Douchebag Decree: Saturday Night Live Makes Trans* People Their Punchline
I’ll be the first to admit that Saturday Night Live is a totally hit or miss show these days. There are definitely some skits that cause me to cramp up from laughing so hard, while others leave me bored. I get it - it takes a lot to put on a live, hour-and-a-half variety show every week, and not every joke will be a zinger. And while I don’t expect every second to make me laugh, I also don’t expect there to be parts of the show that will make me cringe and rage.
This past Saturday night started off promising. Host and musical guest Justin Timberlake was taking on his fifth show, and in honor of that, an array of talented and hilarious cameos made an appearance - from Tom Hanks to Steve Martin to Candice Bergen. I admit to laughing out loud at the commercial spoof for NuvaBling, and I got a little giddy at JT’s “Bring it on down to Veganville” sketch.
But then, it all went downhill with the pre-recorded clip parodying a rom-com movie trailer. There was such promise in the concept. Most romantic comedies follow a pretty stereotypical blueprint of: boy meets girl - misunderstanding ensues - boy gets girl, allowing SNL a great chance to mock it. The set-up was interesting, Timberlake and cast member Nasim Pedrad were the boy and girl who accidentally cross paths and begin dating. The trailer then starts to build up the suspense, as JT insinuates to his pal that the girl he’s dating has some big secret. They draw it out as long as possible before, surprise! The girl has a penis. Actually, according to the crassly worded fake movie title: “She’s Got a D!#k.” Apparently SNL hasn’t yet received the memo that trans* individuals are people, not punchlines for jokes.
Perhaps the skit was meant to be a critique of transphobia. But if so, it was a very sloppy one that wound up making non-confming bodies the butt of its humor. SNL was making fun of the absurdity of rom-coms and the couple ended up happily ever after in the end, so that means it couldn’t have possibly been transphobic, could it? Sorry, I don’t buy it. The "reveal" of the beautiful woman having a dick was made to not only be funny, but shocking and abnormal as well. That directly translates to larger societal (non)acceptance of trans* individuals. The joke would have been just as strong and the point about schlocky rom-coms would still have been made if the reveal was something actually absurd, like if she ended up being a robot or a mermaid or the Angel of Death or something.
This wasn’t the first time that SNL has used trans* individuals as punchlines either. A few years ago, GLAAD called out the program for a commercial spoof for the fake product Estro-Maxx, an estrogen drug for male-to-female transgender people. In a call for action on their website, GLAAD explained why the commercial was so problematic:
“This segment cannot be defended as "just a joke" because there was no "joke" to speak of. The attempted comedy of the skit hinges solely on degrading the lives and experiences of transgender women. Holding people up for ridicule simply on the basis of their identity fuels a hurtful climate and puts people in danger, especially given how infrequently the media shines a fair and accurate light on the lives of transgender people.”
The same holds true for this past weekend’s attempt at a “joke” made at trans* women’s expense. SNL had the opportunity to really skewer the ridiculous, eye-rolling formula that most rom-coms follow, yet instead, they relied on offensive, demeaning and dehumanizing “humor” by having the punchline be a trans* woman. The “joke” plays off harmful stereotypes and allows for the acceptance of transphobic comedy and derision.
One would have hoped that SNL would have learned from the vocal outrage over the Estro-Maxx commercial that transphobia is not fodder for comedy, yet it seems they clearly still have a ways to go till they stop being douchebags.
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