In the style of meta-movie making, Parenthood‘s Dax Shepard is embarking on a celebrity cameo-filled adventure to become a martial arts action star in Brother’s Justice, a mockumentary with a bit more testosterone than anything Christopher Guest has come up with. Forced to quickly learn the ranks of ass-kickery, Shepard finds himself woefully out ranked by the experts he encounters. Like the guy who knows Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu — or, as Shepard describes it, “fag fighting.”
Shepard, who became a household name with Ashton Kutcher’s Punk’d, could be entering The Dilemma territory with his anti-gay joke.
But this is a mockumentary, after all, where Shepard plays a supposedly fictional version of himself.
In an attempt to reinvent his career, actor Dax Shepard makes the rash decision to abandon comedy in pursuit of his true dream: to become an internationally-renown martial arts star. Without any formal martial arts training, nor adequate funding for his ‘blockbuster’ action movie script, Dax enlists the help of his buddies including producer Nate Tuck and actor Tom Arnold. Together, they fight to realize Dax’s true passion while facing rejection at every turn. With maniacal conviction, Dax journeys on a bizarre path that becomes increasingly nonsensical and destructive, all at the expense and exploitation of his personal and professional relationships.
Does that mean he’s off the hook for the “fag fighting” remark?
Only if you’re also willing to let Vince Vaughn and Universal Pictures’ The Dilemma receive the same pass. Both phrases are uttered by their films’ main protagonists, who audiences are supposed to cringe at (for their buffoonery) but also root for. Which puts you in the awkward position of cheering on a man who uses terms like “fag fighting.” Haha?
We’ve made the case a number of times that all gay humor, even involving slurs, is not created equally. And the news climate does impact the comedic value of such stabs at humor — which means with all these suicides racking up, and even the president publicly acknowledging the on-going (but not new) bullying epidemic, won’t be helped by American audiences ROFLing at lines like these.
“What’re you gonna do? Make out with me until I tag out?” asks Shepard of his Jiu-Jitsu challenger. And while I’m sure the line might offend some actual practitioners of the martial art, that guttural reaction you have to even hearing a line like this one — that instant, “OMG, did he really just fucking say that?” feeling — is a decent barometer as to whether these are “funny haha” jokes or “wholly insensitive” jibes.
So goes the test: Replace “fag” with another slur aimed at a certain culture and see where it gets you. If Shepard referred to Taekwondo as “gook kicking,” would you give it a pass? How about mixed martial arts as “nigger wrestling”?
Uncomfortable yet? You just answered the question.