Taking issue with ”Affleck” vid
I spent an inordinately large chunk of last weekend trying to avoid writing — specifically, trying to avoid writing about ”I’m F—ing Ben Affleck,” the Jimmy Kimmel parody video that has been having a big YouTube moment since the Oscars. When I write a column, I like to believe I have at least a fighting chance of winning something — a point, a fan, your attention. But this one seems like a losing proposition. Want to feel lonely? Try standing in a room and saying ”…but that’s not funny” while everyone around you is laughing hysterically. Straight people will roll their eyes (something they did not know how to do before they met us, by the way) and tell you to get a sense of humor. And so will some gay people.
Gays and straights are in a strange phase of their pop-cultural relationship right now: We’ve all seen Philadelphia and Brokeback Mountain and Will & Grace and watched Ellen DeGeneres and Rosie O’Donnell host various things, and we all like Bravo and we all know the rules and We’re All Good Friends. And since we’re all good friends, we can share a laugh, right?
Right. In the movies and on TV, straight people have sort of agreed not to murder us or beat us up or make overtly vicious sport of us anymore, and to frown sternly in the direction of any heterosexuals who have not gotten that memo — offenders who, if necessary, will get the strongest punishment straight people can give out, which is a very severe talking-to from Katherine Heigl or a comedy about the importance of tolerance from Adam Sandler. And in exchange, gay people are expected to prove that we can take a joke. The same joke. Over and over again. Here’s the joke: You know what would be completely hilarious? IF SOMEBODY WAS GAY!
Because that would mean that two guys would be…gay! And, you know, they’d sing ballads to each other and paint each other’s toenails and do girly things together and touch noses and stuff, and wear spandex and short shorts and leopard neckerchiefs, and just act generally ultra-gay. Get it? Get it? Don’t you get it? It’s funny!
Yeah. I get it. As a gay man, I’ve heard that one before. In fact, it sounds remarkably like the kind of joke you straight people used to tell back when you hated us.
NEXT PAGE: ”I do wonder just how often gay people are going to be asked to grin along with this particular set of stereotypes before it’s officially proven that we can have a laugh at our own expense and we can move on to, oh, maybe a different joke.”
I try to remind myself that this is a special kind of humor that only straight people understand, like Dane Cook or Fox News. I don’t want to use ”I’m F—ing Ben Affleck” to shred Jimmy Kimmel; God gave us Sarah Silverman for that, and besides, the guy did a shirtless scene; he’s clearly impervious to shame. Besides, I think a lot of Kimmel’s video is genuinely funny — the all-star chorus, the Josh Groban belting — as an undeniably clever counterpunch to the Sarah Silverman/Matt Damon video. And as retro-stoopid as I think the heart of this joke is, I also recognize that there’s something not entirely unpromising in the fact that two straight celebs are relaxed enough to pretend to be gay for giggles (although honestly, it was fresher and more transgressive when Garry Shandling and David Duchovny did it 10 years ago).
But I do wonder just how often gay people are going to be asked to grin along with this particular set of stereotypes before it’s officially proven that we can have a laugh at our own expense and we can move on to, oh, maybe a different joke. There is a very Ocean’s 11/12/13 vibe to the Affleck video — the presence of Brad Pitt and Don Cheadle (and by extension Matt Damon) are clues to its location on the comedy map, which is straight down the center lane of the aggressively heterosexual, boys-will-be-boys, arm-punching, jesting-buddy style that defines the neo-Rat Pack.
In fact, watching this particular gag replay itself so many times, I was reminded of the original Rat Pack — in particular of Sammy Davis Jr. If you’ve seen footage of their nightclub appearances, you know that sometimes, Frank or Dean would invite Sammy onto the stage. They’d make some unspeakably racist remark, and he’d crack up harder than anyone, twisting his wiry little body into convulsions of mirth just to demonstrate that he couldn’t possibly take offense because he knew the joke was coming from a place of love, man. And then he’d get a hug from one of the white guys, who’d say, Just kidding.
History does not record if Davis actually liked these jokes or if, just once or twice, he wanted to rub a Mafia joke or two in Frank’s face and yell, Who’s laughing now!? History does record that the Rat Pack was unquestionably on the good side of the civil-rights movement, just as it records that Brad Pitt has said he will not marry Angelina Jolie unless gay marriage is legalized in the United States. As far as gay people are concerned, Kimmel, Pitt and the other jokers in ”I’m F—ing Ben Affleck” definitely aren’t the enemy. But if this is what it means to be friends, I’m wondering if maybe they could like us a tiny bit less.