Tuesday, December 10, 2013

OPINION: 'Hate' Language in Entertainment

Tonight I watched Drew Barrymore's directoral debut, Whip It, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. It was a well-made, thoughtful and entertaining film, with some excellent acting and messages. But it did kinda use two deaf characters (and actors? I'd have to look that up) as comedic relief without them ever really having a part otherwise. And then we get to the hate language. For a film about a girl who rebels, descends (further) into alternative culture, loses her virginity, and so on, it avoided everything you'd expect. And yet it just has to slip in a transphobic comment. The main character's best-friend uses a transphobic slur in reference to roller derby players, and it's never called out or even really implied to be wrong. But I still watched the rest of the film, despite it managing to heavily undermine its own message - plus another blogger explained it much better than I could.

It lead me to recall other times I stopped watching things due to its use of hate language, or at least its use of language to spread hate and/or ignorance. Another example of an entertainment show doing this is Harry Hill's TV Burp. TV Burp is a family show which satirises and mocks other TV shows, with commentaries and jokes about the shows that have been on recently - soaps feature quite frequently due to their fluid storylines and often less-than-stellar acting. On a repeat of an episode, Harry Hill showed a clip of Coronation Street and its transgender character, who has been in the show as long as I can remember (heck, I actually caught the episode where she explained herself to another character), and I believe the context was something about this character and wanting or not having children (I wasn't paying too much attention, but I did see this coming a mile off), and Harry Hill's comment was something along the lines of "the problem here is... well, put it this way. Two postmen and no letterbox". Yeah. Subtle, Harry. Real subtle. Around the same time, I was watching Ice Age 3 and Simon Pegg's character tells the main cast how he essentially performed Gender Reassignment Surgery on a T-Rex (quoting from memory here, but something like "I turned a T-Rex into a T-Rachel").

I've also dropped radio shows and even refuse to watch certain comedians/actors because of comments they've made unscripted - I'm Sorry I Haven't A Clue had a very, very lazy trans joke relating to Thailand (with all credit going to Tim Brooke-Taylor), and there's the well-known and overly-frequent trans jokes coming from Jimmy Carr on shows he's on (he's done it numerous times on QI now, I believe), and I'm just getting a bit fed up.

I don't believe entertainment shows should really get a pass on hateful language or behaviour, and that is slowly changing. I tried to rationalise the comment in Whip It - the Harry Hill one was flat-out unacceptable - and I realised I couldn't. And this is where I think my opinion is. In entertainment shows, the vast majority of the time the words are scripted. That means someone has written them, they have been read a multitude of times, corrected, altered, changed, and so on. The decision to keep them - or to add them - is entirely conscious on someone's part. It might be the author of the screenplay, or the director, or maybe the actor/reader didn't object to them. So when a character shouts a slur in anger in a film, in almost every instance - if not every instance - it will have been scripted, rehearsed, shot numerous times and so forth. What that means is that if a film or a scripted show uses a slur, then it must clearly mean something by it. Maybe it "just" means it's written by ignorant people, but when it happens in a film that can quite easily be considered feminist and progressive? It's not just ignorance. It's... hateful. It shuts the door on people, it makes them feel worthless.

To go back to the initial example, Whip It made me feel welcome, worth something and even lifted my spirits to start with. And then it turns out it doesn't even respect me. How can a film with such a great message be so hateful? And this is one case that applies to me. Think of all the films with homophobic, sexist, racist and other hateful content. The films that promise warmth and change, or even just fun, and then shut the door in your face, breaking your nose in the process.

Funny thing is, this is why I decided to boycott BioWare. My boycott of Rockstar (at least Rockstar North, anyway) is for the same reason I refuse to have anything to do with Jimmy Carr - it's just distilled hatred.