Offensive Art

Are you trying to tell me you speak fag?” Missy asked. “Oh, fluently,” Les replied. The three of us on the couch all physically cringed and turned away from the television playing Bring It On, the spunky cheerleading movie from 2000.

“This movie hasn’t aged well,” I said, almost to justify the fact that I was watching a film that so openly joked about the LGBTQ community during the seemingly progressive time of 2016. A film I know I will probably continue to watch in the future. But why do we give late praise to these elements of past pop culture that are riddled with sexist, racist and homophobic elements?

It’s the classics, we say! We understand that what they do and say in these films is almost disturbing and backward. We say that we know much better now, which somehow allows us to still be politically correct as we continue enjoy them. We sit on the couch next to our friends who are members of the LGBTQ community and pretend that these words don’t hurt them.

And of course I speak only of films where these situations and terms aren’t necessary, like Bring It On. All of the offensive language could have been removed and the plot and draw to the movie would remain the same because it’s not a movie about homosexual oppression.

The real question is: should we put up with this type of art? It is art, after all, and the creators are granted the freedom of artistic expression. But does this mean it can be forgiven for the damage is causes to some of its admirers?

Of course, as art is subjective, how we view and judge it is as well. However, it should still be noted that I can go to the MFA and look at artwork created during extreme periods of turmoil and inequality and not even be remotely offended.

This begs the question: can one even judge art for its capacity to offend? I’m not sure. What I am sure of, though, is that there are still plenty of works of art from the 20th century that don’t contain lines like the one I mentioned from Bring It On. So, I’ll just continue to watch movies like the Sound of Music, and Pride and Prejudice, which manage to depict less progressive times while remaining inoffensive. I will always prefer movies that choose to entertain instead of offend.

Text by Rebecca Szkutak

Photography by Andri Raine