's it's close enough for a legitimate concession that I do, in fact, have some clue what it feels like and what's going on here. I may not know your feeling, but I'm still somewhat familiar with the feeling. And if you say, "Well, that's not about you, it's about your kids." Unless you have kids, and special needs kids at that? Then it's you who doesn't know what it feels like. Because I'd give anything to make it about me instead of them.
And while it's a little off topic, I'd like to offer an example of what may have been the worst time I had, "getting over" this, only as evidence that I can, in fact practice what I preach.
At one point, Drawn Together was my favorite TV show. I found it to be positively enlightened as well as completely hilarious when it came to most social issues like racism, sexism, sexuality, gender roles, religion, etc... See... They made fun of those things, using negative stereotypes not to make fun of the groups, but rather to make fun of the bigots who believed that nonsense about them! It took every stereotype and turned it around, to make the joke be on the racist / sexist / homophobe / etc... IMHO, It was brilliant.
(Disclaimer: Serious, Evangelical Christians will NOT like ths show! They pretty much get savaged in every episode!)
But then I saw the episode, "The Other Cousin."
Half an hour of jokes at the expense of the mentally handicapped. And what's more? Just a short while after my first born son was diagnosed with Autism. To say that it "hit close to home?" Is a vast understatement. So again... I think I've earned the right to say that I do have some idea what that kind of thing feels like.
And you are still absolutely welcome to disagree with me. Hey: Maybe I shouldn't have let it go. That's certainly a legitimate point of debate. Maybe I should have written Comedy Central, boycotted the sponsors, took to the Internet... I did when Michale Savage spouted his Autism Denial nonsense! But I chose to put that aside and keep watching. And the rest of the series? Was absolute genius.
Am I "over it?" No, not really.
I do own all three seasons of the show in DVD, so they managed to get some money out of me.
But I still can't watch that one episode.
Now what was the point of telling you all that? Well , it brings me to the other half of what I hope will get me to at least the top of the hole, if not out of it. As a philosophical point, I truly believe that you can joke about anything. Carlin felt the same way, and I agree with him. It all depends on how you construct the joke.
What's the overall point? Whats the message? What the exaggeration?
For example, my problem with "The Other Cousin" was that the jokes were not about tolerance or understanding or of the challenges the handicapped face in our society, nor were they mocking society for it's stereotypes. (THAT was the "Terms of Endearment" episode.) The jokes in "The Other Cousin" were just poking fun. There simply was no context that would make them remotely acceptable.
And just as further roof that I'm not just being too sensitive myself, and thus being hypocritical, as proof that I CAN laugh a little at what life with autism throws at you, there are comics that I read - Clear Blue Water, On the Spectrum, Joey, just to name a few - that use Autism as a source of humor, but do it in an acceptable way. I'm just pointing that out as further evidence that I am capable in seeing humor even in things that "hit close to home." Again: It all depends on how the joke is constructed. What the point is.
In the case of the Vaughn joke? As I said, the only way it works, at all, is as an acknowledgement that we use this word, "gay," in ways that we shouldn't. The message could be stronger, or clearer, fine, (again, it's Vince Vaughn - he's not trying to change the world here) but that still is the only message I see in it.
So what's the point? What am I trying to say here? Why do I think it's important to let this slide, the same way I let the word "retarded" slide when someone uses it the same way?
Simple: Politics, pragmatism and priority.
When we get too hung up on trying to control people's language, and trying to go that route to change their thinking? They instinctively pull back. And it become very easy for our political opponents to simply call, "PC Police!" and, in that one instant, snag up all the moderates who we might have otherwise persuaded to join on far more important, substantive issues. That doesn't make it right, but it sure does make it easy.
For me? I let the word "retarded" slide so I will be taken that much more seriously on issues like Autism Denial, or Autism Insurance Reform. Give the choice between having people take autism seriously and having my sons' therapy covered by insurance -or- having people stop using the word "retarded" (the same way they use "gay")? Shoot... if it would help me win on the big issues? I'd start calling things "retarded!" And you know what? Because of the largely Right Wing canard of "PC POLICE" or "THOUGHT POLICE," we're really not going to get both. There is no doubt in my mind that we lose traction on the big issues when we let ourselves get hung up on the small ones
So.. . what's in for the LGBT community? What do I think are the big issues? Those important ones that I claimed to be a strong supporter of? How about:
Gay Marriage in all 50 states, and at the Federal level?
Company Benefits for Same Sex partners?
Regular Insurance Coverage for GRS?
Hate Crime Legislation?
Equal Employment Opportunities / Anti-Discrimination Policies?
Equal Rights for Adoption?
Striking Down Don't Ask, Don't Tell?
The list goes on and on. And I am totally with you, 100%, on all of these. And if I've missed one of the other heavy hitters? Try me! I'm sure you'll find that we see eye to eye on it as well. Because I just don't see the "radical gay agenda" as anything but a no-brainer. Just a group of people who want to be treated the same as everybody else. (Or course, I might point out how lousy everybody else gets treated, but that's only to say that you might want to aim a little higher, actually! LOL)
And while you can argue that we won't win on the big issues if we don't change how people think about us, I disagree. I guarantee that you will lose on every single one of these big issues if you keep sweating the small stuff. And honestly? I think that's a tragedy. I think these issue are far too important to jeopardize over a lousy Vince Vaughn joke, from a movie that no one would even see if there wasn't such a controversy around it.
Seriously. Do you know how many people will go see this movie now, for no other reason that this controversy? (Not to mention that most of them won't see what the big deal was all about?)
Don't believe me? Well, let me ask you a question.
Who is Roger Mapplethorpe?
Unless your a Photographic Art History buff, the only reason you know the answer to that is, back in 1989, some Christian Fundamentalist group got wind of some his work that was going on display in Cincinnati of all places - that great bastion of popular culture and social significance. It was a small showing, in a small city. Just par for the course in an obscure art museum, trying to make a meager income attracting a handful of tourists. But once the controversy took hold? It became a National story! It was huge! Suddenly Mappelthorpe's work is being shown in New York and Chicago! Everyone wanted to see what all the fuss was about! The Christian protesters did more to further Mappelthorpe's career that the Art Community had done!
It's true what they say: There is no such thing as bad publicity.
By getting hung up about the Vince Vaugh joke? You are only helping Vince Vaughn. And you are only hurting GLAAD's and the LGBT community's credibility with moderate people who might otherwise be inclined to support you.
So, for the sake of the "radical gay agenda?"