I was watching Shrek 2 with my kids the other night and there was joke about the wolf who lies in wait for Little Red Riding Hood being “gender-confused.” Uh-oh. In about five seconds, that phrase is going to be about as welcome as the N-word in a kids’ movie. Shrek 2 dates from 2004. In The Hangover, Bradley Cooper calls out, “Paging Dr. Faggot.” The Hangover dates from 2009.
When HBO Max briefly pulled Gone with the Wind for a sensitivity review, it could have been a one-off; GWTW is more than 80 years old, really did come from a different time, and really does strike a sentimental stance about slavery. But slippery-slopists wondered if those who take offense at GWTW really would stop there. Now we have our answer: HBO Max has slapped a trigger warning on Mel Brooks’s Blazing Saddles, one of the signature comedies of its corporate sibling Warner Bros. and a movie that makes robust use of the N-word, though to an anti-racist purpose. (Richard Pryor contributed to the script and “first and foremost, the black comedian unleashed the word ‘n****r’” according to Funny Man, Patrick McGilligan’s biography of Brooks). HBO Max appended a three-minute introduction by a black film scholar so that we may now all understand the film’s “proper social context.”
Did anyone really need this? As Andrew Sullivan astutely put it: We all live on campus now. But the standard has been set by one of the world’s largest entertainment companies: If they have to do this with Blazing Saddles, they’ll have to slap trigger warnings, labels and introductions on practically everything that was made B.W. (Before Woke). It’ll be a replay of the era when Tipper Gore demanded (and got) warning labels on records containing offensive language. The labels went on the records, everyone ignored the labels, and life went on.