Don't say f-g! - Did we learn anything from the Hays Code?
Not too long ago, Sony Pictures co-chairman Amy Pascal called for the film and television industry to clamp down on gay slurs and stereotypes in scripts they received. For the record, her precise words were: "How about next time, when any of us are reading a script and it says words like fag, or faggot, homo, dyke, take a pencil and just cross it out.”
So if the film industry takes Amy’s advice, then as derogatory terms like ‘fag’, ‘dyke’ et al slowly disintegrate from everyday language, we’ll suddenly see them vanish from film and TV as well. Fair enough. After all, you probably wouldn’t put up with those terms from your colleagues, clients or strangers, so why should you have to hear them in media? Pascal also has this to say: "...there is not much any of us can do about what people hear from families and friends, but there is a whole hell of a lot we can do about what people see."
And for all Pascal’s good intentions, that phrase that reveals why this is such a bad idea.
Political correctness, though it makes for a much more civilised society, also makes for pretty shitty art. Take a recent example. There were those who took issue with the use of a certain ‘n’ word in Quentin Tarantino’s latest offering, Django Unchained. And while the word itself is pretty heinous (Yeah, I'm a big ol' hypocrite for censoring it here but not the word 'fag'. Just a matter of words I personally feel comfortable using or not using. Moving on?), cutting it out would have pretty much gutted the context of the movie, making it seem inauthentic and toothless.
To restrict the language that writers can use is to compromise the truth of their stories and limit the range of emotions and ideas that characters can express. These emotions might be extremely ugly. In fact, if this is a story worth telling, they probably will be. If your character is battling years of internalised homophobia to confront the fact that he’s gay, how do you properly communicate that internal dialogue without going to some pretty nasty places? It’s a painful, real experience, and the negative self-talk is a part of it. Or what if your character is hyper-masculine and sees homosexuality as a threat to that masculinity? Are you going to muzzle the character from using words like ‘fag’? What about a masculine gay character casting judgement on a more effeminate one? What do you think he’s going to say? “You’re looking awfully Quentin Crisp-ish?”
Does Pascal really think this is going to help reduce homophobia in our society? I mean at its core, we're talking about a kind of reverse Hays Code here. Are we really considering employing the same devices of censorship that were used to silence us for so many decades?
The whole issue reminds me of one of my favourite moments in Boondock Saints (a movie I otherwise don’t care for, but still), in which Willem Dafoe’s male one-nighter wakes up next to him and tries to snuggle. Will then slaps him, calls him a fag and kicks him out of bed. The scene made me laugh because of its honesty, its freshness, and its refusal to portray gay guys as desperately chasing happily ever after, as if we had some lame point to prove about being capable of fidelity or being just like the hetero-normative ‘ideal’.
Actually, maybe that’s a stereotype Amy Pascal and co can work to eradicate. The sassy best friend. The funny hairdresser. The suicidal kid in love with the straight guy. The predatory dyke. The bitchy fashionista. The cheating bisexual. The psychotic transgendered killer. And the increasingly popular ‘white picket fence’ gays. Right behind you there, Amy! Get rid of ‘em. All of ‘em.
But keep it real. I don’t want to go to the movies and see a whitewashed world that pretends homophobia doesn’t exist. I want to see one where characters I can love and respect meet this evil and overcome it. ‘It Gets Better?’ Maybe. But it doesn’t just get better. You get stronger and that makes it better. Stories that cheat that reality aren’t going to do anyone any favours.
Or maybe Hollywood would be better off looking to some slightly older queer cinema for inspiration.
Take it away, Gregg Araki.