Humor vs. Homophobia: Maybe It’s More Super to be Sensitive
By Rob Watson
Universal Studios Hollywood recently pulled the plug early on its Bill & Ted 2013 Halloween hijinks. The B&T shenanigans centered around a cliché-ridden, scantily clad “gay” Superman in numerous homophobia-inspiring situations. The show portrayed gay men as sexual predators and vapid hedonists and included maligning the married and revered out actor George Takei.
The blogger sphere spiked high as video and excerpts from the show spread. At first Universal benignly defended the show. Then they announced its demise.
Of course, the other shoe has to drop on that kind of resolution. Jamie Lee Curtis Taete, West-Coast editor at Vice, who broke the story and criticized the show, called the cancelation “a massive overreaction.”
Some actually talked themselves into thinking that the show was almost…pro-gay. Blogger Scott Weitz stated, “The proudly, openly gay members of the Bill & Ted cast never took offense … I attended this same Bill & Ted show in late September along with friends, some of whom are gay, and no one in our group found any offense in B&T’s over-the-top social satire.” On the GLAAD website a reader complained, “Whoever was offended by this show should go back into the closet they have no business being gay. Thanks for ruining my favorite part of Halloween,” to which Wilson Cruz, national spokesperson for GLAAD, wryly replied, “You’re welcome.”
For some, it brought out the “boogey man” they fear: the Big “PC,” Political Correctness, the talking point Fox News loves to hate the most.
The criticism of “political correctness” is rationalization for something offensive and an excuse not to care that the offense hurts someone else. “PC” might more accurately be known as “perspectives challenged.” Those who are bothered by doing the sensitive, right thing become downright cantankerous about it.
A commentator in the Los Angeles Times, calling himself Computer Forensics Expert, invoked it, “So, I guess Halloween is now subjected to ‘political correctness.’” Blogger Jim Hill complained, “It would really bother me if the politically correct—as part of some well-meaning effort to protect the feelings of the greater gay community —inadvertently wound up taking the edge off of two Halloween traditions.”
So were the criticisms of the show just silly hurt feelings, or were Bill & Ted really doing tangible harm? After all, the people who like campy things actually laughed at the characterizations.
As a parent, I took a degree of interest in this whole situation. My sons are approaching their teen years and being “cool” is important in their book. I try to stay abreast of what is “cool” even if it has the class of a fart joke and about as much intellectual capital. I worried about the “coolness quotient” of Universal Studio’s Bill & Ted show and its moronic satire. As a parent and a witness to what anti-LGBT sentiment causes, my “coolness” was frigid cold. I was not the least bit sorry to hear that the show was going away, so I decided to outline my thanks in an open letter to Larry Kurzwell, president of Universal Studios Hollywood.
Dear Mr. Kurzwell:
As the dad of 10- and 11-year-old boys, I want to thank Universal Studios Hollywood for ending this year’s run of Bill & Ted’s Excellent Halloween Adventure. I’m sure that this decision was not without its financial and public opinion costs.
For our family, we are glad not to have the image of LGBT people and of Superman melded into a clichéd-sex, wanton embarrassment. My sons were both babies in the foster care system and they appreciated T-shirts I gave them that read, “Superman had foster parents too.” For me, as a single, working, gay dad, I had my own Superman T-shirt. I wore it to bed so that when I got up the next morning and faced a day filled with more challenges than seemed humanly possible, I could look in the mirror and feel I was invincible.
Those who would tell you that canceling this show was a rash or bad decision will cite that you warned patrons. You told them that this was a show for “mature audiences.” Patrons could choose to censor simply by deciding not to purchase tickets.
But this situation is more complicated. Your show really was not for the “mature,” as these critics maintain. (It was Bill & Ted, after all, I mean…come on.) It was also not one that would affect only those who viewed it firsthand. The reaction to it would reverberate further into their world. It was marketed to and recommended for those “over 13 years old.” Believe me, this made it the hottest ticket in town for 12-year-olds.
Your target audience for this show was the exact demographic that currently perpetuates and is victimized by bullying. The homophobic humor and degradation would not be lost on them. They would delight in its irreverence, howl with their perceived superiority, and step out to mimic its spirit: to ridicule any and all people perceived to be gay.
The show fed into an already ripe bullying environment for teens, particularly LGBT teens. The website Bullyingstatistics.org describes that world: “30 percent of teenagers in the U.S. have been involved in bullying …Students who also fall into the gay, bisexual, lesbian or transgendered identity groups report being five times more likely to miss school because they feel unsafe… About 28 percent out of those groups feel forced to drop out of school altogether… Teens are still continuing to bully each other due to sexual orientation …Teens reported that the number two reason they are bullied is because of their actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender expression…About 9 out of 10 LGBT teens have reported being bullied at school within the past year because of their sexual orientation… About 30 percent of all completed suicides have been related to sexual identity crisis.”
The spirit of this Bill & Ted edition easily accelerated the intensity of hatelike behavior targeting LGBT teens, which would expose them to greater depression and possible suicide. Your message through your action is clear—that such harassment is not acceptable.
For that, I thank you.
I hope too that those who mourn the loss of campy low-ball entertainment will come to forgive you and appreciate the greater good you enacted. If you erred, you did so on the side of kindness.
As Mark Twain said, “Kindness is the language the deaf can hear and the blind can see.”
A gay dad, living the real super man life
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