The Confusing Gay Politics Of “This Is The End”

Man-on-man love is totally fine, but man-on-man sex isn’t. (Warning: MAJOR SPOILERS.)

James Franco, Seth Rogen, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, and a giant penis in This Is The End

Via: Suzanne Hanover

It's a fact as old as humanity itself that penises are funny. They just are. They look funny, they move funny, and the way the humans who have them treat them is often hilarious.

Case in point: The apocalyptic comedy This Is The End. Written and directed by Seth Rogen and his childhood best friend Evan Goldberg, the movie is winning wide praise for its meta take on the classic disaster movie, casting Rogen, James Franco, Jonah Hill, Craig Robinson, Danny McBride, and Jay Baruchel as versions of themselves living through the Biblical End of Days. (The movie starts with a party at Franco's tricked-out modern home, featuring a cavalcade of celebrities — Michael Cera, Rihanna, Kevin Hart — all of whom die horribly in the ensuing apocalypse.) In the wake of the earthquakes, fiery sink-holes, and people being sucked into heaven by giant lights, the surviving actors hole up at Franco's house to ride out the disaster together. And because they're all graduates of Judd Apatow University, and because they're all thirtysomething straight dudes, their interactions invariably turn to dick jokes. The movie's climax involves maybe the biggest dick joke in the history of Hollywood. And, indeed, it is snorting-soda-out-of-your-nose funny.

The movie is so funny, in fact, that it was doubly disappointing — and confusing — whenever it partook in the dick joke's troublesome cousin: the gay sex joke.

Let me be clear: By "gay sex joke," I mean a joke whereby the punchline is any intimate contact between two men — and almost always, the men aren't gay. These jokes tap into the anxiety many straight men have about the abject horror of sexytimes with other men, or even the hint of it. The smarter and better versions of these jokes are more about that anxiety than the possibility of gay sex that causes it, but usually, they're just about the gay sex. And Hollywood comedies, especially of the last 30 years, are riddled with them. Before my showing of This Is The End, I watched a trailer for the Adam Sandler comedy Grown Ups 2 that climaxed with a naked Kevin James leaping into a lake and landing on a naked David Spade, followed by Spade crying in agony, "I was inside you!"

Jay Baruchel, Jonah Hill, and Seth Rogen get cozy in This Is The End

Via: Suzanne Hanover

Thankfully, This Is The End is too sly and self-aware to go for anything quite that clumsy. By casting actors who've built their careers on Apatowian man-boy comedy as, essentially, themselves, the movie often feels like it's about that kind of man-boy humor. It makes great sport of the self-involved egos and arrested adolescent psyches of today's A-list comedians — see, the movie seems to be saying, they always talk like this.

What is bewildering is that when it comes to man-on-man affection, This Is The End is incredibly sweet. But when it comes to man-on-man action, it is incredibly stupid. (Warning: From here on, it's all SPOILERS all the time.)

In the film, Rogen and Baruchel play old buddies from Canada whose friendship has been strained as Rogen's career has taken off in L.A. while, presumably, Baruchel is left to toil in relative obscurity back in Vancouver. The movie's story is ultimately concerned with whether this friendship can be saved, and the early scenes between the two carry a genuine, un-ironic affection. Rogen even lovingly arranges Baruchel's favorite bro pastimes — video games, junk food, pot — on his coffee table for Baruchel's visit, spelling out "Jay" in joints, or, as Rogen puts it, "Jay in Js!" And Baruchel is genuinely touched. It's clear these two guys really care for each other, and, much like Superbad — Rogen and Goldberg's first film as screenwriters — the movie celebrates the open affection between male friends as a genuine good thing.

Later, after the end of the world has started, Rogen snuggles up in his underwear next to Baruchel for the night to feel safer. When Hill promptly plops between the two old friends, he sparks an extended conversation about how to arrange their bodies for the night. In another movie, this could have devolved into a gay panic scene — I don't want your giblets near my buns!, and so forth. Instead, it's about how much Baruchel can't stand being around Hill, and wants as little contact with him as possible. Rogen and Hill don't really care where their giblets and buns end up.

Scenes like this prove that really funny sequences involving men touching other men don't have to be about men touching other men. No one ever says "fag" or "faggot," and no one ever recoils at the idea that they could be perceived of as gay. That is especially true of one of the most riotously profane exchanges I've ever seen in a Hollywood comedy, when Franco and Danny McBride get into an argument about the protocols of masturbation that ends up in a screaming match about all the different places they are going to, er, leave their deposits around the house.

That scene rides right up to the edge of homophobia, but never crosses the line, and it's a wonder to behold. I really wish I could just leave it at that, but, alas, This Is The End also cannot help but revel in several jokes that are quite literally about gay sex.

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