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Patrick Goldstein and James Rainey
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Universal yanks its 'gay joke' trailer for 'The Dilemma': New promo due later today

Vince_vaugn Talk about a movie marketer's nightmare. When you're trying to promote a typically inoffensive middlebrow buddy comedy, as Universal has been doing with "The Dilemma," which stars Vince Vaughn and Kevin James, the last thing you want is to have your film bashed by Anderson Cooper on "The Ellen DeGeneres Show" as insulting to gays. But that's what has happened to "The Dilemma," which has been embroiled in controversy after a number of viewers objected to the opening scene in the trailer, in which Vaughn is seen denigrating an electric car, saying, "It's gay."

Cooper said of the joke: "I just find those words, those terms -- we've got to do something to make those words unacceptable 'cause those words are hurting kids." He added: "I think we really need to focus on what language we're using and how we're treating these kids."

Coming at a time when the bullying of gay kids has been in the news, as with this front page story in my paper about a gay teenager who committed suicide after being taunted, Universal was viewed by many as being clueless and out of touch to be promoting a film with an insult to gays. But others have argued that gays are overreacting to a harmless throwaway jibe. Universal didn't waste any time in taking action. After it became clear that the controversy wasn't going away, the studio issued a statement this morning saying: "The teaser trailer for THE DILEMMA was not intended to cause anyone discomfort. In light of growing claims that the introduction to the trailer is insensitive, it is being replaced. A full trailer, which has been in the works for some time, will post online later today."

We still don't know if the joke will also be taken out of the movie, but the flap raises a host of unsettling questions. Here's a few: Like virtually every major studio in Hollywood, Universal has gay executives in positions of power who clearly would have seen the trailer before it was released. Why didn't they raise any objections? There are gay actors in the film who surely read the script before they took the job -- why didn't they raise any objections to the joke? Or if they did, were they ignored? And should the onus always be on gays to raise objections to questionable gay humor -- shouldn't that kind of reaction come from straight actors, filmmakers and executives too?

And here's an even more complicated question: This is hardly the first time anyone in a film or on TV has used a joke about something being "gay." It's been in the comedy lexicon for some time, from late-night TV to comedy clubs everywhere. So why is this usage the one that created a mini media firestorm? I'm going to have more to say about this, but I'd love to hear your thoughts about some of these questions.     

Photo: Vince Vaughn pictured at a football game last month at Soldier Field in Chicago. Credit: Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images



Comments () | Archives (51)

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I saw The Dilemma trailer, and was less offended by that particular "joke" than I was by the trailer as a whole. That film just looks awful eight ways from Sunday.

Good thinking, Universal. We're a little sensitive to gay bashing at the moment.

It's not okay because the word gay is being subsituted for the word lame or stupid. It's also not okay to use the term pussy when speaking about someone who is weak because it's calling women weak. This way of writing still passes the muster in Hollywood because white, straight males are writing most of the comedy and because they come from a position of privilege, they don't see it as hurtful. It is hurtful.

"the use of the word has to do with the context, and if you see the trailer, vince vaughn even clearly explains his context by saying "not homosexual gay, but your-parents-are-chaperoning-the-dance gay" I've grown up with kids using the word "gay" in this way and I have no prejudice towards homosexuals. I'm actually kind of upset that Universal changed the trailer and that Anderson Cooper's opinion has this kind of influence"


I'm not sure if you'll read this or if you'll even understand, but the misuse of words, even from someone convinced he has no anti-gay sentiment, is still hurtful. As it turns out, I'm gay and Jewish. Both of these words describe me, my identity. If someone coopts a word associated with my identity to mean something slanderous, what they are really doing is equating my identity with that slander. It is not simply a benign homonym, it is equating my identity with that new meaning. When someone says "he Jewed me down," they are calling Jews cheap, and when they say "that car is gay," they calling gays stupid.

I know you grew up with people using gay in a way you are now used to, but please remember this has a context: a society where people use gay to describe a marginalized identity.

I also grew up with people using gay in the way you are describing, and despite your personal confidence that you have no prejudice towards gays, each time I heard it, it hurt. I imagine it is also hurtful to any gay people in earshot of your comments - particularly someone close to you who is struggling to decide whether or not to come out to you.

If you need proof, just read the news this week. Children are killing themselves because of anti-gay bullying. In a context like that, I think it's clear we don't live in a world where it's benign to coopt gay to mean something slanderous.

Let them have it, Tom! I will look forward to what more you have to say about this because it is wrong, words hurt, attitudes need to be changed, institutionalized bigotry is at the rotten core of our society. Yay for Anderson Cooper! Yay for Ellen! Tom, let them have it!

Everybody says it so it must be okay, right? It's only the gays who are upset and they are just being over-sensitive. So, by all means, use "gay" in a derogatory way. And, while we're at it, let's call bad drivers "chinky". That's funny, right? Or we can say that a run down neighborhood is "totally nigga". Hysterical!!

Or is that different? Is it racist to disparage certain races but not homophobic to mock gays?

I think perhaps the best way to consider the question is for filmmakers to consider their legacy. I think it's probably true that in 15 years we will have moved beyond being amused by disparaging gay people. And we will cringe when we hear "that's so gay" in the same way we cringe when we see depictions of racial minorities in old movies. Maybe if they thought about the way they will be remembered, directors and writers might not be so quick to throw in "gay" as a comedy point.

Kevin said:

" I've grown up with kids using the word "gay" in this way and I have no prejudice towards homosexuals. "

I have to disagree.

If someone tells you, "please don't use that hurtful word" and you get indignant and insist on using it anyway, you aren't doing so because you respect them. You are doing so because you don't think their opinion matters, that their feelings are valid, or that they have any merit to their complaint. They are, to you, inferior.

So I have to say that Kevin not only has prejudice, but he has it on parade.

There is no equivalent reference to heterosexuals that is used this way, so it's understandable that some straight people would have no clue how the negative use of 'gay' impacts others. When you offer an explanation on why it is an offending use of the word, and some insist on still using it (tell you develop tougher skin, lighten up, it's just a joke, here come the word police, etc etc) then you know you are interacting with someone whose mind is closed shut. They are set in their ways.

I look instead toward enlightened, educated, open-minded people as the path to the future.

A note about the recent over-use and misuse of the word bullying (i.e. someone mentioned "a case of bullying that occurred at Rutgers"): it's unfortunate the media has latched onto this word. It really diminishes what it is; it makes it sound like some benign little schoolyard squabble.

The experience of the person on the receiving end is: antagonism, violence, intimidation, harassment, making their day-to-day life miserable, so on. It would be more informative to use the proper word for what is actually going on. It is intimidation. It is ganging up on someone, isolating them, singling them out, ridiculing them in front of peers over and over.

As for what happened at Rutgers, it was an invasion of privacy on an epically ignorant scale. Calling those two Rutgers students simply bullies diminishes the awful, illegal, demeaning thing they did. That they invaded that young man's privacy and broadcast it out across the internet without his knowledge is only the beginning of understanding just how terrible what they did is.

"Political correctness is tyranny with manners."
-Charlton Heston (1997)

Using "gay" as an insult is a sign of immaturity and intellectual weakness.

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