Director Ron Howard is taking what he says is a stand against censorship by refusing to remove a joke that uses the word ‘gay’ to describe an electric car in his upcoming movie ‘The Dilemma’. In the movie, actor Vince Vaughn’s character describes an electric car as ‘gay’. He then clarifies what he means by saying, “I mean, not ‘homosexual’ gay, but ‘my parents are chaperoning the dance gay.”
Howard and Universal Studios were criticized initially by CNN’s Anderson Cooper for the use of the word ‘gay’, particularly in light of the ongoing problem of gay bullying that have resulted in a number of gay adolescents committing suicide this year.
Universal removed the line from the trailer of the movie in response. But the joke will remain in the movie itself.
Jarrett Barrios, the president of the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, says, “At a time when so many in our country are speaking out against the bullying of gay youth, Universal was right to acknowledge the offensive nature of this ‘joke’ when it removed it from trailers. Hopefully in the future, Universal and Ron Howard will recognize the power of their words and use their films to bring people together rather than drive us apart.”
Howard explained his position in an email to the Los Angeles Times, which stated, in part, “I don’t strip my films of everything that I might personally find inappropriate. It is a slight moment in THE DILEMMA meant to demonstrate an aspect of our lead character’s personality, and we never expected it to represent our intentions or the point of view of the movie or those of us who made it.”
Despite the recent ugly and tragic incidents involving gay bullying, acceptance of homosexuals and their relationships continues to grow, particularly among the younger generations. Last week, the Associated Press reported that President Barack Obama has appointed 150 openly gay officials in his administration…and it has generated almost no news or controversy.
While there is bound to be controversy over this issue for quite some time, the general public reaction seems to be that the word ‘gay’ is not generally meant as an attack on homosexuals.
Has the word ‘gay’ become something that can be used as a joke or a putdown that doesn’t really have anything to do with sexual preference? Is that even possible given the long standing struggles of homosexuals to be treated as equals in the workplace, at school and in society at large?
It is always a dicey proposition when an individual that is not part of particular minority group dictates what is and is not acceptable language, but it seems that many would share the view of Vaughn’s character that there is a distinction to be made between using the word gay to criticize something in a humorous fashion and using it to insult a homosexual. While there is no scientific way to measure this, it seems very likely that many, if not most, people are not thinking about sexual preference at all when teasing a friend and using the word ‘gay’ to describe their car or clothes, for example.
For his part, Howard is not even arguing that the use of the word ‘gay’ is something he would personally tolerate, but instead believes that the use of it in a comedy by a less than refined character adds to the movie.
It is interesting, though, that Anderson Cooper has chosen to speak up about this issue.
For years, there has been widespread speculation that Cooper is gay. He refuses to discuss the issue directly, saying in an interview with New York Magazine, “I understand why people might be interested. But I just don’t talk about my personal life. It’s a decision I made a long time ago, before I ever even knew anyone would be interested in my personal life. The whole thing about being a reporter is that you’re supposed to be an observer and to be able to adapt with any group you’re in, and I don’t want to do anything that threatens that”.
While that is his prerogative, of course, as a public figure and news reporter it seems disingenuous to weigh in on an issue without fully explaining the perspective he is coming from. As he points out, as a reporter he wants to not be identified with any group. But now he’s offering an opinion; one that may be deeply personal to him.
Certainly, plenty of gay and straight people object to the use of the word ‘gay’ to criticize something. Likewise, plenty of gay and straight people think the context is what matters and that the word itself does no harm.
Whether Cooper is straight or gay, he has a right to his opinion and a right to discuss it. Ron Howard has explained his position fully and even said he wouldn’t use the word in the way that Vaughn’s character does.
Many in his audience probably think Cooper is straight. If he is not, then he, intentionally or not, is misleading them on this issue as they believe he is a straight man standing up for gay rights. If he is straight, then he similarly is misleading those who think he is gay, and ultimately detracting from his message, as a straight man standing up for gay writes would, rightly or wrongly, carry more weight with some.
While nobody can or should be required to publicly state what their sexual preference is, the fact is that Anderson Cooper is a public figure and earns his living and status through, largely, his credibility with the public. A measure of judgment and proportion is needed when a reporter stops reporting and begins to offer unsolicited opinions. The right to privacy still mostly applies, but the understanding between the masses and mainstream reporters should include the right to reasonable disclosure when said reporter gives his or her opinion.
For now, the ‘gay’ word will remain in The Dilemma. People can understand, if not agree, with Ron Howard’s perspective and opinion. The basis for Anderson Cooper’s opinion, however, is not known.
Sam Hananel, “Obama appoints record number of gay officials”, washingtonpost.com
Soraya Roberts, “Ron Howard: ‘The Dilemma’s’ ‘gay’ joke will stay in as I do not believe in censorship”, nydailynews.com
Jonathan Van Meter, “Unanchored”, nymag.com