If you watch Jimmy Kimmel on a regular basis (I guess somebody must), or pay close attention to viral web comedy, you may have already seen the following video. On last night’s program, “Lost’s” Matthew Fox was one of Kimmel’s guests, and after some friendly banter, they decided to explain the mysterious sling on Fox's arm. Cue the gay-themed comedy skit:
Even on repeat viewing it’s hard to know what exactly to make of the video. Is it funny? Yes. Is it homophobic? Sort of. But it’s also hard to get terribly offended about it, partly because Matthew Fox is so darn likeable, and partly because it’s so mild in its objectionableness. Sure, the shower scene is meant to be funny because it plays on the fear of gay male rape –- which is awful, yes -- but, for some reason, given the absurd and homoerotic context of the video, I have a hard time getting terribly worked up about.
In fact, this latest Kimmel offering seems part of a broader return – on TV skit shows and at the multiplex– of gay panic as a source of comedy, albeit in a strangely gentle form. Kimmel made use of it last year with another one of his viral hits, “I’m Fucking Ben Affleck”
But the most frequent practitioner of gentle-gay-panic comedy is Andy Samberg, the talented SNL comedian and former Dan Savage crush-object. Take, for example, his naked-painting skit with Paul Rudd that aired late last year.
And the strange garage-set skit he performed with Seth Rogen a few weeks ago:
And while “I Love you, man” (in which Samberg played a gay gym trainer) stayed, for the most part, pretty far away from any homophobic humor, it wasn’t above using a jilted gay character (seen kissing Paul Rudd's character in the movie trailer, below) as the butt of several jokes.
So what do we make of this latest trend? On one hand, it could mark a return to a kind of retrograde masculinity that beer companies have used to appeal to male customers in their advertising for decades (The folks at Commercial Closet have an excellent archive of gay-panic advertising that’s worth a look). In times of recession, when male breadwinners are under threat, male culture has a tendency to do some weird often very conservative things.
But it’s also possible that comedians like Kimmel and Samberg think they’re able to get away with more un-PC humor now that gay visibility has made some progress – and that its culture has become more mainstream. One of the hallmarks of a movement’s success, after all, is its ability to have a sense of humor about itself. Which, in fact, given the lack of uproar about it, may actually be true -- I know I'm not exactly burning up over it -- or maybe, just maybe, we've decided that it's worth our energy focusing on other things that have been in the news lately.