Image Credit: Ray Tamarra/Getty ImagesJust when the controversy over the forthcoming Ron Howard comedy The Dilemma seemed to have faded away, the hullabaloo over the movie’s “gay gag” has flared up again, courtesy of the actor who gives voice to the offending line, Vince Vaughn. In a statement released to the media, the Wedding Crashers and Swingers star says: “Let me add my voice of support to the people outraged by the bullying and persecution of people for their differences, whatever those differences may be. Comedy and joking about our differences breaks tension and brings us together. Drawing dividing lines over what we can and cannot joke about does exactly that; it divides us. Most importantly, where does it stop.”
Vaughn’s selectively worded statement makes conspicuous use of pop culture’s hot “B” word (“bullying” — the new codeword for “Homophobia is wrong.”) and comes down solidly against bigotry, which would seem to include hatred toward homosexuals. Good for him. I’m not sure, however, if anyone ever really thought The Dilemma’s trailer was promoting intolerance or bullying or persecution. I think the issue was more about thoughtlessness and callousness — and about shoddy marketing. By being too cosmic about this whole thing, we lose sight of some real and actually fixable issues. (But sure, let’s be cosmic about this, too. I’m all for finding any excuse to spark cultural conversation about ending homophobia and cultivating a society where homosexuals feel less threatened and marginalized in any way, large or small.)
Vaughn’s statement also strongly and rather self-righteously expresses the following: Support for freedom of speech, an aversion to censorship, and an idealistic view that comedy is a redemptive force, inherently inoffensive, and beyond social criticism. Okay, I might be assuming way too much about Vaughn’s philosophy of comedy based on his statement. But his statement is certainly provocative. His defense would seem to excuse anything and everything that could possibly be said and done in the name of “comedy.” Do you agree with that?
I don’t see what Vaughn’s statement has to do with the controversial line in question. How exactly does characterizing an automobile as gay — even in a “my parents are chaperoning the dance” way, not necessarily a “homosexual way” — break tension and bring people together? Presumably the movie will explain this. Which brings us to a point that needs to be made, and frankly, I am stunned Vaughn didn’t make it himself: We haven’t seen this movie yet!We don’t know the context for the line. Wouldn’t it be interesting to discover that this seemingly callous, insensitive line serves the point of establishing that Vaughn’s character is callous and insensitive? Wouldn’t it be interesting to learn that there’s a gay character in the movie who confronts Vaughn’s character about his choice of words? I suspect that the first speculation will be proven to be true (but then, why did it have to be gays? Does Vaughn’s character express his hideousness by being offensive to other groups, too? Why weren’t those lines used in the trailer?), while the second speculation is rather unlikely. My point is that I don’t know. I don’t want to judge the movie based on its trailer — or rather, its original trailer. (The offending ad was pulled from circulation last weekend and replaced with another.)
Still, I think Vaughn is missing another important point. No one is saying his movie is offensive — yet. The uproar was over a trailer. A trailer is not a movie. It’s a commercial. It is supposed to flatter a movie and entice the widest possible audience within its target market to go see it. I guess I’d like to know if Vaughn felt the trailer flattered The Dilemma — and if he thinks it’s a movie that gay audiences (and those sympathetic to gay concerns) would find entertaining, despite of — or because of — the “gay gag” Moreover, I would like to hear Ron Howard — who specializes in making big tent populist movies — address those issues, too. There’s still time; the movie doesn’t open until January. In fact, the extremely cynical part of me wonders if Vaughn’s provocatively passive-aggressive non-apology is an effort to keep The Dilemma top of mind, and set up the final act of this of PR drama: A joint appearance by Vaughn and Howard on a talk show and make an endearing show of atoning for their lapse of common sense and comedic judgment.