Oli Lyttelton at The Playlist reports on the developing controversy over a trailer for the new Ron Howard film, “The Dilemma” (Ron Howard? Controversy? Dogs and cats, living together, mass hysteria!). The film’s teaser, which was quite clearly approved by the Motion Picture Association of America for viewing by general audiences, begins with a rather pointed gay joke by Ronny, played by Vince Vaughn: “Ladies and gentlemen: electric cars are gay. I mean, not homosexual gay, but, y’know, my-parents-are-chaperoning-the-dance gay.” Lyttlelton sums up the entire brouhaha, including Anderson Cooper taking “Dilemma” distributor Universal Pictures to task for including the joke, and a quote from Allan Loeb’s original screenplay which was even more pointedly homophobic.
Is it offensive? Maybe not in context; I could imagine a scenario where “The Dilemma,” about a guy (Vaughn) trying to figure out how to tell his best buddy (Kevin James) that his wife (Winona Ryder) is cheating on him, speaks directly to the issue of male sensitivity and empathy. In that case the joke, while certainly in poor taste, could be emblematic of Ronny’s journey from cruel, uncaring jerk to a more open, honest person. Out of context, though, it’s basically just a homophobic crack at the expense of gays and the electric automotive industry (guess we won’t hear Vaughn’s voice gracing Prius commercials anytime soon). To say, as one film website did earlier today, that “electric cars are the butt of the joke” is to completely miss the point: you’re still using the word “gay” as a putdown. Replace the word “gay” with “Jew” in Vaughn’s speech, reread it, then defend it using that same argument. Would it fly?
Howard and his marketing team are as much guilty of bad timing as bad taste. As Lyttleton points out, yesterday was National Coming Out Day which, if you’re a conservative gubernatorial candidate for the state of New York, is apparently the perfect time to call a homosexual lifestyle less valid than a heterosexual one in the midst of a rash of antigay violence and sexuality-related suicides.
Lyttleton says that GLAAD wants the electric car joke removed completely from the film. We’ll see whether that happens when the film comes out on January 14, 2011. In the meantime, here’s the revised trailer, which does not feature any jokes about gay people or cars, but does make the character played by Winona Ryder look pretty awful. Let the claims of misogyny begin!