Perez Hilton is getting a storm of publicity after calling someone a faggot, and Brüno, a movie that Dennis Lim calls a "big gay joke," is advertising everywhere. What does this mean for gay stereotypes in the media?
In an Entertainment Weekly profile by Tim Stack, Hilton says of his altercation with will.i.am,
I realize I said the most hurtful word. I don't believe being gay is bad. I'm not homophobic. I couldn't be any gayer and I couldn't be any prouder. I've got rainbow flags shooting out of my eyes.
Stack calls him "surprisingly chastened," but he doesn't really sound all that sorry in The Advocate, where he says, "I thought about calling him the n word, but I thought the f word was even worse." He goes on to say, "I reacted in the worst way possible," but the fact remains that Hilton basically wants, as Richard Lawson says, "to have us congratulate him for not saying the racist thing he was thinking." Or that he thinks gays are more marginalized than blacks? Or that homophobic slurs are worse than racial slurs? Or that the word faggot from the mouth of a gay man is worse than the n-word from the mouth of a non-black person? The mind reels.
It seems pretty likely that Hilton doesn't "believe being gay is bad." And he seems to understand that he shouldn't have said what he said. But what is the moral status of a homophobic slur spoken by a gay person to a straight person, presumed hurtful because said straight person is presumed to be homophobic? And is this homophobia ouroboros similar to the one created by Sacha Baron Cohen, a straight person playing a gay person who is (maybe) supposed to make fun of homophobic stereotypes?
Slate's Dennis Lim basically comes down on the pro-Brüno side. He writes that Hollywood has been offering up "square-jawed," humorless portrayals of gays for so long that it's refreshing and even subversive for Baron Cohen to portray a funny, no-holds-barred "sissy" — and an oversexed one at that. He writes,
Is any viewer really going to think that this hyperbolically crass and ridiculous narcissist-who wears mesh tops and eye-searing lederhosen, refers to his adopted African baby as a "dick magnet," and drops faux-Teutonic vulgarities about his waxed arschenhaller-represents "the mainstream of the gay community," as one troubled Hollywood "gay insider" put it? And are the gays who anxiously anticipate the mocking, hostile reactions of the unenlightened really that blind to Brüno's obvious counteroffensive strategy, which is to make that mocking, hostile idiocy the subject of his film? The beauty-and perhaps even the moral logic-of Baron Cohen's method is that those who're not in on his joke are invariably the butts of the joke.
And he calls the climax of the movie, in which Brüno makes out with his opponent during a wrestling match, "a brilliant tactic against homophobia: the gay-panic offense." The idea that an over-the-top joke based on stereotypes — whether racist or homophobic — is actually a joke on people who believe the stereotypes is hardly new. It's the basis of Sarah Silverman's whole career. And while Baron Cohen offers a twist on this by actually eliciting homophobic reactions and inviting viewers to make fun of those, it's hard to accept that a straight comic is totally on the gay community's side in making fun of obnoxious straight people. It's especially hard when a lot of his act revolves around talking funny and walking funny and wearing silly clothes. The idea that viewers aren't going to be laughing at these aspects of the film — or that they will be laughing at simply an exaggerated character rather than an exaggerated gay character — is a bit naive.
A homophobic slur spoken by a gay person — especially with the intent to hurt — is still a slur, and gay stereotypes are still gay stereotypes, even if they're meant to be meta. Ultimately, though, none of these things likely matter much to Perez Hilton or Sasha Baron Cohen. Hilton tells Tim Stack, "I don't care if you like me, I just care if you read my website." And Baron Cohen probably doesn't care if people like him, as long as they see his movie. Ultimately, Brüno isn't about challenging stereotypes are breaking down barriers — it's about getting laughs and selling tickets. And Perez Hilton is all about publicity — the love that loves to speak its name.
Related: Perez Hilton Would Rather Be A Racist Than Bad for The Gays [Gawker]