Gossip blogger Perez Hilton was allegedly assaulted Monday night in Toronto by Black Eyed Peas member Will.I.Am and the band's tour manager, Polo Molina. The altercation apparently began when Will.I.Am asked Perez to stop blogging about his band. Perez responded by calling Will.I.Am a "faggot." Assault ensued, as did a barrage of media coverage.
Gay rights groups and celebrities alike are weighing in with their opinions on this GaySlurGate, from GLAAD to John Mayer to Ice-T. But what's the real story here? Is it, A. That Perez Hilton, an openly gay man, used a gay slur against another man? Is it, B. That Will.I.Am, a prominent cultural figure, allegedly assaulted another man in public? Is it, C. That one of these men (Hilton) is gay and the other (Will.I.Am) is black? Or is it, D. That the whole thing was covered in real time on Twitter? How about, E. All of the above?
As a quick side note, it appears that most of the coverage of this incident does not include the word "faggot" and instead says things like "the gay slur" and "f****t". It is my belief that if we are going to report on issues like this we must be able to discuss them, so I am choosing to use the actual word. My apologies if it offends.
Let's start with A. Should Hilton be able to use the word faggot because he is openly gay? Is this like that episode of Seinfeld where Jerry's dentist converts to Judaism (possibly) because of the anti-Semite jokes? Is it like a feminism magazine being called Bitch? In short, not really. Hilton was not attempting to reclaim the word faggot, he was using it because he thought it would piss of Will.I.Am. Says Hilton:
The other night in Toronto, after feeling physically threatened by a verbally abusive will.i.am of the Black Eyed Peas, I chose the most hurtful word I know to hurl at him. I was in an out-of-the ordinary situation and used a word that I would not utter under normal circumstances. My intention -- however misguided it may have been -- was to stand up for myself and tell this belligerent man that I had enough of his badgering and was not going to continue to let him berate and intimidate me.
Hilton continues on to say that he is not a spokesperson for the gay community and that his words shouldn't be construed as such. However, GLAAD is still asking for an apology, and has called for an end to Hilton's use of defamatory language.
And what about B.? Is it okay for Will.I.Am to punch out Hilton because he called him a name? No, of course not. Punching is wrong, I think we can all agree there. What's interesting to me in that regard is how upset Will.I.Am became, and that he was provoked to violence upon hearing a gay slur. My guess (and I could be wrong) is that Will was not upset on behalf of gay people who take offense at the word faggot. Rather, I would bet that he took offense at the suggestion that he himself might be gay (or weak, or whatever else that word implies). The stigma against gay men, and the threat they pose to traditional models of masculinity, is still so strong in our culture that "faggot" is one of the worst things a man can call another man. To me, that's more problematic than this incident itself.
(Update: It has been brought to my attention that, although Perez Hilton originally claimed that Will.I.Am assaulted him, it is actually the Black Eyed Peas' manager Polo Molina who is being charged with the crime. Sorry about the confusion.)
Which brings us to C. Is part of the reason this story is receiving attention that it involves a gay (read: feminine) man using a slur against a black (read: masculine) man? Again, I am going only on media construction here; I realize there are gay and black men all over the spectrum of masculinity. However, when a black man (Isaiah Washington) called a gay man (T.R. Knight) the same word a few years ago, the coverage looked much different. Obviously this is a more complex issue than just deciding which man society thinks is more masculine, but I do think the construction of masculinity is playing a major role here. Just think about how differently this would have played out between two women? Or even two gay men? My guess is that we wouldn't have heard a thing about it.
And now D. Twitter. Perez Hilton "tweeted" about this incident in real time, as opposed to calling the police or alerting the media in a more traditional manner. Have we moved into a new technological age when it comes to information sharing, or does the tweeting indicate that Perez is more interested in getting attention than seeking justice? Most likely, both are true. After all, Perez Hilton is a gossip blogger who makes his living by getting attention for being mean to celebrities. On the other hand, no one likes to get punched and I'm sure he did want the police to intervene.
Which is why my answer to the question, What is the real story here? is E. All of the above. This incident brings up questions about gay rights, free speech, race issues, masculinity, physical violence, new media, and responsibility, just to name a few. Here's hoping that all of the media coverage of this event can function as a tool for talking about these issues. And now, let's talk about these issues! What do you think?