Sunday, 31 October 2010

Sticks and stones

Ron Howard ought to send Henry Winkler a gift basket of muffins to say 'thanks'. Because all those years he spent living over the Cunningham's garage must have helped some of the Fonz's effortless 'cool' to rub off on his carrot-topped protege.

Where else would the mild-mannered director have found the internal fortitude to take on the Catholic church when he decided to adapt Dan Brown's turgid potboilers? But when it comes to formidable enemies, the Pope and his pals are a bunch of pussycats.

Ron's newest nemesis is the gay rights organisation GLAAD, and it's going to take more than the artful turn of a leather collar and a couple of finger snaps to cool their jets. They're furious that the trailer for Ron's new movie The Dilemma features Vince Vaughn character declaring "Electric cars are gay. I mean, not 'homosexual' gay but 'my parents are chaperoning the dance gay.'"

The controversy erupted almost instantly, prompting Universal to quickly re-edit the trailer to remove the offending remark. However, in light of the gay bullying that's dominated the news in recent weeks, many felt this was too little, too late, especially since the line will be staying in the film.

Defending the line, Vaughn commented "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."

GLAAD President Jarrett Barrios told The Hollywood Reporter "Unfortunately, by leaving it in the movie, they are now contributing to the problem. The conversations started as a result of the community's response to this slur will help schools, media and parents understand the impact of the word 'gay' being used as a pejorative."

The problem with this debate is that the gay community doesn't own the 'G' word. In fact, we re-appropriated it and changed its meaning to suit our needs. So it's a little disingenuous to complain about the fact that its meaning has evolved yet again. Language is not an immutable entity, it twists and changes to reflect the society that uses it. Innit.

If we want a fairer, more equitable world, we have to support people's freedom to use words we're not always comfortable with. As Howard quite rightly stated, "I defend the right for some people to express offense at a joke as strongly as I do the right for that joke to be in a film. But if storytellers, comedians, actors and artists are strong armed into making creative changes, it will endanger comedy as both entertainment and provoker of thought."

To be fair, the joke itself even makes explicit the fact that Vaughn isn't referring to homosexuality. If 'gay' is going to be used as a pejorative, let's just find a new word to define us instead. We could even get recent Apprentice casualty Melissa Cohen to invent one for us. 

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