The internet decided to perform its time-honored tradition yesterday of getting extremely mad about something that sounds bad out of context, but that probably didn’t quite deserve the place it was assigned on the “Silly-To-Serious Proportionate Response Outrage-O-Meter.” Entertainment Weekly reports Andrew Garfield, currently starring in the London revival of Tony Kushner’s Angels In America, was excoriated online after making a comment about homosexuality that didn’t sit well with some.
During a panel discussion following a performance of the show, the Gay Times notes Garfield was talking about his own relation to the character he plays, a gay man struggling with the reality of AIDS, and he said, “My only time off during rehearsals – every Sunday I would have eight friends over and we would just watch Ru [RuPaul’s Drag Race]. This is my life outside of this play. I am a gay man right now just without the physical act–that’s all.” Sounds pretty bad, right? It comes across as though Garfield were making light of the history of oppression suffered by LGBTQ individuals, and claiming that gay identity is something you can take on and off as easily as a pair of shoes. Ergo, a guy clueless about his straight privilege mocking the pain of others.
People were pissed. “Straight tourists who try on oppression for kicks make me so tired,” as one Twitter post read. Which, yeah, if it seems like Andrew Garfield is genuinely equating watching every season of RuPaul’s Drag Race with being a gay man, you’d be hard-pressed to not be offended.
But as with most things in life, context is everything. Joining other such luminaries of the Internet Outrage Accolade as Lena Dunham and Katy Perry, Garfield’s statement was a dumb, ill-considered joke. He began his response to a question about the research he did for the role by saying his “big concern” was “what right did I have to play this wonderful gay role?” It was only after talking to Tony Kushner and realizing the author of the text wanted him to play the role, that he realized, “maybe if he’d asked me, it was the right thing…it was about doing honor, doing justice and knowing my herstory.”
Only after that discussion, and some further explanation of conversations he had with friends in the gay community, did Garfield then decide to make his dumb joke. And it was both dumb and a joke. In a Daily Beast editorial response to the outrage that erupted following Garfield’s comments, Kevin Fallon astutely (if exasperatedly) points out the nature of the comment (and also embedded the audio of the discussion, posted below).
This is one of those “I’m basically gay LOLOLOL” comments that your annoying straight friends say all the damn time after too many mimosas at brunch while talking about how much they love Carly Rae Jepsen and Glee. You roll your eyes. Couldn’t we have left it at that?
In essence, Garfield followed up a thoughtful and measured response to questions about his preparation for the role with a stupid joke that tried to lighten the mood of what is a deeply serious play and topic. And even if it was obnoxious, as Fallon follows up, “If nothing else, Garfield’s idiotic comments show just how eager and passionate he is about wanting to be an ally.” Which seems to be the case with a lot of these clueless-actor comments, as a quick Google search of James “gay in my art, straight in my life” Franco reveals:
But even more noteworthy is that this allows Garfield to once more rejoin the pantheon of actors saying ridiculous shit. The gold standard here is still Val Kilmer, who once said that he could better express what it was like to be in the Vietnam War than someone who was actually there. Actors have a long and noble tradition of saying very silly things, that nevertheless sound perfectly reasonable to them. And while this one is even less of a candidate for Silliest Actor Comment of 2017, given that Garfield meant it as a stupid throwaway line (albeit an obnoxious one), at least he can rest easy knowing that the internet is still functioning as it always does. Besides, why be annoyed at someone so clearly trying to be on the right side of an issue when you have the lead singer of The Dickies out there making very earnest misogynistic rants from the Vans Warped Tour main stage?