Is Franco and Rogen’s “Bound 3” Homophobic? 

Outward
Expanding the LGBTQ Conversation
Nov. 27 2013 3:15 PM

Bound 3 Should Make You Cringe, Not Laugh

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Why is this funny?

Still from "Bound 3."

Did you catch this week’s Internet explosion? On Monday, James Franco and Seth Rogen released a parody of Kanye West’s latest video, “Bound 2,” a ludicrous festival of kitsch complete with horses, sunsets, and Kanye dry-humping a topless Kim Kardashian on a motorcycle. In “Bound 3,” Franco replaces Kanye, and Rogen, naturally, replaces Kardashian. Due to the stream of superlatives being awarded to the parody—epic, viral, winning the Internet, destroying the Internet—I sat down to watch it with high expectations. But after 30 seconds, I cringed and turned it off, free of the temptation to add my “OMG #WINNING” tweet to the cascade. The gag is just too familiar: a guy kissing a guy (instead of a lady), with a little wink of knowingness to let itself off the hook.

But I’m in the minority: Kanye’s original video has 9 million views; the parody already has half that. The popularity is understandable: The “Shot. By. Shot.” fidelity of "Bound 3" is impressive (watch this side-by-side for proof). It’s a feat of editing for sure—but that precision only underscores the fact that the only real joke is that they subbed a man for a woman. Everything else is the same.  

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Adding the specter of queerness to make something funny is nothing new or shocking. It’s a classic in the bro-humor canon (a straight prostitute turns out to be trans, like in The Hangover II; instant LOLs) and in stand-up (James Franco’s recent roast was one nonstop gay joke). Whether that stuff is homophobic or offensive or fair-game in comedy is a separate conversation. But at least people are aware that it might be iffy—what’s interesting here is how a video like "Bound 3" gets treated without suspicion.

One of the many people who emailed me the video when it was blowing up was an old boss, surely with the best of intentions. He thought I’d get a kick out of it, not thinking of me as gay, but rather just remembering the Kanye-mocking hours we shared in the aftermath of Swift-gate. Yet, it’s hard to imagine him sending me a clip of Seth Rogen calling James Franco a cocksucker eight different ways—just like it’s hard to imagine many of the swath of liberal Internet who loved "Bound 3" delighting so simply in more straightforward gay jokes.

It’s not that Franco and Rogen are bigots—given Franco’s demonstrated interest in serious gay-themed projects, such a charge is especially impossible in his case. And perhaps the duo was trying in some way to critique the sexist position Kardashian occupies in the original video. But there is still some sense here that gay kissing is transgressive or risky, evidenced by the fact that people have praised them for being so "comfortable with [their] manhood."

And that’s the part I’m sick of. Sure, it can be read as a step forward that today mainstream actors aren’t afraid to be seen kissing men in jest, the way they surely would have been a generation ago. But that an image of gay affection—just by virtue of its gayness—can still propel a joke to viral stardom is a sign of another step we’ve yet to take. Lots of us now live in a world where two guys cuddle and kiss, and where it’s not a joke at all, but simply loving or sweet.

The whole point of parody is that it hones in on something true about its subject and exaggerates it for comedy. Obama as a patrician professor, Bush as an illiterate cowboy. “Bound 3” doesn’t amp up Kanye’s kitsch or try to highlight his messianic self-seriousness; all it does it gay up his straightness. At best, that’s a failure of imagination. (Kanye’s heterosexuality was the thing that popped out at you to mock?) At worst, it’s regressive.

Follow Ben on Twitter @BenReininga.