Thursday, October 21, 2010

That's so gay!


So I just read on the Contemps about a big furor over Vince Vaughn saying "That's so gay," in some movie. (Disclaimer: I lovesies the Contemps, and this is nothing personal against them or the poster. Just my views. As always.)

I personally don't have a problem with calling something so gay. Or so retarded. Or so ghetto. Or so whatever you can think of. But as people keep pointing out, I tend to be in the minority when it comes to dealing with other people. Personal tendencies aside, here are some arguments for why I would leave a line like that in a book or movie.

1. They are just words.

This is why it doesn't bother me. They could just as easily make up a random word and insert it into the sentence. I've only ever heard "That's so..." phrases being used in a light context. Jocular. It's very different to saying someone is gay in a negative way. And pretty often you find that the sort of people who use these expressions are just regular people who have nothing against gays, or differently ableds or ghetto people.

It's like the difference between a group of black people referring to their friends as "my ni**as" and someone spraypainting NI**A on my front porch.

2. It's true.

I don't mean that whatever Vince Vaughn was talking about was gay. I don't even know what he was talkign about. I mean that it's a true respresentation of life. When I hear these arguments about not including x or y in media, I ask myself this question. How much is the media supposed to influence real life, and how much is it supposed to reflect it?

3. It's true (part 2).

Like I said I don't know what Vince Vaughn was talking about. But let me tell you a little secret about stereotypes: they are very often based on truth.

Quick example:
A man sees a man in a hot pink pants, and exclaims, "That's so gay!"
We survey 10 men who've worn hot pink pants and 9 are gay. Therefore we can deduce, that for a man, wearing a hot pink pants is "so gay."
(Seriously ask your male friends, and let me know how many have left home in hot pink pants. Please don't do this with Japanese guys, rappers or pimps. Your results will be seriously screwed.)

And I'm not going to pretend that there aren't negative undertones with the association of certain things and "that's so gay!" But really what's wrong with a straight man thinking that being perceived as gay was negative? A proud gay person doesn't like being taken for straight either.

4. You still have to smell the daisies.

I read an email about ten years ago, which may or may not have been true, about Bill Gates on a school visit. The details are sketchy, but here's the gist: he said that all the coddling in school was going to make it harder for kids when they graduated.

Let's take "No Child Left Behind." (If you're not American, that's an education program which basically slows a whole class down to the progress of the slowest children. That's an oversimplification, but for my purposes it will do.) So these kids, they go through school with nothing being too much harder than what they can handle. And then they get out into the real world, and it hits them for a home run. Life is not waiting on them. They get thrown in the deep end. And they have to figure that out quick. Or get left behind.

Painting an inaccurate picture can only make it harder when the time comes to face reality.

5. Omission can actually be a negative.

Enter imaginary teen who's struggling with being gay, but afraid to tell his friends:

"I am so unhappy. I wish I could talk to someone. But my friends would never accept me. I cringe every time they say "that's so gay." I could never tell them who I am. Even the people in movies and books never say stuff that cruel. Hello ledge. JUMP."

Don't believe it could happen? Go talk to the 13 year old anorexic who's got a picture of a size 4 Photoshopped model on her wall.

What do you think?
Should books and movies tell the whole truth? Or only the pretty parts?
Should we protect the children from everything regardless of their age? Or should we teach them according to their age? Or should we just through it all it them, good or bad, sink or swim?

P.S. I am normally a very openminded person. But I've had it up to here (my eyebrows) with people going on and on about leaving things out of the entertainment media. It makes me want to scream! Stop worrying about changing the media, and start working on changing THE REAL DAMN WORLD! Excuse my French.


E.J. Wesley said...

Kudos, Claire, for voicing your opinion. This post may cause a stir, but I like the fact that you're at least willing to put your belief out there.

As for me, I can see it from both sides. I do think there needs to be more open dialogue when it comes to controversial topics as opposed to simply 'cleaning everything up'. Because of the PC nature of things, it seems the message too often is, "it's okay to think hateful things, but you just can't say them," when the message should probably be, "It's not okay to think or say hateful things, here's why."

There are just so many things I don't understand simply because of genetics. I'm never going to be able to 100% experience, understand, or relate to what it's like to be a woman in the modern world, because I'm a guy. I'm never going to be able to 100% grasp the challenges of being of black man, because I'm white. I guess that's why I've always tried to educate myself as best as I could, so that I could do everything I can to better understand those around me.

Here's where I'm going ... If a gay person says it's offensive to them, I can't argue with that. That's how they feel, and they are entitled to feel that way. I hear students I work with at school use the phrase a lot, and I always call them out for it. Here's why: they use it as a derogatory. Always. It's never, "That's so gay!" and they start high-fiving each other, it's "That's so gay!" to make fun of someone else. When it comes to movies, books, etc. I do think there should be some artistic license allowed. After all, Mel Brooks created some of the most racially charged, yet societally challenging movies all by confronting stereotypes, using hateful terms, etc.

Unfortunately, there has been a ton of news here in the states recently about young people committing suicide due to bullying related to their sexual identity. Now I'm not saying that Vince Vaughn saying something has spurred all of this, but I do think it's a wakeup call as to what our kids our learning. Many of Vaughn's movies are targeted to audiences (particularly boys) in their early to late teens. If they perceive it to be funny, they'll use it at school and around friends. (Heck, I spent my youth quoting Austen Powers, Jim Carry, etc.)

Adults may be fully capable of defending/rationalizing their choices, identity, etc. but teens really struggle with not fitting in, and sometimes words can be enough to strip them of what little hope, confidence, etc. that they do have. Above all, I think we simply have to do a better job of teaching tolerance to young people, and if that means discouraging the use of phrases they use to hurt others, then I'm all for it.

I'm not usually on the side of PC, but in this instance, I might be.

Thanks again for the post.


Patti said...

I'm not sure where I sit on this issue. Like you I'm kind of sick of all the PC attitude, but at the same time I can see how it can be hurtful. Great post though. Lots to think about.

Marsha Sigman said...

Great Post! I would also like to add that I am sure teenagers could care less if Vince Vaughn is saying anything is 'so gay'. They were saying this long before he copied it to look cool in a movie.

Every generation has their own derogatory slang, and the more attention you give it...the worse it becomes. If we teach our kids to be openminded and not hate or hurt anyone then I think they will be ok. And let's live it like we mean it, people. Don't just say the words.

Take care of your own house and quit blaming the neighbors.

Claire Dawn said...

Ah Marsha, I love you!

Patti, Thanks for the honesty.

E.J., I appreciate what you're saying. I suppose my biggest point is that we should stop holding movies and books (and celebrities) to a higher standard than real people. By that, I don't mean lower our standards for entertainment. I mean raise the standards for people.

I'm proud that you call out kids you see doing this. Not everyone will. Even Anderson Cooper admitted he didn't step in as a kid because he was just glad it wasn't him.

I heard about the recent spate of suicides and beatings. I've actually never seen anything like that happen in the media, unless it was based on a true story, or had a positive spin. But it happens in real life.

As Andersen Cooper also pointed out, kids get in trouble for saying the N word at school, but not for that's so gay. That's a bigger problem than Vince Vaughn. (Of course it could be argued that the N word is pretty much always negative, while the word 'gay' is not. So it would be difficult to police.)

But I totally understand your stance. Actually, I think that with all you've said, you should really post about "censorship of real life" in the media. I think it would be interesting.

Also PS. I am black. But I wasn't for 18 years. When you live in a country where the overwhelming majority is like you (94%), there's never a need to think about it.