On Sunday, while promoting his new FX show "The Comedians" at a Television Critics Association Winter Press Tour panel, Billy Crystal was asked about playing a gay role on the ABC show "Soap" in the late '70s and how television has changed since that time.
In his response, the comedian talked about being uncomfortable with how sexualized some shows have become and, in doing so, employed a few phrases like "a little too far for my tastes" and "shove it in our face" that always trip my homophobia sensors and make me want to protest by grabbing every man in sight by whatever appendage is handiest and dragging them into a studio to stage a gay sex telethon that will be broadcast into the living rooms of every family in the world.
This led some gay Americans to ask questions about Crystal's statements. Was some kind of further context missing? Did you have to be in the room to see his body language or hear the tone of his voice? Was he really separating his displeasure with viewing gay sex scenes from his displeasure with viewing straight sex scenes?
However, in a follow up interview with Xfinity's tv blog, the actor addressed his earlier comments, saying in part:
"First of all, I don't understand why there would be anything offensive that I said. When it gets too far either visually...now, that world exists because it does for the hetero world, it exists, and I don't want to see that either. But when I feel it's a cause, when I feel it's "You're going to like my lifestyle," no matter what it is, I'm going to have a problem and there were a couple of shows I went 'I couldn't watch that with somebody else." That's fine. If whoever writes it or produces it...totally get it. It's all about personal taste."
When I read some of the criticism of Crystal's statement, I had to wonder: is what he saying really homophobic as many pundits are claiming? I'm not sure that I agree that it is. He clearly states that sex scenes on television go too far whether they are heterosexual or homosexual. Furthermore, shows like "Scandal" and "How to Get Away with Murder" produced by Shonda Rhimes, both of which I really enjoy (and the gay sex scenes are a major plus), unabashedly show gay sex in the same context that straight sex is often portrayed on television. Furthermore, Rhimes has explicitly admitted that she is pushing an agenda to see more equality in sex scenes on television. Crystal merely said what Rhimes herself has said, but he also said that it was too much for him. Sometimes the explicit way that straight sex is portrayed on television is too much for me, does that make me heterophobic. I don't think it does, any more than saying the same makes Crystal homophobic.
We live in a very scary time in many ways. You can't say this, you can't say that, you can't offend this group, that group. As someone who has lived in the Deep South my entire life, I've seen plenty of homophobia and racism. All across America, and especially in the South, what people say about race is often taken as being racist. So much of the country believes that if you are white and you have an opinion on race, then that opinion is racist. People claim that there is no such thing as "reverse" racism, but when you are the minority in your area, whether you are white or black, if the majority discriminates because of your race, it is racism. People get too easily offended and they take political correctness to the extreme. That's offensive to me.
The thing is, we should all treat everyone as we wish to be treated. So if Billy Crystal says that sex on television, and gay sex on television in particular is not something he wants to watch, well that's his right to have that opinion. If Billy Crystal has a sex scene on television or a movie, I don't want to see him naked either. My opinion is that we have the right to watch what we want to watch. If that includes gay sex, or straight sex, or whatever kind of sex, then we had that right, but we also have the right to say, "Look, that's just too much for me. I don't think I want to watch that," well that's our prerogative. And if I don't want to watch something because it has an agenda, then I don't have to watch it.
Case in point, I will not go to the movie theater to see "Selma." It's not because of racial tensions or that I'm racist, but because the movie is politically bent to put forth an agenda and skew the history of that event. The makers of the movie have admitted to that and have admitted to changing certain facts because it fit their artistic vision (i.e. political agenda). As a historian, I constantly having to fight against how history is portrayed in movies because people take it as fact, when it is fiction. So for a movie about an event as important as the Selma to Montgomery March to purposefully skew those facts is abhorrent in my opinion.
So I won't be going to see "Selma." Does that make me a racist? No, it doesn't, and neither does Billy Crystal saying that he thinks sex on television goes to far when asked about his previous role playing a gay man on television nearly forty years ago and how it compares to gay roles today. We have our opinions and we have the right to voice those opinions. We also have a right to call bullshit when someone takes our words out of context because something we said hurt their over sensitive ideas of the need to be political correct 100 percent of the time.