On NBC’s Community last night, Chevy Chase’s character calls Gillian Jacobs a “lesbian” to insult her in front of her his new gang of septuagenarian friends. On The Office (also on NBC) last week, Oscar Nunez’s gay character is blamed by Michael Scott (played by Steve Carell) for what appears to be a herpes outbreak. (The pair kissed in an earlier episode, so Michael could show his staff he was cool with the ‘mos.) How come these instances of gays being jokebutts go unmentioned (by the press, by GLAAD), while Vince Vaughn’s The Dilemma remark — “Ladies and Gentlemen, Electric cars are so gay” — is treated as the ultimate of slurs?
Because it’s all about context.
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One thing we’ve previously chided groups like GLAAD about is treating all humor involving gays as the same. It is not. Sometimes making gays the punchline is funny, the same way Asians and Catholics and the blind can make for a good laugh. But there’s a difference between laughing with at laughing at. In the case of The Office, I’d argue the audience is on Oscar’s side, while his boss Michael (and sidekick Dwight) is purposefully the never-P.C. and completely self-unaware protaganist.
Dwight: I’m going to need a list of every man you’ve ever had sex with; I’m talking train stations, men’s rooms
Michael: Flower shops, fireworks celebrations
Dwight: Fence with a hole in it
Michael: Moonlit gondola, carriage ride through Central Park
Dwight: The woods behind the liquor store, the swamp behind the old folk’s home
Michael: Electric car dealerships
Dwight: The Democratic primary
(I can’t help but believe “electric car dealerships” was a nod to the Vaughn fracas.)
We pointed out another example with HBO’s Eastbound & Down, where calling 3-D TV technology “gay” went without notice.
But why the differing treatment? Perhaps it’s the medium (TV v. movies), but I’d argue what gets us riled up about gay stereotyping jokes is whether we feel we’re being stigmatized (The Dilemma) or caricaturized (The Office). One is offensive. The other even homos will laugh at.