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The fuss over Vince Vaughn's 'gay' remark is misdirected

"I was shocked. Not only that they put that in a movie [a man calling an inanimate object "gay"] but that they put that in the preview!" CNN anchor Anderson Cooper told Ellen DeGeneres, via satellite, this week.

Cooper was getting ginned up on the subject of homophobic language, a point he supported by citing a preview he had just seen of the new Vince Vaughn film, The Dilemma.

This sort of language, has power and is used as a weapon, he fulminated, and "it's gotta stop."

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"We gotta do something to make these words unacceptable," he asserted.

How is it possible, however, that Cooper was "shocked" by Vaughn's commonplace statement? This is Vince Vaughn, who virtually invented the new homosocial machismo: Both Old School and Wedding Crashers are films, predating Judd Apatow's ubiquitous work in the same vein, about men confounded by their love for each other.

In the now-excised Dilemma clip, Vaughn tells a startled boardroom that "electric cars are gay."

The phrase - which should not have been cut - is less offensive than exhausting, given its viral presence in all of pop, and dreary. The Vaughn character goes so far as to explain what he means by a gay car: "Not homosexual gay, but my-parents-are-chaperoning-the-dance gay."

The film is yet another bromance: In the controversial preview, Vaughn and co-star Kevin James embrace often; Vaughn is asked to consider "guy code;" and, of course, develops surprising emissions from each orifice in a typical slant-reference to all bromance films' psychological centre - men passionately desiring each other.

Many years ago, Seinfeld addressed intimate male friendship when George started dating "She-Jerry," a woman he realized was a dead ringer for his best friend, who could give him all of the fantastic elements of his friendship with the added bonus of sex.

So many TV shows have presented close males this way: as gay/straight hybrids, or straight men who speak and act in gay code - most recently Two and a Half Men, which buries the obviously homosexual relationship between Charlie and Alan under the impossibility of their being brothers and a relentless blizzard of gay jokes.

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The Apatow movies are the same: In The 40 Year Old Virgin, best friends Seth Rogen and Paul Rudd riff back and forth ("Do you know how I know you're gay?") as a means of disclosing the cultural problem that is close male friendship.

Women have always been each other's kindred spirits, passionately bound by the extreme intimacy of their friendships (look at the Anne and Diana relationship in Anne of Green Gables; or Emily Dickinson's poetry; or virtually every woman of letters' correspondence with her best girlfriend. The language is romantic, yearning and quite refreshingly free of homophobic disclaimers, e.g.: "I'm not lezzing it up, Diana, I just cherish your ebony locks.")

Defamer archly calls the clipping of the gay joke "a huge blow to Americans' right to make dumb gay jokes," and they are right.

The preponderance of gay slurs - the kind that flourished in the 1970s when we used language like lap-dancing money - and, inferentially, misogynistic remarks (the p-word and the f-word go hand in hand), is grotesque in the context of the actual bullying of real or suspected LGBT kids in grade and high school and the current wave of gay teen suicides.

All over the Net, there are valiant responses to the suicides, to the grimmest-imaginable ends of bullying. Comics Sarah Silverman and Wanda Sykes (in a resurrected commercial) have spoken out about little words being the engines of big ideologies. The nightmarishly grating Chris Crocker and less-known amateur video makers have YouTubed on the subject. And Dan Savage is in the middle of his affirmative, deeply moving It Gets Better video series, the title of which is, as regards high school, axiomatically true.

But banning words and deleting scenes from desperate, Fatty Arbuckle-esque comics' films is no answer, and freedom of speech and expression is a sacred right.

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We do not "gotta" do this.

We need to do much harder work than erasure.

Once considered a bully and a homophobe himself, Eminem - whose new, powerfully elegiac CD Recovery is a sustained lament for the loss of his beloved friend Proof - asked, of homicidal teens: "Where are the parents at?"

The media are not raising your bully. Smack some sense into that kid.

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