All it took was a few short seconds and two lines of dialogue from Benedict Cumberbatch in a film trailer for several thousand people to scream “boycott”.
I have written before about being offended, and I shall stick to my thoughts on that, that taking offence achieves absolutely nothing other than you being offended. But first I’ll look at what exactly has got people up in arms.
Benedict Cumberbatch plays a character called All in the film, who appears to be a cartoonish over exaggerated example of the proliferation of androgynous models in the fashion industry. From the trailer, it is nearly impossible to tell exactly how the character is going to be played because we see so little of him. But from the small scene we do see, it actually takes the mickey out of male models and their perceived stupidity rather than someone who is androgynous.
It basically involves Stiller’s stupid character asking if All is a male model, or a female model and All replying “All is All” while Owen Wilson’s character says Stiller’s character is asking if All has a “hotdog or a bun”. So, two characters who are meant to be parodies, and walking jokes themselves, say something crass that only two idiots would say, and that is all.
They are not words of hate, they are words of ignorance, yes, but they are ignorant characters who say them. We do not know yet how big this storyline is or how it’s written. But even this complete lack of full storyline or character arc hasn’t stopped the activists from screaming out. But judging a film 2 months before its release off of a few seconds of footage of a character that may only appear in a short scene that has little or no relation to the rest of the film is ridiculous. For all we know the character may be completely sympathetic towards people of non-binary gender identity. None of the viewing public know yet, but if the scene is an obviously gross and deliberately offensive example that has no humour behind it then I would certainly change my stance on the issue. But it’s really far too early to tell yet.
The first Zoolander and its sequel are comedies and comedy is meant to be a mockery of literally everything, nothing should be sacred in comedy. Comediennes like Lisa Lampanelli will mock the stereotypes of black people, Mexicans, Jews, gays, disabled people and literally any kind of person you can think of, which what makes comedy what it is, it’s that no one is or should be safe or above being lampooned with obviously inaccurate examples of how they are. But what makes the reaction to the Zoolander 2 trailer so telling is that trans or non-binary people are not seen as “punching up” when it comes to comedy. By punching up I mean people seem to be OK with relentlessly taking the piss out of Christians, politicians, Royalty, reality TV stars, sports stars, and the wealthy, people with perceived “lucky breaks” They can take it, they are more fortunate than the rest of us so they deserve to be taken down a peg or two so we can all laugh at them.
How many of the people who signed the petition have seen an episode of Family Guy, American Dad, The Simpsons or South Park and laughed at the jokes that mock celebrities like Paris Hilton, Britney Spears or Tom Cruise to name but a few. I don’t believe for a second thanks to South Park that any of Paris Hilton’s dogs have committed suicide to get away from her, or that she’d steal child to turn into a pet, but I still laughed at the absurdity of it.
I am not heartless though, and I appreciate the fact that the trans community is still very far from acceptance, and that every day trans men and women go though hell trying to find their place in the world and to not be scared for their lives, and they fear that misrepresentation of their community damages the image that they want to get across.
Many trans people have vocally said Caitlyn Jenner doesn’t represent them because she has an easy life, and yes that is true, she really doesn’t have a clue how it feels to be an everyday normal trans person because she has it so relatively easy. That’s fine, she doesn’t represent the trans community, but why should a character in a film who so far hasn’t even been marketed as trans somehow be any different.
That character doesn’t represent the trans community any more than Derek Zoolander represents male models, but it’s OK to take the piss out of male models because they are rich and pretty, they can take it right? This isn’t me going down the route of saying no one should be mocked because it’s unfair, I say everyone should be mocked humorously to make it fair. Either you pick on everyone or no one, never laugh at anything again, or feel free laugh at everything. Obviously, not everyone is going to appreciate every single joke ever told, so what? If you don’t laugh you don’t laugh. I didn’t find Friends funny, yet there’s several million people who will disagree with me and find it the funniest thing to have ever been on TV, and did Chandler Bing’s drag queen father, played by completely cis-woman Kathleen Turner cause the kind of outrage All has caused because an androgynous character is played by a cis-male actor, not that I can remember. No one seemed that bothered by the fact Chandler’s dad was played by a woman rather than an actual drag queen.
But comedy in TV and Film land isn’t meant to be an accurate version of people, if that were true, all people who wear glasses would be spotty nerds, all ginger people would have no souls, all sci-fi fans would be lonely virgins and the list goes on of these kind of things. Zoolander is very obviously about mocking the fashion industry and presenting funny yet inaccurate versions of the people who inhabit that world.
However, if you really are offended or bothered by the character of All, then don’t watch the film, but don’t try and foist your views on others and whip a group of people up into a frenzy. The Twitter/Facebook mentality these days means people can feel like they are part of something as it happens, by signing an online petition based off a knee-jerk reaction to something that has in all probability been taken out of context of the whole film. If the trailer was to be taken at face value, Justin Bieber is not only dead, but also some kind of fighting superhero, both of which are plainly untrue.
I’m not using my views here to try and change the mind of anyone, or to even make them stop and think for a moment, these are just my views and I don’t expect everyone to agree with me, but nor do I want people lambasting me for allegedly being insensitive towards the trans and gender fluid groups out there. Life is meant to be laughed at and people should stop taking things so seriously. Plainly there is a difference between being outright mean and nasty with no humour behind it, but light-hearted mockery isn’t meant to be taken seriously. A vast majority of people will know that the character of All isn’t a true representation of gender fluid or transsexual individuals and will just see the film as a film lambasting all different types of people. Zoolander 2 will probably be a bit of dumb fun…How about you just enjoy it?
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I’m a 36 year old gay man who’s been in a relationship for 11 years. I now live in Manchester. My interests include writing, movies and watching many different types of documentary. I’m not afraid to voice an opinion, but respects others views
Opinions expressed in this article may not reflect those of THEGAYUK, its management or editorial teams. If you'd like to comment or write a comment, opinion or blog piece, please click here.