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06/10/2010

A 'Rock' and a sticky place: When plastic instruments raise deeper questions

by Jeremy Hooper

Over the past few years, there've been several controversies regarding gay slurs being used in video games. Most of these dustups have involved online gaming communities, where words like "f*g" and "queer" are sometimes used as insults. And the concerns have ranged from annoying (like when "gay" is used as a generic putdown) to serious (like when a user has a handle like "ProudQueerKiller"), dealt with in the manner that befits the particular situation.

But last night while playing "Green Day:Rock Band" with the hubby, this writer had a reverse experience. Here, watch the first few seconds of someone else playing the game, then I'll get back to you:


(YT: QUEENxClayerx)

Okay, so those familiar with the song will know that the line that starts the above clip is actually: "♫Well maybe I'm the faggot America. I'm not part of a redneck agenda.♫" But as you can see from the video, the game makers chose to remove the F word. Perhaps understandable, on its face. But in this particular situation, was it really the best choice?

This song, "American Idiot," is a setup for/summary of the concept album of the same name. The whole album involves this nation's state of affairs circa the mid-21st century, with mucho criticisms abounding. One of those criticisms, coming from the outspokenly pro-LGBT band, is the Bush era treatment of this nation's LGBT population. So personally, I've always interpreted the line as being an attempt to flip the slur -- to say: "Okay, you wanna call people "faggots"? Well then maybe that's who I am. Maybe I, regardless of whatever my sexual orientation may be, am part of the "faggot America" that some take it upon themselves to criticize! If the choice is going to be "redneck" or "faggot," I gladly choose the latter!!!" And whenever I've heard it -- even like recently, when I saw it performed on the nothing-if-not-gay-inclusive Broadway -- I've felt actually someone empowered by its gritty inclusion. Certainly not offended.

So that being the case: In this instance, is it really right to treat the word like a slur? I mean, throughout the other tracks included on the game, there are references to a whole host of difficult and challenging subjects. There's satire, there's story-telling, there's expression of alienation. All of these, with the exception of curse words, are left in the game. So is this a weird time when leaving this word intact might've actually been the better choice, both in terms of artistic freedom and potential teachable moments (not to mention the fact that the abrupt pause can really throw off the de-fact Billy Joes who take to the mic)? Or was it right to avoid the potential way it could be interpreted by those who might take it as a face-value slur?

For that's enough to argue

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