By Jeff Walsh, Oasis editor
I have a mixed history with GLAAD. Oasis Magazine has been twice nominated for GLAAD Awards in the Web category. I've written for their Access Denied report about the dangers of Internet censorship and filtering, which was distributed to every member of Congress, and led to me become an ACLU plaintiff in several states. And, they really do some good, important work that in many cases really needs to be done.
But every so often, I find myself so at odds with them that it nearly casts a shadow over any good they do. I know they continually distance themselves from it, but it was Chastity Bono, representing GLAAD at the time, who made headlines for saying Ellen's show had become "too-gay." And every time I ever saw Bono explain herself, she nearly said "too gay" every time she tried to explain what she really meant. Then came Eminem, and once again, I am an unrepentant Eminem fan. It got to where you couldn't read an article about Eminem without reading a quote from Scott Seomin, GLAAD's current mouthpiece, about him saying how awful it was that Eminem said fag and lez, etc., etc. Go read their site, there's a whole page of Eminem lyrics they don't like (No, I'm not linking to it). They even held a protest at the Grammies, since Eminem was nominated, which again made the press, despite the fact that nearly nobody showed up.
But, I try and work around GLAAD, ignore them, and let them fight their battles, even if they keep saying they represent the "gay community." On some level, though, I never felt a connection to Ellen, since she somehow found her inner courage to come out during sweeps. And Eminem? I like his music, but I don't really want to hang out with him. But now GLAAD is planning to come out against Kevin Smith, and I say, "Enough."
Kevin Smith, for those of you don't know is the brilliant writer and director of Clerks, Mallrats, Chasing Amy, Dogma and, finally, Jay & Silent Bob Strike Back (which is being released this month). Kevin also plays the role of Silent Bob in all five movies. I am a total fan of his work, have the special edition DVDs of every one of his movies, and I go to his News Askew Web site on a regular basis, because I just think he's a very down-to-earth guy who makes some great, funny-as-hell movies. (FYI: You'll need to go to the News Askew site to read the letter he received from GLAAD, as they have not officially issued a statement on the movie yet)
Kevin recently posted a letter from Seomin on his site, accompanied by his very bewildered, humble response, and I was dumb-founded. Now, to be fair, I have not seen Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, so I do feel somewhat uneasy about discussing it (since Smith's last flick, Dogma, was totally trashed by various Catholic groups who also didn't see it). But, based on how well I feel I know Kevin, through his online posts, interviews, and movies, I am willing to go to bat for him. Not to mention that GLAAD's four point rationale for targeting his movie seems amazingly weak.
Seomin objects mostly to one character calling the film a "big gay joke." (It's a movie-within-a-movie thing, and one character (Jay, I'm guessing) is commenting on an unauthorized movie being made about him and Silent Bob, his hetero life-mate.). In his letter to Kevin, Seomin says "the joke is at the expense of the stereotyped category of people." I won't delve too deep, having not seen the flick, but even topically, Seomin is grasping for straws here, and this is his strongest point.
Seomin's second point is that "All references to gay men reinforce them as objects of acceptable ridicule and dehumanization." Very blanket statement, I'm sure he cut and pasted it from previous letters. Now, here's where the problem occurs, because GLAAD simultaneously praises "Queer as Folk" and "Will & Grace," as do I, by the way, I love them both dearly. But both clearly offer stereotypes of the gay community, and Queer as Folk has certainly crossed lines that would be unforgivable if done by a straight writer or director commenting on gay people. But, since we are saying it about ourselves, it's OK. It's the reason hip-hop can say the N-word like it's going out of style, but if I had just typed out N-word, I would get letters. I don't feel comfortable with GLAAD or anyone else saying when something is acceptable by one person, and unacceptable by the other, especially if they are doing similar things.
Seomin's third point: "Specific epithets for gay men include not only traditional slurs but also have the potential to introduce an expanded vocabulary of defamatory words and phrases." Now, I have no clue what this is specifically, but if Kevin is able to come up with new terms that GLAAD hasn't heard before, then he's really pushing the envelope.
Seomin's fourth point, they get weaker as they go, is just about how "gay," is being used incorrectly ("That's so gay!, etc.) We've covered that ground in Oasis before, not worth rehashing. Is it being used incorrectly? Not really, since when people use it, everyone knows what they mean, which is the point of language. Is it being used in a way GLAAD and others might not like? Yes.
Based on these four weak points, Seomin tells Kevin that GLAAD will be "public and aggressive in our condemnation" of the movie. Kevin is a stand-up guy and immediately calls Seomin up to see what he can do to temper the situation and allay their fears that he is homophobic. Seomin says he's been trying to get Miramax (the studio distributing Kevin's movie) to make a donation to the Matthew Shepard Foundation. Kevin immediately pledges $10,000 to it. Now, I'm not saying GLAAD is a huge organization with tons of people (and honestly, I think they mean well), but I'm still not certain how the "Entertainment Media Director" goes from talking to a film director about a film they plan to condemn to hitting him up for a contribution. I also hope they don't try and leverage Kevin's donation into some admission of wrongdoing. I really think Seomin needs to keep some objectivity and not hit people up for donations when he's telling them why he hates their movie.
With all of this said, I plan to see Kevin's movie on opening day, as I always do, and will publicly apologize here to GLAAD afterward if I am offended. I don't expect to have to update this page, though. Kevin, man, I wish you the best with this movie. I'm with you for the long haul, and have absolutely no concern that you are homophobic. I mean, for God's sake, wouldn't making Chasing Amy have been like purgatory for a homophobic director?!
I think the problem with GLAAD here is that they are suffering from the activist's equivalent of battered wife's syndrome: they are always so prepared to be hit, they now flinch at next to nothing. It must be a terrible way to go through life, and especially a terrible way to enter a movie theater.
But, if they keep blasting things that no one but them thinks is "defaming," then they will probably end up like the boy who cried wolf. And, someday, we'll all stop listening.
UPDATE: GLAAD has responded to some of the criticism they are getting on this issue...