Column – Film, television censorship always ‘so gay’

November 1, 2010 — Leave a comment

Originally published in The Daily Toreador.

Director Ron Howard’s upcoming movie “The Dilemma” stirred up some controversy recently for a joke present in the trailer, and by extension the film. In the clip in question, Vince Vaughn’s character claims that electric cars are “gay.”

Before you jump to conclusions, it’s not the electric car companies up in arms. There have been so many insensitive cracks at electric cars lately that they have every right to be upset. Electric cars are vehicles, too, and all they want to do is save the environment.

OK, maybe that’s not the conclusion you jumped to.

No, it’s the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) that’s upset. It’s Anthony Cooper that’s upset. It’s American audiences upset about another lame-looking comedy cluttering up their move theaters.

GLAAD and others are upset because they feel that calling things “gay” is in bad taste, and they’re probably not wrong. Especially considering the trailer for “The Dilemma” hit in the wake of many gay teen suicides recently, it’s easy to understand why they’re not very happy about the word “gay” being used as a derogatory term in a big Hollywood movie.

However, I believe they crossed the line when they tried to force Howard to remove the line from the film. They say that by leaving it in, the makers of the film are “contributing to the problem” of gay bullying and intolerance.

The offending line has been removed from trailers of the movie, and rightfully so. From what I can tell, Universal Studios was quick in cutting the trailer and avoiding further outcry, so good on them. But Howard has refused to remove the line from the film, and I think he’s in the right.

“I believe in sensitivity but not censorship,” Howard said. He says first of all that the film is for adults, not kids, and that the line is completely in the character’s nature to say, whether people like it or not.

He’s right. The movie is a work of fiction, and characters in fiction rarely if ever say exactly what the author is thinking. The main character in Plato’s works was Socrates, but it’s obvious to most philosophers and historians that Plato didn’t actually agree with everything the character of Socrates said.

Characters in fiction should not always be politically correct, even if they’re the heroes of the story. Doing so would be bowing to the pressure of outside sources, rather than staying true to the story. That’s not effective narrative. That’s not effective art.

While I highly doubt that most people who see “The Dilemma” will consider it a masterpiece of art, it would be wrong to deny it the same rights that we give other works of fiction.

What GLAAD seems to be demanding is censorship, but I don’t think they would like it if the tables were turned. Would they be supportive of religious groups who try to remove homosexual content from movies and television just because it doesn’t fit into their worldview?

We’ve dealt with (and continue to deal with) the same issue in other forms, such as the movement to ban characters from smoking on screen. There’s a large group of people that think smoking in television and movies promotes unhealthy habits, and should be done away with.

Yes, smoking is bad for you, but without characters who smoke, what would happen to “Mad Men,” or other stories set in an older era?

How are we going to examine tough issues if we always have to carefully step around what we say? Sure, “The Dilemma” is a comedy that probably won’t have us examining social issues by the end. It won’t be “Citizen Kane.” However, that doesn’t mean a group – any group – can step in and decide to tell its creators what they can or cannot say on screen.

Britton Peele

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Freelance video game critic for sites like GameSpot and GamesRadar. Amateur fantasy author.

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