A couple weeks ago my girlfriend Kayla and I were lying in bed trying to figure out what to watch on Netflix. After scrolling for awhile I saw they had the film “Chasing Amy.” I hadn’t seen it in at least 15 years and Kayla had never seen it, so we decided it was perfect.
I’m one of those people that gets really excited to share things I like with people I care about, and I remember “Chasing Amy” being super clever and edgy and woke, so I kept going on and on to Kayla about how much she was gonna love it.
Wooo, boy was I wrong! The movie was so cringe worthy that we couldn’t even finish it.
Released in 1997, “Chasing Amy” was the third installment of Kevin Smith’s New Jersey trilogy (the first two being “Clerks” and “Mallrats”). The movie is about a group of friends who are all comic book artists. Ben Affleck’s character, Holden McNeil, falls in love with Joey Lauren Adams character, Alyssa Jones, only to find out she’s a lesbian and not at all interested in dating men. Drama and hilarity ensue.
When “Chasing Amy” came out in 1997, it felt revolutionary for the way it normalized queerness for a fairly mainstream audience. “Will & Grace” didn’t exist yet and “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy” was still six years away. As a straight 16 year old with a pretty queer family, Smith’s punchy dialogue seemed like a clever way to broach subjects that weren’t really being discussed in popular media at the time. The scene where Jason Lee’s character and Joey Lauren Adams character compare stories about injuries received while going down on women felt brilliant.
All these years later, not so much. While the movie did a good job of showing the toxic masculinity of nerd culture (which years later manifested as Gamergate), many of the scenes just felt kinda icky in way. An example of this is Jason Lee’s straight character calling his queer friends things like f*ggot and d*ke.
This idea of art that was edgy and woke for its time, not holding up to modern standards, got me thinking about a conversation I had a little while ago about the movie “Blazing Saddles.” A woman I was talking to at a party said that “Blazing Saddles” was racist and homophobic. I think we can all agree that there is no way “Blazing Saddles” could be made now, but my argument in support of it was that Mel Brooks, and all the writers and actors, were in on the joke. While viewers are bombarded with the N-word and the final scene pokes fun at gay stereotypes, the movie was written with the intent of making black people and gay people laugh as well. Richard Pryor even co-wrote the screenplay. When “Blazing Saddles” came out it was edgy and woke because it used the language of racism and homophobia to make those things less powerful. From a 2019 lens though that can very easily get lost.
All of this brought me back to something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately. Those of us who struggle to make the world a more equal and equitable place need to be more forgiving of each other. I’ve seen so many people dragged on social media for saying the wrong thing, not out of spite or malintent, but simply because they didn’t know what they were saying was wrong. Not everyone gets woke to the same issues at the same time, and since the terminology surrounding these issues is constantly changing, there’s a lot of room for error. We should be forgiving of these errors and use theses opportunities as teaching and learning moments, not a chance to tear someone down who’s on the same side as you.
A fine example of this is the word “Tr*nny”. I’ve seen plenty of people who support Trans Liberation but maybe don’t know any trans people and therefore don’t know that “Tr*nny” is a derogatory term. When someone uses the word, instead of immediately assuming that person is a bigot, it’s an opportunity to check in with them and explain why that word is no longer acceptable to use. You’d be surprised how many well intentioned people don’t know this.
This all loops back around to “Chasing Amy” and “Blazing Saddles.” Those movies were using words that were more or less acceptable at the time to show how unacceptable the issues surrounding those words were. They may not have necessarily gotten it right, but at the time, what they were doing was important. So let’s be forgiving of each other. Instead of trying to prove who’s more woke, we should be focusing on how to wake each other up.
Stuart Schuffman, aka Broke-Ass Stuart, is a travel writer, TV host and poet. Follow him at BrokeAssStuart.com and join his mailing list: http://bit.ly/BrokeAssList. He is a guest opinion columnist and his point of view is not necessarily that of the Examiner.