On Context and Character Development

Currently in the news is a story about Ron Howard’s forthcoming movie, The Dilemma. It features Vince Vaughn as a character which makes the following comment to a boardroom full of work colleagues:

“Electric cars are gay. I mean, not homosexual gay, but my-parents-are-chaperoning-the-dance gay.”

GLAAD and other supporters have asked for the scene’s removal. Ron Howard’s response was:

“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.”

Here’s my take on it.

I’m reminded of “The ‘F’ Word” episode of SouthPark, in which they make an interesting case for the word “fag” to be associated with something other than homosexuals. Still derogatory, yes, but not with reference to homosexuals at all. (And I’m sure it still pissed people off.)

I get the same feeling here, that the intent is to change the meaning of the word into something other than derogatory to homosexuals, but yet still derogatory. Yes, it’s true that its original derogatory status came from its association to homosexuals, but that’s not the intent here, as is apparent by the blatant statement of “not homosexual gay” in the quote.

That said, I get that it’s easy for me to say/think that because I’m not gay, and thus I am not directly offended. I cannot say how I would feel were I gay and had to form an opinion. However, there are people in the world who think and act that way, so writing a character like that shouldn’t be any surprise.

If an author (M/M or otherwise) thinks that a character needs to say something like that to make a point in a story (about his own character or for some other purpose), are we readers going to complain as much? Does it make a difference if a not-nice character in a M/M story says that, as opposed to a not-nice character in a non M/M story? Or does it the overall message of the movie make a difference as to whether or not the character and the statement is acceptable in the end? (It does to me.)

Is the fact that this is a movie (by Ron Howard or not) instead of a book a reason to question the presentation of the character? Would the quote have made you as mad in text as from hearing it from the mouth of Vince Vaughn? Would you have questioned it if it had come from the mouth of one of your own characters that you need to portray as not-so-nice? Or is it the fact that it’s a main character that’s the problem? Aren’t you supposed to like the MC? But what if you’re not? It’s easy to be up in arms about something without knowing the full story of how or why it’s used. (I haven’t seen the movie yet. Have you?)

Is this outcry perhaps righteous indignation (on behalf of a population) without cause? a case of being over-sensitive? I suspect plenty of people (of any sexual orientation) will say that those crying foul are being over-sensitive about the intent of the quote, it’s just a movie, and move on. I would like to think that if I were gay, that I would be one of these who think that the indignation on my behalf is unnecessary because I’m not offended by this usage. But I’ll never know.

If nothing else, as the “creative director” of my own works, I wouldn’t want someone telling me that I need to change what my character says instead of addressing the point that I want to address as part of the story. I’ve read a hell of a lot nastier things said in reference to homosexuality from characters in M/M romance fiction. So, I support Ron Howard’s decision to leave it in because it helps to define the character.

~ by Adara O'Hare on November 3, 2010.

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