I wanted to write a piece about the training that London cab drivers go through with “the knowledge” as well as the training that bus and lorry drivers must endure to receive their passenger-carrying vehicle license. But I just can’t. Ever since reading about this ridiculous petition by one Sarah Rose to “[b]oycott ‘Zoolander 2’ for its offensive representation of non-binary individuals!” I am shocked that—at the moment of my writing this sentence—almost 13,000 folks have signed one of the most idiotic petitions of all time. Am I being harsh here? Not really. In fact, I am being generous in the face of what is a stunningly miscreant effort to boycott a film based on a snippet of a movie (yeah, you read right—the author of this petition has not even seen the movie, just its trailer) which principally makes fun of wealthy, white male models (such an oppressed group don’t you know). And this movie along with its principle actors are being targeted because of Benedict Cumberbatch’s character (All) who, according to Rose, “is clearly portrayed as an over-the-top, cartoonish mockery of androgyne/trans/non-binary individuals.” (Did she even attempt to proofread that sentence or was it one of those “it makes sense to me” moments?) Rose goes on to state: “This is the modern equivalent of using blackface to represent a minority,” urging signatories to “Tell Paramount Pictures, Ben Stiller, and Benedict Cumberbatch that mocking transgender/androgyne/gender fluid individuals is not okay – sign this petition to pledge to boycott the film!”
Now after a good laugh at the language and hyperbole of this petition, it became immediately clear that language is at the heart of this nonsensical piece of prose as are the “identities” which seem more cartoonish as one progresses through the petition. In short, the naming of these “identities” reveals a striving for some sort of religious metonymy, where being “androgyne” (what is that? French?) automatically signifies a sacred space of no mocking—especially not in a comedy about good-looking models who aren’t too smart. The same goes for all the other named—and I presumed unnamed or astrally projected—identities.
What is at the heart of this sort of movement, however, resonates a crisis of identity and indicates a sense of entitlement, an adolescent need to act out multifarious identities which may or may not be that of Benedict Cumberbatch’s character (again, we don’t know because we only have access to the trailer until the movie is released in 2016). But a movie—a comedy no less—about the murders of white male models who die doing Derek Zoolander’s “signature looks” (ie. “blue steel”, “magnum,” etc) is being protested because of the following scene:
Stiller’s Zoolander: Are you like a male model or a female model?
Cumberpatch’s All: All is All?
Wilson’s Hansel: I think he is asking do you have a hot dog or a bun?
Cumberpatch’s All: [giggles, putting hand on mouth] Ooops.
From this exchange it is decided that a grave wrong has been committed. Over the past 48 hours, more has been added to the list of sins consecrated by this production company and its actors. And thousands have taken part in this circus by signing an incoherent petition that seeks to protect the status of some of the most privileged people on the planet: models. Sure the petition discusses the mocking of transgender and other persons, but clearly Rose either has never seen Zoolander or is wilfully ignorant of what satire is about. For Cumberpatch’s “oops” like Derek Zoolander’s inability to “read good” (hence his reading Owen Wilson’s tag as “Lamé” instead of “lame”) operates as the joke: it is not gender at play here but of people just like Derek Zoolander want to find out if “there’s a lot more to life than being really, really, ridiculously good looking.”
Bewilderingly, the petition suggests that the Andreja Pejic could have played the role of Cumberpatch. Wait a minute ther. First the petition likens the film (or rather Cumberpatch’s portrayal of All) as offensive and it asks that Andreja Pejic, a recently self-professed transgender person, play the offensive part? And the petition goes on to assume that Cumberpatch is “cis,” an extremely problematic term for someone who allegedly identifies with the sex with which they are born. (I don’t know anyone who identifies with a gender aside from trans persons!) Yet this part of the petition is highly ironic of course, since actors have the unique profession of identifying with everything–with the role, in preparation for the role, and for some actors pieces of the role stay with them forever. So by the illogic of this petition, it is stating that Cumberbatch’s character is “over-the-top” (because the rest of the characters in Zoolander are so serious and realistic, right?) and that such a role which is offensive to Rose can more accurately be played by someone who is not at all an actor, but someone who is just transgender because that is what Ms. Rose understood from her ten second view of that clip. Did you get whiplash following that bit?
If you want realism in cinema where only six-foot people play six-foot people, where only those who grew up in poverty play roles of those living in dire straits, and where only lawyers play lawyers, you might ought to give up cinema altogether or set out to become a producer to make really lame films where nobody is an actor. Fiction cinema is not the place of reality and anyone who has seen Zoolander, knows that it is not a movie that spares any of its characters. Personally, I think the author of this petition needs to go to The Derek Zoolander School for Kids Who Can’t Read Good and Want to Do Other Stuff Good Too. But then maybe I am just being bulimic?