Billy Crystal Just Proved We Can't Say Anything Anymore

Photo: REX USA.
Billy Crystal spoke at a panel for the Television Critics Association in California on Sunday. During the event, the beloved comedian talked about his role as Jodie Dallas, a gay character on ABC's Soap, which aired from 1977 to 1981.  Addressing this role specifically, the actor recalled how scenes of gay intimacy during his time on Soap were more about saying "I love you" and less about sex. "Now it's just, I see it and I just hope people don't abuse it and shove it in our face — well, that sounds terrible — to the point of it just feels like an everyday kind of thing," he told the audience.

He continued, "I’ve seen some stuff recently on TV in different kinds of shows where the language or the explicit sex is really — you know, sometimes I get it, and sometimes I have — I just feel like, 'Ah, that’s too much for me.'"

There's already a social media outcry. Even though Crystal avoided naming particular shows, and he was talking about both heterosexual and homosexual acts, headlines about his remarks already include the word "homophobia." But, all the incident has proven is that no one can say anything anymore. 

It's reactionary and even a bit lazy to interpret the actor's comments as homophobic. That's why Crystal addressed his statement in a follow-up interview with Xfinity TV.

The comedian told Xfinity that he doesn't understand why anyone would be offended by his remarks. "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."
Photo: REX USA/Everett Collection.


Perhaps the most upsetting part of these allegations to Crystal is that everyone's so quick to forget how he's supported the gay community through his work. During the TCA panel, Crystal addressed issues he encountered while playing Jodie Dallas. "See, I did it in front of a live audience and there were times where I would say to Bob [Seagren, who played Jodie’s lover, Dennis], 'I love you,' and the audience would laugh nervously, because, you know, it’s a long time ago, and I’d feel this anger. I wanted to stop the tape and go, 'What is your problem?' because it made you sort of very self‑conscious about what we were trying to do then." 

But, this wasn't enough for some critics. HuffPost's Noah Michelson writes that Crystal's comments are "effectively saying that being gay isn't normative." Though, he also points out that Crystal, like many people unfamiliar with the appropriate language and information regarding the LGBTQ community, may not realize that what he's saying is homophobic. "You can be the sweetest, kindest person and write checks to PFLAG and have six gay friends and two gay brothers and have officiated your workout partner's gay wedding, but if you believe that gay people simply trying to live their lives (on television or off) are pushing a 'cause' or if you think we're trying to force anyone to like our gay 'lifestyle' (side note: we don't use that word anymore, Billy), that's homophobic." Though, Michelson did add that he doesn't believe Crystal is a homophobe. 

Crystal boiled down his thoughts to a more concise statement in an interview with The Hollywood Reporter ."What I meant was that whenever sex or graphic nudity of any kind (gay or straight) is gratuitous to the plot or story, it becomes a little too much for my taste," he told THR in a statement.  

In response to critics, Crystal emphasized his early role in introducing gay characters to a vastly different television landscape in the 1970s. "I expressed an opinion as a viewer [and] as somebody who had a little bit of proprietary interest on two levels," he told Xfinity. "One, as someone who is a heterosexual man but stood up for the gay community back in 1977. It wasn’t perfect when we started, that wasn’t my doing, we then kept writing and writing and making him a real person in the truest sense of the word and that his gayness was just a part of who he was, and people loved that character and it was well earned by the time we wrapped." 

Despite the backlash he's received, Crystal's firestorm has raised the valid point that we're all too ready to pounce on each other, to throw stones. What we have here is a comment that sounds like it ought to be offensive, so critics jump on it and call it out. People have a knee-jerk reaction and would rather say "How dare you?" and be on the right side of the fence than hazard the opinion that Crystal's statements aren't homophobic. 

Crystal echoed this sentiment in his interview with Xfinity. "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." And, when Billy Crystal, a man who's played Oscar host eight times — a position where offending people is part of the job description — cannot express an opinion without being pounced on, we're in trouble.
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