Let me tell you about a story I heard recently.
A man starts chatting to another bloke at a bus stop. To his amazement, the stranger tells him that he’s our bloke’s former girl friend ‘Helen’, having gone through gender reassignment surgery, and now called ‘Harry’. They two broke up eleven years before, so our bloke suggests they have a drink and catch up.
Over the course of several hours and many drinks, our bloke and his ex decide to spend the night together – and yes, have sex.
The next morning, our bloke (Pete) is all ‘yuck, gay cooties’ because he did the nasty with a guy. But at least it was with someone he used to love, right?
Wrong! Because through the door walks Helen, his real ex, who goes ‘Surprise, you just fucked a man, heh heh’.
Cue laughter from the audience. Because this is a short film called Bamboozled – described as a ‘revenge comedy with a quirky twist’ – which just won Australia’s Tropfest, an international short film festival. (Watch it here, if you must.)
Now, I understand comedy is subjective, and I’m certain that others would consider a lot of the comedy I appreciate offensive (If It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia were food, I could live off it), but Matt Hardie’s Bamboozled was… soul-crushing. Capping off a weekend that saw the nation’s first legal same-sex marriages, it was an unintentionally poignant reminder that we have a long way to go when it comes to treating the LGBTQI community as ‘equal’, rather than ‘other’.
Some of the commenters on Will’s post completely agree with him. But this being Australia, and in particular the ABC’s blog, the straight fightback comes pretty swiftly. Commenter Timmy O’Toole says:
Will, Get over yourself… Stop forcing yourself to find offence. How dare you be part of the team that stops people actually have their own feelings just because you might be offended.
Commenter Michael points out, quite correctly:
Yes Bamboozled is framed as a comedy but it is just distasteful.
Like telling jokes about rape.
The target man, Pete, was lied to and manipulated into having sex with someone he didn’t know under the pretence of him being a long lost partner.
This is actually called rape.
…This is a disgusting example of how it is alright for men to be targets and homosexual men more so.
But commenter ABM is there to put him straight, so to speak:
There is no homosexual ‘target’ in this film. The victim is a heterosexual, who is raped (according to activist standards) by a homosexual man who mocks the victim. The other people in the room similarly approve of this rape and humiliation. Presumably, the heterosexual man needed to be taught a lesson to challenge his assumed homophobia as an average guy.
You see, people? The film can’t be homophobic, because it’s about a gay man raping a straight man! And the real crime is making rape a joke! [Excuse me while I chunder remembering all the rape jokes I was told as a kid.]
Commenter Antony is upset to the point of losing control over his punctuation:
So instead of writing about the fact that “pete” was taken advantage of when drunk ( insert word raped ) and it obviously was not something he chose, Will Kostakis chooses to write about homophobia which had nothing to do with the story at all, the movie was about his ex making pete do something against his choice and if having sex with a man is not his choice and it was forced upon him by the ex girlfriend, well it certainly doesn’t make him homophobic.
Isn’t this wonderful? All these men finally getting how if someone is tricked into having sex, then it’s rape, even if there’s no violence? I mean, it’s quite the epiphany considering that a team mate of an accused rapist in circumstances not too dissimilar to this film’s scenario, gave evidence for the defence saying no one was pressured into having sex. (Which meant it wasn’t rape according to Mr Montagna and a large segment of the male football fans following the case.)
Finally guys get it! Consent is important!
Oh wait. Is it only important because a fuss is being made about this film’s undoubted homophobia, because a straight male nightmare about gay men all being desperate to fuck and rape them is being shown in fiction (and not drunken footballers treating women like sex toys in reality), and because straight men finally get their chance to show yes! Straight men are so rape victims too! So shut up, women! Men are the ones we need to talk about!
You might accuse me of cynicism. But then again I live in a country where male viewers complained to the Advertising Standards Board that advertisements about White Ribbon Day (a day against violence against women) were sexist because it didn’t mention violence against men. I live in a country where ABC blog posts about gay mariages are immediately derailed by people insisting that polygamy must also be legalised, and where posts about misogyny are dominated by men complaining about women insulting men.
Derailing is the immediate go to tactic for straight cis-gendered men here (and of course everywhere else). So if a gay man complains about homophobia, let’s make the subject about gays raping straight men and get outraged to the point of red-faced screaming (even if that is a vanishingly small percentage of the number of male on male rapes, let alone the total number of rapes in Australia every year.) Let’s ignore anything to do with transphobia in this film completely because trannies are icky. Let’s make out that the behaviour of the woman in this film is absolutely common, and so women are the real perpetrators of assault and ‘misandry’. And so on and so on. So any sensible discussion about what is so very wrong about Bamboozled is buried under a landslide of fake outrage and confected discrimination.
So let me, as a straight woman admittedly, break down all the ways this film is a gigantic FAIL (and how it almost – almost – could have been wonderful.)
1. It’s transphobic – it plays on cis-gendered fears of being tricked by trans* people. But if Pete had woken up, realised, yes, he’d had gay sex, but Harry née Helen was still the love of his life (even if they were now incompatible sexually), wouldn’t that have been beautiful? But instead Pete is shown as an idiot for ‘falling’ for the trick. (This kind of thinking is behind a good many transphobic assaults and hateful bullshit like this.)
2. It’s homophobic – the worst thing Helen can do to her ex is to force him to have gay sex which everyone knows is just icky (and what? No examination of the fact that Pete had gay sex and enjoyed it, and maybe that could have been shown as a positive for him.)
3. It shows gay men as willing predators on straight men, to the point of participating in rape. In reality, straight male sexual assaults on gay men are far more likely, and much more dangerous.
4. It shows rape as a joke. 100% no equivocation about it, Pete was raped even though he agreed to sex and there was no violence. He was tricked into having sex. That’s rape. The gender of the participants makes no difference.
5. It’s misogynistic, because it shows a woman gleefully participating in the rape of her ex and treating it as a prank, as if this is normal female behaviour. In reality, women are much more often the victim of such ‘tricks’, and their rapes dismissed as nothing worth getting upset about both by their rapists and other men.
What’s not offensive about this film? The gay sex.
This film could have been about love. Instead it portrayed hate and abuse and mockery of oppressed minorities. So of course it won first prize at an Australian film festival. I’m so proud of being an Aussie sometimes 🙁
ETA: Another blog post about this film, by Laurence Barber: Tropfest winner follows recent trend of casual homophobia in cinema. Scott on Tumblr has a suggestion for an alternative ending which might have saved this film from being utterly offensive, and offers more thoughts on the film itself.
And Will Kostakis’s post originally appeared on his blog, where the commenters are a little more civilised.