Universal yanks its 'gay joke' trailer for 'The Dilemma': New promo due later today
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