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.