Jonah Hill Used a Homophobic Slur—Big Deal! 

Expanding the LGBTQ Conversation
June 3 2014 2:35 PM

The Cynicism of TMZ’s Homophobia-Trolling 

140068591-jonah-hill-arrives-to-the-vanity-fair-oscar-party-for
Jonah Hill attends an Oscar party.

Photo by ADRIAN SANCHEZ-GONZALEZ/AFP/Getty Images

Apparently, Jonah Hill said “faggot.” In fact, as seen in a video released by TMZ, Jonah Hill said “suck my dick, you faggot” to an aggressive paparazzo who had been harassing him in the Larchmont neighborhood of Los Angeles over the weekend. An on-the-record supporter of gay equality, Hill has already apologized for the slip, which the photographer clearly provoked, but no matter: We must now dust off our Alec Baldwin magnifying glasses and suss out whether Hill is secretly homophobic and whether this “faggot” merits dispatching a standard Statement of Condemnation or a full-scale Contrition and Re-Education Task Force from GLAAD headquarters.

If I sound glib, it’s because this is not a story—not really—and yet as a journalist who covers gay issues, I’m basically required to write about it as though it were. There are, of course, occasions when a celebrity using a slur would be news, but context matters, and a wild-eyed homophobic tirade is different from a bad word tossed off under one’s breath in a moment of frustration (the latter of which was the case here). While I agree with Gawker’s Rich Juzwiak that Hill should “think harder next time” he’s being accosted so that he might “choose [an expletive] that isn't tied to the oppression of a group that you claim to support,” I’m also willing to allow that, under duress, many of us might choose a term that’s stubbornly lodged deep within our juvenile vocabulary of pissed-off emotion before higher brain functions step in to remind us of its larger meaning.

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In any case, it’s good and right that Hill apologized for the misstep, and that should be the end of it. But here’s a humble proposal—could we also make it the end of gay beat writers (and celeb journalists) taking the HOMOPHOBIA?!?!? bait from traffic succubi like TMZ? I get that we are all primed to be on the lookout for anti-gay animus, and criticizing serious examples of it is a worthwhile endeavor. But this Hill episode and others like it—in which a person is being intentionally goaded to the point that they’re likely to say something controversial, homophobic or otherwise—is not serious. In fact, crying “homophobic slur,” as TMZ is doing here, is far more exploitative of the gay community—and the clicks homophobia outrage now increasingly commands—than it is supportive. Hill’s poor choice of words may be annoying, but to my mind, disingenuous homophobia-trolling is downright noxious. 

J. Bryan Lowder is a Slate assistant editor. He writes and edits for Outward, Slate’s LGBTQ section, and for the culture section.