Jay and Silent Bob Strike Backlash

Can’t Take the Fag jokes? Dude, That’s Sooo Gay!

The most radical aspect of the slob comedy is the absence of a male hierarchy. Beatific buds like Cheech and Chong or Bill and Ted are equals in their imbecility; there's no top or bottom in these relationships. But Jay and Silent Bob harks back to the rigid code of Abbott and Costello or Martin and Lewis. In these odd couples, it's very clear who is the top man and who is the flailing or spastic nerd. He may be more lovable, but the top man gets the girl—just like in Smith's retro comedy. Silent Bob, who spends much of the film suffering Jay's accusations that he "loves the cock" (and who privately admits as much), ends up smooching an ape.

Does this sound like a parody of prejudice? I guess that depends on where you stand in the hierarchy—or where you'd like to be. Since most pop-culture critics were once teenage nerds, it's easy to see why they would sooner identify with the aggressor than defend the victim. This is not so different from the dynamic that drives high-school bullying. The top boys actually do the bashing, but hardly anyone objects. Most of us are too anxious about our own places in the pack—and all too willing to savor the designated scapegoat's pain.

Illustration by Jeff Crosby

What makes it possible for ordinary people to stand against bullying is a culture that identifies it as wrong. We haven't quite gotten there. We're prepared to condemn race-baiting, but where homophobia—or for that matter, sexism—are concerned, we're not so sure we want to disrupt the male order. And we find the bully sexy (since he is the top boy). This conflict is particularly hard on liberals, who end up torn between pleasure and their principles. Smith's success is his ability to provide the former without threatening the latter. That's the virtue of irony. It gives liberals permission to be as nasty as they wanna be.

Get past the pretense that this film is a parody of prejudice and you'll notice that the joke isn't really at Jay and Silent Bob's expense. The laughter you hear is the sound of solidarity.

Research: Adrian Leung

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