Harold & Kumar (& a Cockmeat sandwich)

With the new sequel Harold and Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay finally out, teenage (and not-so-teenage) boys are flocking to theaters to enjoy the sex, drugs, and nudity that are no doubt an integral part of the film. While the first movie has been hailed as one of the very few successful mainstream movies with a South Asian lead (the only other movies I can think of are Bend it Like Beckham and The Namesake), Harold and Kumar is the frontrunner in terms of appealing to general audiences. For many of us, this movie signifies a rare occasion where a Desi does not make an appearance simply to be the brunt of a cheap joke, but instead is the one making the jokes (and with the sound of it, everyone else is laughing as well)!

Just by having "Guantanamo Bay" in the title, you can tell that the movie is clearly trying to take issue with the war on terror and Harold and Kumar uses it as a platform to make fun of the "white man." It's not a movie for everyone - their tactic is to push the line with vulgarity and satirize perceptions about race with every possible racist stereotype in the book. It's almost as if they went down a list: Asian jokes, check; Arab/Indian jokes, check; Jewish jokes, check; black jokes check. So with such deliberate planning, it's hard to believe they skipped over tackling gender issues, at least for satire. While the film does slightly stray from being typical straight, white, male humor, it is right on the dot for typical straight, male humor.

That much being said, queers are definitely one of the major targets. To become normalized, Harold and Kumar engages in the standard heterosexist humor. Any queer/gender joke serves more as the base humor, and there is a sense of underlying homophobia (or at least penis-phobia) and disrespect for women...aka why would any man want to touch a penis? Penises are disgusting (but it's okay if a girl does it). And sadly but not surprisingly, no strong women of color are in the movie. I thought the movie was hilarious; they could have brought it up a notch with at least one funny Asian woman.

So what do the non-desi gays think? I can see most being a little turned off by this movie, as an excerpt from an AfterElton.com review shows:

Maybe H&K thinks it's being "edgy" and making fun of homophobia by including lame gay panic gags (forced oral sex in prison, complete with the attempted rapist calling the heroes "fags") and bandying about words like "queers", "fag", and "c*ckmeat sandwich". And if it were done intelligently and with a modicum of skill (like, say, South Park does), I could buy that. But here it's mean-spirited and not very clever, and it will likely make any gay viewer squirm in his seat. The racist jokes that perforate the rest of the movie are at least making a point about racism, but with the gay jokes the context is missing, and so is the satire.

Case in point: at the very end of the movie, two gay characters (they show up literally seconds before and stick around for two whole shots) kiss as the punchline to a standard jealousy gag. I'm sure the filmmakers intended this to be a laugh, but the entire audience at the screening I attended actually booed the gay kiss. (and this is New York City!) Why would this be? Maybe because the film sets up any mention of gayness as something to be viewed with scorn? Come on, guys. Let's be a little more careful.

It's like being pulled apart in two different directions. What's a queer desi to do? If you’re sensitive to heterosexism, I suggest renting the DVD and fast-forwarding through the homophobia. Besides openly gay Neil Patrick Harris being hailed as a hero in the film (ie What would NPH do?), another saving grace is the endearing poem at the end of the movie. Any nerd can appreciate "The Square Root of Three" which was originally written by David Feinberg, an MIT graduate and a gay-rights and AIDS activist. But it took some digging to find that connection.

So, did anyone else enjoy/hate the film?

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