Firstly, it must be said that this line is controversial because the word gay is being used out of context. It is not used in any of its eight assigned definitions. What this usage insinuates could be anything from stupid to effeminate (which is not synonymous with male homosexuality for the record).
This issue about the usage falls into no man’s land which is what makes it a lightning rod. On the one hand I do not and shall not be an endorser of censorship in any form. However, what has occurred with this line in the film falls just short. Universal didn’t have to agree to GLAAD’s demands of the line’s removal from the trailer but it was in their best interest after the publicity started getting negative. On the other hand, I firmly disagree with the misappropriation of the word.
GLSEN (Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network) is doing great work, which started well before the rash of suicides to combat slurs, like using gay as a synonym for stupid. I applaud their efforts and as you will see this kind of forum is where a real difference in attitudes and perceptions can be made.
Art imitates life, I believe, and not the other way around. Racism was much more pervasive and out in the open through much of American history than it is now. These attitudes were reflected in how minorities were portrayed by Hollywood. While racism still exists, of course, it is less socially acceptable now and its appearance in films, save for pedagogical purposes, is frowned upon. Hence, if homophobia becomes less present in society it’ll be a less functional device to implement in cinema.
There have been much, much more offensive gay jokes in the past such that what offends me most about this joke is actually the writing. Whether this version or the earlier version it’s bad writing and not terribly funny. Not to cast aspersions on the film as a whole. It may end up being funny and that joke just falls terribly flat because its unoriginal, unintelligent and unnecessary. Slurs should be viewed like profanity: what a writer must always ask him or herself is “Is the profanity/slur the most viable option?” If not substitute it.
Vaughn’s statement regarding the line where he defends the it rings hollow due to this fact. If the line was comedic genius I’d understand the need to defend it but whether or not this line ends up in the final cut will not change what the film is and what it’s about (knowing Vaughn there are likely ad-lib takes with different assessments of electric cars). This is not removing instances of “The N-Word” from Huckleberry Finn we’re talking about here.
My adolescence coincided with a world where “Politically Correct” was a buzzword and there is something to be learned from the concept. Mostly it’s this: political correctness can lead to over-zealousness and over-sensitivity but it can also create real change when applied to the right situations. Eradicating the use of the word gay as a pejorative would certainly be one of those cases.
The main factor that keeps me from lighting a torch, getting a pitchfork and charging the Universal Lot is the fact that I don’t think art will change perception of a given people in one fell swoop. Everything is cumulative.
Look at the very climate we live in now, in the 1980s and 90s there were to an extent varying degrees of apathy. Protests both for and against gay rights are much more prevalent now and the Gay Rights Movement has become a forefront issue not only in the US but worldwide. Many more people seem to be open about their sexuality now, which is great but there is a backlash, sadly. This openness has lead those who find fault with homosexuality, for whatever their prejudicial and ignorant reasons, to feel more inclined to persecute those who are, and those they deem to be, gay.
So the ebb and flow in societal assimilation is very violent at the moment, both literally and figuratively. Homosexuals are trying to refuse the counterculture label they’ve had to live with for better or worse and are standing up and seeking to be counted. Obviously, there are some who don’t want that. Things always come to a boiling point before a new sense of normalcy is reached. Hopefully, a nation repeatedly struck by the tragic losses of those whose only “sin” was knowing who they were will wake up and realize they are berating their sons and daughters into an early grave.
This drift in topic, away from the film itself, does have a purpose. For the word ‘gay’ to stop being used as a putdown the change has to come from society. It’s happened before, the mentally challenged and physically challenged weren’t always referred to as such. It wasn’t arts that lead the way to correcting the derogatory nicknames they acquired, it was people.
Timing is everything. That is why this silly little line has become such a talking point. If the political climate were calmer then GLAAD still would’ve objected but it may not have gotten this kind of attention. Oddly, the one thing we can be thankful for is that this film with its thoughtless insensitivity has created more debate. And discourse is good. Talking about this and saying its wrong repeatedly is the only way it’ll ever sink in. Eventually people will learn but movies won’t teach society but instead will follow. So let’s take the first step to making both better.