Before this week, I didn’t know Matt Damon was in his late eighties and had been relegated to the “comfy chair” at the Christmas dinner table, blanket over his knees, sitting up every now and then to bellow, “WHAT’S THAT?” before burping and mumbling a bit and nodding off before it’s time for the trifle.
Hadn’t realised that Grandad Damon – who recently let slip that he was told off by his daughter for using the “f-slur for a homosexual” just “months ago” – had actually been born somewhere in the vicinity of 1928, when it might, and I use the word “might” very loosely indeed, have been (not-really-but-we’ll-let-it-slide) “understandable” to use a word that would make even Enid Blyton blush; a word that might once have been deemed “acceptable” to describe someone – or a group of people – before the world woke up and realised it was offensive.
But Elder Damon doesn’t realise, you see, he doesn’t remember, he doesn’t understand because he’s so old, apparently; he can’t possibly be expected to keep up with all these newfangled “woke” linguistics, the dictionary of #BeKind; all those words you can say and words you can’t; all those delicious insults sadly gone to waste; the ones put on the red list by the bleedin’ snowflake brigade.
It’s PC gone mad, Wise Old Damon believes, it really is; that’s what he’s muttering as he shakes his head vociferously and hunts for his glasses, which were there a minute ago, so where could they possibly have gone now?
How do we deal with our casually offensive elders? Well, we try to point it out; we lean in close and say loudly, so they can hear us (because hearing might have become more of a problem these days) and we tell them: “You shouldn’t say that, because it’s rude and hateful and it hurts people’s feelings.”
After that we might try and let it go, Ancient Damon, we’ll do an eye-roll to everyone around him who understands the world a bit more than he does and who has the misfortune of overhearing his peculiar ranting and raving. “That’s Matt Damon,” we’ll mouth to each other. “He’s a little – you know.” And not every older person will be this way, of course they won’t, but some will, and are, and that – apparently – includes Matt Damon.
And we’ll give a pointed stare that’s half grimace, half-sympathy. This situation makes us all awkward because the truth we’re trying so hard not to acknowledge – the incontrovertible fact that everyone is steadfastly working to ignore – is that Matt Damon is actually only 50. And he should know better.
Because unless you really are 93 years old, and going a bit deaf, and having a bit of an issue with your memory and how words work – or you’ve been stuck in a remote hinterland since you were a child and your plane crashed and you haven’t had any contact with modern society in decades and have only been recently rediscovered and reintegrated thanks to a plucky pair of explorers, a bit like in Paddington – you can’t blame being homophobic on “it’s just a joke” or “I didn’t know” or “I didn’t realise”. I’m sorry, you simply cannot. It doesn’t wash. You know. And if you don’t already know, then you should.
Ye Olde Damon revealed that after his daughter criticised him for using the offensive term and “left the table”, he told her: “Come on, that’s a joke! I say it in the movie Stuck on You!” – a movie that came out in 2003, when Primordial Man Damon was already in his seventies.
But it’s not a joke, and if it was intended to be, then it’s a misfire because it’s so achingly unfunny. Homophobia isn’t a joke, and neither are statistics which reveal that in the UK alone last year there was a 20 per cent rise in reports to police of homophobic hate crime. In the US, where Not-So-Wise Damon lives, hate crimes against LGBTQ+ people have also risen in recent years, according to FBI data.
Father Damon, contrary to appearances, hasn’t been living in a hole for many years – he’s a Hollywood star. He also has much more influence than your average shouter-of-slurs in the street, which makes his claim of it being just “a joke” even worse and much more dangerous. At least nobody is likely to copy Mad John from Number 42.
Still, at least Sage Damon, The First Of His Name, has learned his lesson. He may be approaching his centenary, but he now says he understands, thanks to the stark and relative youthful wokeness of his daughter. “She went to her room and wrote a very long, beautiful treatise on how that word is dangerous,” the actor said. “I said, ‘I retire the f-slur!’ I understood.””
Which just goes to show you – that as Veteran Screen Star Damon has realised, words matter. And as soon as you find out you’ve messed up and said something you shouldn’t, you (and this is simple) stop using it.
It’s taken him almost 94 years, but Antediluvian Damon gets it now. Let’s just hope the rest of the world follows in his slow and shuffling footsteps.