Interesting that the Dissolve roundtable on The 40-Year Old Virgin stumbles over the sexual politics of that movie. The contradiction is simple: most of them like the movie, or liked it when they first saw it, and now need an explanation of how that could coexist with its problematic treatment of women and male homosexuality. Thus the two unsatisfactory options presented, that the film was acceptable in 2005 but not in 2014, or that the jokes are acceptable because they are not mean-spirited. Not present is the obvious third option, that good-spirited people who knew better shouldn't have been making those jokes in 2005, and that the distinction between "laughing with" and "laughing at" the characters is a thin one; the long and sordid cultural afterlife of the movie's gay jokes should be indication enough that a large portion of the audience for this broadly popular movie did not grasp the difference.

There's now a portion of the internet devoted to unearthing peoples' past statements and opinions and attempting to retroactively punish people who once believed things inconsistent with the standards of 2014. This is as misguided as the attempt to play off 2005 jokes as products of a different time that cannot possibly be held to our (new!) standards. The correct thing to say, it seems to me, is this: cultural products, opinions, political stances, etc, are a product of their times, which is to say of a complex web of interactions which we cannot recreate entirely, not least because some significant portion of that web happens within an individual person's head. Since we are bound to be charitable in our interactions with one another, we should assume the presence of sufficient explanatory reasons for the behavior we deserve. But we can also, by the same standards, point out that sweeping generalizations or attempting humor off the identities of marginalized people is always going to be bad form at best. Judd Apatow and Seth Rogan may be alright guys, but "you know how I know you're gay?" was wrong as a violation of decorum, not political correctness, as tasteless in 2005 as it remains now.

(I realize this is both a cranky old man and a buzzkill reaction. I am not an Apatow fan, so it costs me nothing to point out that one of the many not-particularly-funny jokes in his movies is also deeply problematic. But compare this to a similar joke structure in 1998's The Big Lebowski:

The Dude: Walter, the Chinaman who peed on my rug, I can't go give him a bill, so what the f*** are you talking about?
Walter Sobchak: What the f*** are you talking about? The Chinaman is not the issue here, Dude. I'm talking about drawing a line in the sand, Dude. Across this line, you do not … also, Dude, "Chinaman" is not the preferred nomenclature. Asian-American, please.

...in which The Dude is wrong, Walter clearly right, and the joke is in Walter's correcting him and the precise verbal formulation in which the correction is given.)

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