October 25, 2013 – I’ll be honest: much has already been said about the recent closure of Bill & Ted’s Excellent Halloween Adventure which makes me hesitant to construct this post. Though some of the contributions to this ongoing discussion have been meaningful and constructive, others have simply followed the trend in an effort to gain page views and traffic, convoluting and misconstruing the argument at hand by using the show as a crux to redefine the merits of satire, humor and political correctness.
Simply put, I have no interest in defending Bill & Ted’s content, nor do I have any authority to comment on the social issues surrounding the show’s portrayal of minorities and homosexuals. I will, however, push the argument that much of the fallout surrounding Bill & Ted is the result of sloppily written pieces by authors who have no understanding or context regarding the show’s nature and the event in which it is housed.
Let me explain.
Thus far, much of the ire from the theme park community has been directed to Jamie Lee Curtis Taete of Vice for his scathing review of this year’s performance. This response has been misdirected. While I certainly do not agree with Taete’s review and portrayal the show (he does not seem to grasp that there are two separate versions of Bill & Ted located in either coast), his piece – by my estimation – was his own personal first-person account of Bill & Ted. In other words, he saw the show in person, formed an opinion and decided to write an article detailing his thoughts. That’s entirely in his right, and Mr. Taete should not be chastised for expressing his personal opinions.
Having said that, Taete’s peers decided to take a different approach by taking the Vice article out of context in an effort to illicit a specific response to fit a preconceived agenda. James Nichols of The Huffington Post and Jonathan Higbee of Instinct – by all accounts – do not currently reside in the Los Angeles area (Nichols and Higbee are apparently located in New York and Washington, respectively), nor have they seen the show first hand or been to its respective Halloween event. In spite of this, both still felt compelled to formulate their argument via a second hand account. See, when one accuses a show or entity of being homophobic, one would also assume that the accusers in question would actually make the effort to see the stage show to formulate a valid opinion. When you have a platform that reaches any semblance of an audience, you have an obligation to formulate thoughts and opinions that are your own, and you especially need to take care when you accuse an entity of being racist, misogynist and homophobic.
Instead, the writers in question decided to base the crux of their argument on a second hand account alongside a 30 second clip from a 45 minute show, and then preceded to present their article in a fashion that’s bound to draw a controversial reaction. After all, what gives Universal Studios Hollywood the right to make such serious remarks in a public setting?
Enter my notion of false outrage.
But hey, let's complain for the sake of complaining. Because nothing is more fun than false outrage!
— Inside Universal (@insideuniversal) October 23, 2013
I’ll admit: this was a badly conceived Tweet. Concision (as you probably can already guess) is not my strength, and it’s often difficult for me to express my thoughts in 140 characters or less. Nonetheless, it is my Tweet and I do take full responsibility. With that in mind, Jacob Sundstrom addressed the idea of false outrage in a piece on Theme Park Insider. In it, he states:
Phrases like “faux outrage” and “political correctness” and “you’ve never seen the show” and “context” were bandied about like play things. I get it. People are upset because a show they like is being taken away from them and it’s being taken away (in their minds) by people who have never and will never visit Halloween Horror Nights. They might be right. I think they’re missing the point.
Part of what makes off-color humor work is that comedians (usually) attack groups in power. There’s a reason that making jokes about machismo and white people go over better than making jokes about minorities: It’s not funny to make fun of marginalized groups. Now, that’s my opinion on comedy and it is obviously not shared by everyone. But to say that outrage over a homophobic joke is fake or otherwise invalid is, in my mind, kind of disgusting.
Beyond that, it’s one thing to make the joke about a group that is routinely humiliated (and still not treated as equal human beings in over half of this country, you know), and it’s another to say that their feelings — or feelings on their behalf don’t even matter.
Suffice to say, I wasn’t attempting to suggest that one group’s opinions are more valid than another’s. If I had the opportunity to revise my statement, I would have used the word constructed in lieu of false. Constructed outrage, in my view, involves an article that’s written in a manipulative manner that’s meant to illicit a very specific response.
Case in point, the now infamous (and offline) video of Superman from this year’s Bill & Ted that had been plastered on blogs across the Internet. As Taete’s colorful description notes:
After becoming gay, Superman’s voice and posture changes. His lips purse, his toes point inward, and his wrists become limp. His new voice sounds like a homophobic uncle doing a drunken impression of Richard Simmons, complete with lisps and frequent use of the word “faaaaaaabulous!”
Bill and Ted, understandably, are bummed. Their initial excitement at having Superman with them on their quest turns to disappointment as, obviously, now that Superman is gay, he is not going to be of any use to them. “Who could possibly make a worse Superman?” asks Bill. “Ben Affleck?” responds Ted.
Of course, with this description in mind, one can’t help but feel offended. But again, context is key. Commentators, having no prior knowledge of Bill & Ted, are sure to convey an immediate and emotional response. That’s a given.
But bloggers, journalists (however you describe them) have a different imperative. Again, instead of seeing the show first hand and understanding the context for in which it is being performed (an event aimed strictly at adults), Higbee and Nichols – among others – took the reckless and irresponsible route by further inflaming the situation for the sake of controversy. It’s an effective technique, but also one that is wildly reckless.
Perhaps I’m odd, but I’ve always been under the notion that when one presents material to an audience for whom it was not intended, one has an obligation to provide a full and reasonable first-hand account. Full stop. Especially when it contains serious accusations directed at another party.
Higbee, Nichols and others failed to do that by choosing to provide their own constructed view based on an already truncated account, and that’s a shame.
Either way, I truly don’t believe that internet commentators alone shut down this year’s run of Bill & Ted. If anything, there are most likely external circumstances that aren’t being brought to light. But it’s hard to deny that the Internet’s response was – to borrow a horrid cliche – the straw that broke the camel’s back.
Jon Fu is the editor-in-chief of Inside Universal.
Jon originally founded InsideUniversal.net in 2006 as a summer hobby aimed at providing families and fans a resource for all things “Universal Studios Hollywood.” Since then, the website has taken him throughout the United States and around the world – including to places like Universal Orlando Resort, Universal Studios Japan and Universal Studios Singapore.
Jon currently resides in Santa Cruz, California with his bamboo plant. You may reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.