Everyone loves Matt Damon. “I know you and I know you’re not that guy.” Yesterday, that was Ellen Degeneres addressing her guest, actor Matt Damon, who once again made the kind of oblivious remarks that could only fall from the mouth of an affluent straight white male in 21st century USA. In Ellen’s opinion, Damon is a good guy who is really not that guy. Except, of course, by having to come right out and tell America that he’s not that guy, that’s exactly who he is.
I know Matt Damon is a good guy. I was happy to help set the record straight (or gay. Up to you) http://ellen.tv/1OD5nA1
This past month, he’s suddenly clarified why the South Park guys, Matt Stone and Trey Parker, gave the Damon marionette in “Team America,” 2004, just one line: his own name, said ove and over again. When he speaks extemporaneously, he has an unfortunate tendency to say the kind of things that makes headlines for all the wrong reasons. Even with Ellen Degeneres giving him lots of wiggle room, he actually repeated, by way of self-defense, the same dunderheaded remarks that got him in trouble in the first place—the affirmation that actors are more effective when there’s a little “mystery” about their personal lives so they ought to keep their sexual orientation to themselves.
With an expression of clueless affability on his boyish face, Damon looked out at an studio audience that he clearly expected to forgive him, oblivious to the fact that Ellen looked as if she’d just sucked on a lemon. In 1997, she famously came out on her scripted television show, “Ellen,” making her the first actor playing a leading role where both she and her character publicly identified as lesbian. There was significant backlash—followed by hard-won success, which kind of puts the kibosh on Damon’s belief that being out of the closet is, for an actor, the kiss of professional death. Yet he seemed unaware of the courageous history that brought Ellen to the very place where she could now be interviewing him on a hugely popular talk show that, as of last count, had won 33 Daytime Emmys. Instead, he offered a mind-boggling repeat of his attempt to whitesplain diversity to Effie Brown, a successful Black female producer who’d appeared on his show, “Project Greenlight,” earlier this month.
Which is why #Damonsplaining is a thing and he is now that guy, because he’s earned the dubious honor of being Ambassador Clueless. Dude, stop talking. Really. It’s painful. We want to love you, Jason Bourne! American wants to root for you, My Favorite Martian! But as of this morning, Fox & Friends is on your side for saying what’s on their mind, which is why there is sorrow and confusion in Liberal Land. Just stop talking! (And read some books, maybe only written by women of color because it’s time for gaining a teensy bit of perspective on the world your daughters will inherit. For starters, try this list, along with Celeste Ng, Natalie Baszile, Naomi Williams, and Vanessa Garcia.)
How, exactly, does one get to be that guy? Behold, Reddit has the answers!
That guy is a douchebag who leaves dirty underwear on the floor and blames it on the dog. Explains one Redditor: “Regularly bitching about your own job to your unemployed friends is also an ass move.” Says another: “A normal person, when called on their behavior, will apologize. A normal person will make an effort to change for the better. Not THAT GUY, though. THAT fucking GUY will accuse you of overreacting. He’ll say, “it was just a joke, man,” as if he had done nothing wrong. In his mind, he can do no wrong.”
That guy is not to be confused with the guy, such as Guy Fleegman on “Galaxy Quest,” 1999, whose hapless fate is to be the guy killed off early on in order to move the plot along. It is also to be distinguished from The Man, as in “you the man!” who is simultaneously the essence of cool (Samuel L. Jackson) as well as the faceless specter of corporate oppression, i.e. working for The Man.
However, The Man looms large in the mind of that guy, who aspires to be him and so does stupid testosterone-y things. “When we see him in action, or see the consequences he faces, he’s a reminder to all of us: “Don’t let me be That Guy,” notes the website, thatguy.com. ”The day after, when everyone’s talking about his antics, we’re so glad we weren’t That Guy. If we become That Guy on occasion, we regret it. If we’re That Guy all the time, we need help. But the truth is, no one wants to be That Guy.”
I’d thought thatguy.com was like a humor site along the lines of Clickhole or possibly a PSA run by the reformed Tucker Max, but it’s a government website funded by the Department of Defense and chiefly aimed at exposing the dangers of drinking. That’s how dire the “that guy” problem has become in this country. Oh yeah, women can be “that guy” too, suggesting that this campaign was dreamed up by New Englanders, where the collective is always “you guys” even if the group is 100 percent female.
The trouble is that Damon is The Man who is that guy at the same time. Somewhere along the way, he stopped being Will Hunting, an earnest kid from Southie heroically fighting class bias and economic disadvantages while mining the trope of the overlooked white genius, and morphed into Edward Wilson, his character from “The Good Shepherd,” 2006. Wilson starts off as an earnest, privileged Yalie who, despite his best intentions, ends up head of counter-intelligence at a fictionalized CIA. Known to the Russians by the code name, “Mother,” he becomes the kind of man who will throw anyone out of the plane if it serves his professional interests.
Matt Damon’s a producer, writer, and Oscar winner who gets to star in blockbuster films while openly showing his middle age. Nobody wants to be that guy, yet every actor wants Damon’s career. So when he blurts out during an interview for his latest big budget film that boils down to sorry, I’m a star but you’re not because gay actors don’t have it so good in Hollywood, he’s trying to have it both ways — disavowing his place as a fully vested Establishment man while playing the role of a powerless bit player. That’s why people are annoyed and outraged, not because he occasionally inserts his foot in mouth. Not just because mistakes are being made.
Gaffes, malapropisms, and accidental expletives are the way of the world. But soft homophobia is not okay, and neither is well-intentioned bigotry. “It shocks me that you and Ben are not gay,” Ellen responded dryly, to a chorus of laughs from the audience, but “you want to deny it and keep your ‘mystery’ and your marriage and your daughters.” Without saying so in a confrontational manner, she put her finger on the exact reason why Damon’s comments prompted so many exhausted facepalms: he’s congratulating himself for his own heteronormativity while telling everyone else to stay silent. Metatext: Why actively promote diversity when the status quo works really well for him? As Shelley Levene (Jack Lemmon) declared in the film, “Glengarry Glen Ross” (1992): ”You can’t think on your feet, you oughta keep your mouth closed.” Ellen, please keep talking.