Over the last few days, there’s been a bit of a battle going on over the internet regarding tweets that were made by Kevin Hart in 2011. These tweets came to light because Kevin Hart became the Oscar’s host and since that get’s you in the headlines, people start digging around. When they dug deeper they found there were more than a few homophobic tweets made by the actor.
Now, before we start, I wish to make one thing clear. I am not calling Kevin Hart a homophobe and I have never called him one. It’s possible that he’s actually very pro-gay and all this was just him saying a very stupid thing years ago. However, just because you aren’t a homophobe doesn’t mean you can’t say homophobic things. You can absolutely love gay people and think they deserve equal rights and all that, and still be the kind of person who says “Oh god, that looks so gay”. You’re not a homophobe, you just said something homophobic and there’s a major difference that we need to point out early on. Also, just because you aren’t a homophobe NOW doesn’t mean you weren’t one years ago. A lot of people pretend like they’ve always been on the side of gay people but ask any gay person and they will tell you that we remember when major figures used to be anti-gay, until they changed. Change happens, change is good, but you can’t just pretend the old stuff wasn’t real. I feel those are two key things that we need to point out before anything else, it’s possible to say homophobic things without being a homophobic person AND you can go from being homophobic to not being homophobic. So, now I want to talk about it and a few of the arguments I’ve had on twitter about this.
THE TWEET ITSELF
Let’s just get the tweet in question up here and out of the way.
This is the tweet that people have latched onto and with good reason. I’m going to just state this now and get it out of the way… that’s not a joke. It’s not. There is no setup, there is no punchline, there is no twist, subversion, exaggeration (If you think that someone breaking a dollhouse over a child’s head is an exaggeration, ask any gay man who ever played with a dollhouse) there is no twist on it. This is just simply stating something that a homophobe would do.
NOW, we all must admit that we know that Kevin Hart would not actually do this. For starters, he doesn’t seem like an actually violent person who would harm his child or, indeed, anyone… and also the dollhouse is as big as he is so there’s no way he’s lifting it (Everyone gets one Kevin Hart short joke, that’s the law). No one is actually arguing that Kevin was ever going to actually do this… but someone has. People have done this, there are tales of gay kids playing with dolls who have had those dolls broken and been hit because they dared to be gay. There is no joke here, it’s reciting actual homophobic actions and not meaning them.
It’s the same thing from several years ago (2011 actually… god, what was in the water back then?) when Tracy Morgan was on a stage in a comedy club and said that he would stab his son to death if he were gay. There was no joke there either, none whatsoever… but you wanna know the difference? Tracy apologised within a week of that happening and stated ‘It was not funny in any context’, met the man who told the world about the set and hugged him after apologising AGAIN, came out and stated he’d happily accept a gay son (2 years after the incident, which he addressed readily), he would then go on to openly support gay rights and gay marriage and as recently as 2016 he pulled out of a performance in Mississippi in protest of their anti-gay laws… he proved, as much as a human being can prove, that he was sorry for what he said and he made up for it and then some. Interestingly, just as a side note, in 2016 when a lot of people boycotted mississippi because of those anti-LGBT laws… guess who went there as part of his tour. Yep, Kevin Hart. Not saying he needed to be a part of the boycott, but it just is an interesting point to make.
If this were his only time doing this kind of thing, maybe this would’ve blown over but, here’s the thing… it’s not.
I do not care what you have to say about how long ago this was, that is not relevant (Yet, we’re going to get there) but can we all just admit that none of these are good jokes? I won’t even fully state they aren’t jokes, the “Why does DamienDW profile pic look like a gay bill board for AIDS” one could technically class as a joke. While I can’t find the specific profile picture in question, let’s assume that at the time Damien Dante Wayans looked thinner and it was just an attempt at an edgy joke comparing weight loss to AIDS. Wouldn’t be the first time we’ve heard that joke, I can go with that. Heck, I’ll be super generous today and suggest that the one about “Why does wayne215 have so many pictues of me in his phone!!!” could also be classed as an actual attempt at a joke, possibly helped when you realise that he’s talking about his assistant (As listed on IMDB) who is someone who is likely to have a lot of photos with him. This is the kind of joke guys tell about their friends and yeah, it’s obviously a joke because there is several subversions (Wayne isn’t fat and has good reasons to have photos) BUT, that’s all context that I had to look up to get… to an observer, you probably just thought he was calling some random a fat fag. It’s not a good joke, it relies on a slur AND it’s easily misinterpreted.
Wait, did you mean that?
Since we’re talking about misinterpretation, let’s address the issue that is causing most of the problem here, the fact that tweets are a horrible way to convey tone. Text, in general, does not come with a tone, UNLESS IT’S CAPS LOCK AND THEN WE KNOW WHAT THE TONE IS but when the text is normally written, you do not know what the tone of voice is that the person would be using. Complicating matters further is that these are tweets back in the 140 character days, less ability to thread easily and in general we were still learning to use that site.
Then there is the issue of context, not only the inability to find what was sent just before this or just after, but general context of the person’s state of mind. Who knows what happened at 12:02am on the 11th of January that would make Kevin decide to tweet about the dollhouse. Did his special air that day, since it’s a lift on something he talks about in his special Seriously Funny (He doesn’t use this topic, but the “Stop, that’s gay” is a portion of a bit from that special where the context… helps? It’s still eyebrow-raising, but there is a context that lessens its impact). Did a news story happen that day that made him think that? Was he having a chat with someone, said something about dollhouses and his kid and went “Oh wait, that’s good, I’m going to tweet that”? We don’t know because Twitter is a vacuous den of despair where meaning and context go to die.
Without tone and context, a lot of this is us projecting onto the tweets and we should acknowledge that element of the issue. That said, no matter how much of this tweet is altered by time, context and tone, doesn’t make it OK.
Just say you’re sorry
One of the big things that have come out in the aftermath of all this is people, including Kevin himself, saying the same thing “He apologised for this years ago, get over it”. To an extent I understand this idea, no one likes to have to apologise for things they already apologised for… so when did he apologise for this? This is a genuine question and I’m yet to get an answer for it. Some might point to the 2015 Rolling Stone article titled Kevin Hart’s Funny Business where he said the following (About the bit in his standup, which he admits is more about his fear as a dad).
“I wouldn’t tell that joke today, because when I said it, the times weren’t as sensitive as they are now. I think we love to make big deals out of things that aren’t necessarily big deals, because we can. These things become public spectacles. So why set yourself up for failure?”
Who wants to point to the part of that where he says “I’m sorry I joked that I would beat my son if he were gay”? Because it’s not there, what this is is him stating “You’re too sensitive”, a rallying cry of people who don’t care if their words harm people. I understand that some people believe that, for some reason, we should be able to say anything to anyone without anyone ever getting offended but when you’re talking about jokes where you recite homophobia… if you’re for the LGBT community, you really need to know that’s not OK. Now, as far as I know, that’s the only thing close to an apology he’s said (And, it’s not an apology) but if you have something else please tell me. I want to believe he apologised before now, I’ve just never seen one and I’ve actively looked.
When he finally did make an apology, he was already out the door. He had been adamant that he wouldn’t apologize, he even posted an Instagram video where he seemed more upset that people were being negative than about what he’d done to get that reaction out of them.
All this built up over several days and when he apologized on the way out… that’s the apology people asked for. If he’d given that exact same one-sentence apology when this first happened, we’d of all moved on and be excited about his monologue. Instead, he doubled down and actively acted like it was on everyone else… he said the awful thing, but he wasn’t going to take responsibility for how it affected people. Death of the Author is a fascinating concept in theory, but it doesn’t and shouldn’t apply to stand up comics who literally put their faces to their words.
BUT WHAT ABOUT…?
And so we move on to what happens afterwards… namely “But why aren’t the gays all offended when these women say this word”
So, yeah, turns out there are also a few female comics who have used this word too and we need to go through them one by one. I’m going to start from the bottom with Chelsea Handler… who has repeatedly been in trouble for her use of gay stereotypes, most recently when she joked about how Lindsay Graham might have a fellatio video that’s making him behave a certain way (I CLEANED THAT UP SO MUCH!). People jump on her for this stuff all the time, including the gay community who would call her problematic. But, she’s also fought for gay rights very publically without shame, she has openly sided with the community and shown that she doesn’t actually hate gay people. Do her actions make up for those words? No, those words are awful and we should probably reevaluate why we seem to give her a pass, but at very least we know she’s not a homophobe because of her actions. Meanwhile, someone wanna tell me when Kevin Hart spoke out for gay people? Anyone?
Onto Amy Schumer who, again, also has not apologised for this joke (Far as I can tell) but also worthy of note, hasn’t repeated that kind of joke. Also, much like Chelsea, she’s also fought FOR gay rights. During the press tour for Snatched, her and Goldie Hawn talked about how they had always fought for gay rights. She also has publically alligned herself with gay marriage, in a beer commercial and also just in general. Again we ask, do those actions make up for those words? No, those words are still awful but we also can point to the fact she hasn’t repeated them, clearly evolved and proudly attached herself to the movement. What commercial was Kevin Hart in that made him side with LGBT people? I’d like to see that.
Finally, we move onto Sarah Silverman who has… well, she’s gone above and beyond for this one. For starters a recent article I cringe at material I did 10 years ago (Which is mostly about the movie she’s promoting, which looks adorable and fun) also mentions these jokes and other’s she did… here is, in my opinion, the best possible way to address this
“Certainly stuff that I did 10 or 15 years ago, I cringe at now,” she continues, “but I think that’s OK. I had really racial stuff that, in my mind, at that time, was illuminating racism and starting a conversation. Now I see it very differently, like: ‘Oh, right. Unarmed black teenagers are getting killed by cops daily. This joke is less funny to me.’ Or I used to say [adopts masculine Boston accent]: ‘That’s so gay.’ And then I would defend it by going: ‘What? I have gay friends! It’s totally different. I just mean ‘lame’. And as I was arguing it, I realised: ‘Oh. I’m the old man who says ‘coloured’ … ‘I have coloured friends!’”
She realises that the small jokes she made back then weren’t funny, they’re harmful and she cops to it. She says she’s changed by it, I’m going to take bets that the word “Fag” never leaves her mouth anymore unless she’s in Australia asking for a cigarette. On top of this she also was one of the many people who did a “We won’t get married until gay people can” pledge, which is symbolic but means a lot. She called out social policies like Don’t Ask Don’t Tell and pointed out that they were causing gay suicides. Oh, also she had a gay couple on her sitcom in 2007, back when most gay couples were only on Queer as Folk, Will & Grace or The L Word. She’s apologised and fought beside us and owned up to the hurt her words caused so… yeah, great example.
Also, I’d be remiss if I didn’t also point out that Nick Cannon himself has called out the exact kind of tweet that we’re talking about here
In Conclusion Your Honor
There are several lessons to learn from what happened to Kevin Hart, the first one is a lesson that every single person was taught by their parents and should remember forever. THE INTERNET IS FOREVER! If you posted something a decade ago and you’re about to be the host of a major awards ceremony, be prepared for the internet to go digging. It’s what the internet does, be prepared for that. We also learned JUST SAY YOU ARE SORRY. Yes, I get it, you’re a comic and comics shouldn’t apologise for jokes and that’s a great idea, truly, I get it… but when your joke is “I would beat up my gay child” and it’s causing the world to hate you, maybe that’s the moment to give the apology and make it better. Next, YOUR INTENT DOES NOT ALWAYS MATTER. Believe me, I absolutely get that you might make this kind of joke and not mean it. Hell, I have literally sat in rooms with people who have said “That’s gay” and I know they did not mean it to be homophobic… doesn’t mean it didn’t hurt. Have the empathy to look at people who are hurt by your words, even the ones you made at jokes, and be willing to see how it hurt them. Lastly, perhaps just a general rule, DO NOT TELL GAY PEOPLE WHO WE SHOULD BE OFFENDED BY. This is mostly for people following Nick Cannon’s form of argument, namely “But these other people said bad things too, why aren’t you mad about them?” because that’s an argument that can burn in the firey pits of hell. For starters, WE KNOW, We knew about those tweets before you knew, you think we don’t see homophobia when it pops up? We have homophobia sniffers, we spot it miles away and we deal with it. We address it AND we look at the people saying it and work out if they’re homophobes or just said stupid homophobic things. We do not need you to tell us when we should be offended, your whataboutism is noted and duly ignored.
I get if those tweets didn’t hurt you, if this seems like a lot of people over reacting. Hell, this is a 3000-odd word article exploring how these jokes aren’t jokes and the impact of them, this is absolutely me over reacting… but this is just how the LGBT community has to handle things. Don’t forget, it wasn’t that long ago when that joke was considered hilarious and we accepted it. We have to fight these battles when they pop up otherwise we might go backwards, and no way is that happening anymore. If you want to debate this idea, I’m happy too (Though god, I think I made every argument I could possibly make) so please comment, tell me your thoughts on this, I’m open to them… but before you do, just think “Do I really need to defend someone saying they would smash a dollhouse over a gay child’s head?” and if the answer is yes… oh god