Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Hollywood's "Dilemma": Should "Gay" Jokes Be Censored?

Recently I went to see "The Social Network". We watched several movie trailer previews, including the Ron Howard directed film "The Dilemma". The preview included a scene with Vince Vaughn exclaiming to a conference room full of colleagues, "Ladies and gentlemen...electric cars are gay". He goes on to clarify that he does not say "gay" to mean happy, instead he compares its level of "coolness" to your parents chaperoning a school dance. I leaned over to my husband and whispered, "I thought they were taking this scene out of the trailer?". I guess it had not yet been pulled (and was instead being seen by millions, as The Social Network was #1 at the box office that week).

The controversy regarding this quote began several weeks ago. CNN's Anderson Cooper was one of the first to draw attention to the preview when he appeared on the Ellen DeGeneres Show. His argument (especially in light of the recently publicized suicides involving gay children/teenagers) was that we must "make those words unacceptable cause those words are hurting kids". In addition, the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) put out a statement on the situation:

"When 'gay' is used as a pejorative, it frequently sends a message- particularly to youth and their bullies- that being gay is wrong and something to laugh at. We invite Vince Vaughn to work with us and help insure that gay youth and those perceived to be gay aren't put in harm's way by such jokes".

Last week, Vince Vaughn addressed the above concerns with his own statement that highlighted his feelings that the "gay joke" should be kept in the trailer and in the movie:
"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?"

ABC's The View also discussed this during its "Hot Topics" show yesterday. I was actually pretty surprised that there seemed to be consensus and support for Vince Vaughn's statement. How can you censor a "character"? This was not about Vince making homophobic statements...but it was the statements of his character. What if the character is a jerk? Then he/she will sound like a jerk. Whoopi Goldberg spoke about recently watching "Roots" on TV and how much of the message was lost due to the censoring of the racist language.

I can see both sides of the argument on this one. Of course, people of all ages look to celebrities and movies to be role models and to confirm (or break) social norms. Therefore, statements using "gay" as a pejorative can absolutely influence the beliefs of an audience. However, I also understand the slippery slope of censorship and the concern that stories can no longer be told with the same honesty and depth of characters. It is also unclear how this censorship would be overseen and enforced. Can we always tell the difference between a statement of someone's beliefs and their attempt at a joke? And just because something is intended as a joke, does that really mean there are no consequences? If your boss "jokes" about how your clothes fit...it is still sexual harassment.

With tomorrow being "Spirit Day" to combat anti-LGBT bullying, it seemed very timely to toss this "dilemma" out to my readers for comment. I look forward to your thoughts.


  1. There's several issues at work here.
    1. Would anyone in any movie use the phrase, "Ladies and gentlemen...electric cars are for ". Using "gay" in that fashion is the a similar level insult.
    2. Actors, celebrities, regular people can say whatever they want, freedom of speech is very important. That doesn't mean that someone can't be offended by what they say.
    3. a. This offensive comment is used in a trailer before another movie. No one in the theater paid to see "The Dilemma" or made a concious decision to see that movie. They were forced to see a trailer that was supposedly "Approved for All Audiences". If someone went to see "The Dilemma" and was offended by this comment, they could walk out. That is their choice since they made the concious decision to see that movie. But, the people subjected to this trailer had no idea what trailers they were going to see when they went to see another movie. That's the huge difference.
    3. b. This comment by the character played by Vince Vaughn lead off the trailer. Let that sink in for a moment. The people in charge of this movie decided that the first thing people would see about their movie would be an offensive comment. That is how they want to market their movie. Makes zero sense.
    4. Of course people on TV think that people on TV or "actors" should be able to say whatever they want. I watched that clip and I found it ironic that they bleeped the words from the View as well when they were referencing "Roots".

    I'm sure this is stream of conciousness and makes no sense, but those are my points.

  2. I agree that freedom of speech is important. And people do have the right to be offended by it. I think, in light of recent bullying issues, people's emotions are heightened. That being said, I would think that the movie was shot before those things happened. If the trailer offends you, don't see the film. That's what trailers are for after all is to make you want to see the film, or not see the film. I personally find gay jokes offensive, but I also find "retard" jokes offensive and ethnic or religious jokes offensive. I don't think it is nice to make a joke at the expense things that other people either can't change(i.e. sexuality or ethnicity), or hold as deeply personal matters (i.e. religion). But, perhaps that is just me, and I am most certainly not the target audience for this film.

  3. Hi Leah,

    What a great blog! Thanks for your comment on mine that led me here.

    I'm also with you on the fence about this. The fact that the comment was made in the trailer, with no context for it, is a big problem.

    I remember when the movie "Tropic Thunder" first came out, developmental disability groups were boycotting it because of a scene in which a character used the word "retard" and had an unflattering depiction of someone with that condition. I eventually saw the movie, and thought it was a brilliant satire of the movie industry, and that it was very clear that the objectionable scene was used to skewer the Hollywood actors and execs who think in that way.

    So, without the context to know whether it was just a gratuitous joke or served a broader purpose, it's hard to say. Maybe the trailer edited out the reaction shot of the people in the conference room who were shocked and offended by his rudeness, and that he did not get the deal/promotion/girl because of it.

    On a different note, have you seen the site celebritydiagnosis.com? It seems like it would be right up your alley.

    Looking forward to reading more posts from you in the future!


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