Tracy Morgan and Tyler, The Creator: How to Get Away with Homophobia

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Regular readers will know that we’re not exactly big fans of Tyler, The Creator and his “Ur All Faggots” shtick. But even so, we can’t help noticing the contrast between a couple of stories that have emerged over the last couple of days — one involving Tyler and another involving 30 Rock’s Tracy Morgan. As has been well-documented, Morgan’s mouth got him into hot water back in June, when he said that if his son announced he was gay, Morgan would “pull out a knife and stab that little nigga to death.” Anyway, this week it was reported that the whole sorry business might be written into the script of the next season of 30 Rock, because, y’know, it’s hilarious, right? Tyler, meanwhile, has drawn continued condemnation, this time from the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation after his victory at the VMAs: “Given Tyler’s history of [homophobic and misogynistic] remarks, viewers and potential sponsors should refrain from honoring homophobia and in the future look to a more deserving artist.”

What to make of all this? There are plenty of differences between Morgan and Tyler, but the key one, perhaps, is that the minute Morgan got off stage in June, the repentance machinery roared into action — he soon issued a statement apologizing “to my fans and the gay and lesbian community for my choice of words at my recent stand-up act … While I am an equal opportunity jokester, and my friends know what is in my heart, even in a comedy club this clearly went too far and was not funny in any context.” Tyler, meanwhile, remains unrepentantly juvenile (he spent most of the VMAs tweeting about how badly he needed to take a shit). He won’t listen when people try to tell him why calling people faggots is offensive, and he certainly won’t apologize.

When he’s been questioned about his vernacular, Tyler’s generally argued that his pejorative use of words like “gay” and “faggot” isn’t homophobic because they’re used as general-purpose derogatory terms for things he finds unpleasant. This is the sort of response you’d expect from someone who seems locked into an emotional age of about 14 — it’s knuckleheaded and infantile and wrong, but there’s an argument to be made that it represents chronic stupidity more than genuine homophobia. And this, as we’ve written before, is the frustrating thing about Tyler: he doesn’t and won’t understand why people get upset about his use of these words.

(An aside: it’s usually about now that people like to bring up arguments about the ever-changing nature of language and how the meaning of words evolve and etc. So let us obviate any such discussion by quoting The Quietus’ John Doran, from his excellent review of Goblin: “The truth of the matter is that there’s every chance the word ‘faggot’ will probably become completely acceptable soon in the same way that ‘bitch’ did in the 1990s… Language use change is inevitable and organic. My participation in these processes isn’t.” Word.)

But anyway, let’s compare Tyler’s determinedly ignorant usage of homophobic language with one that was very deliberate indeed: because there doesn’t seem to be any doubt that on that fateful night in June, Morgan knew exactly what he was saying. And yet, two months later, all is forgiven. Why? It’s hard not to think there’s something deeper at play here.

At the end of the day, Morgan is part of the establishment. He’s an unthreatening, mild-mannered comedian who, y’know, just happens to apparently harbor some pretty offensive views. And he gets away with them just like every other celebrity who’s done something stupid over the years does — a contrite public apology, a couple of photo ops with appropriate charities, a few weeks in the cultural sin bin, and then it’s business as usual. As Tina Fey said yesterday, “I’m hoping that Tracy will have, and the world will have, forgotten about [the controversy]” by the time the show resumes shooting. All swept under the carpet, eh? Morgan’s free to remain as homophobic as he wants — and let’s face it, those “jokes” sounded pretty fucking heartfelt to our ears — so long as he’s not stupid enough to get caught doing so again.

Tyler, meanwhile, is a pretty easy target for people who want to feel like they’re taking some sort of stand. He’s not cuddly and funny like Morgan. He comes across like a spoiled kid and a general prick, and since his lyrics have nothing to do with the “streets,” commentators don’t even have to negotiate the minefield of cultural relativism to call him out — and so the same people who are happy to excuse homophobia from other rappers as “part of the street” or somesuch are lining up to sink the boot into Tyler.

And, yes, we’re as guilty of this as anyone else. Discovering that someone you like and admire holds offensive views can be a pretty depressing moment, and the immediate temptation is to try to explain them away, or excuse them, or just forget about them. But really, in 2011 we shouldn’t be putting up with this sort of shit from anyone, whether they happen to be or obnoxious little twats, or charming and funny and in a pretty great TV show. Who knows? Maybe Morgan’s apology was genuine. But either way, it leaves a pretty sour taste that he’s passing it off as all a bit of a joke two months later.