NBC’s Saturday Night Live is at the center of controversy for a skit broadcast last week where it used men in dresses – facial hair and all – to portray transwomen. GLAAD has called this “anti-transgender” and wants NBC to apologize.
Click here and scroll to the bottom of the page to see the January 29 skit (the page will open in a new window).
In the January 29 episode of Saturday Night Live, NBC broadcast a dangerous and blatantly anti-transgender segment which they called ‘Estro-Maxxx’ – the punch line of which was the lives of countless transgender people across the country.
The piece was a mock commercial for estrogen replacement therapy and featured men with facial hair wearing dresses, meant to represent transgender women. 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 violence, discrimination and harassment that transgender Americans experience each and every day is no laughing matter,” said GLAAD President Jarrett Barrios. “Saturday Night Live is a touchstone of American comedy, but Saturday’s unfunny skit sends a destructive and dehumanizing message.”
As someone who personally enjoys a variety of comedy styles, I would in most circumstances be reluctant to draw attention to a joke or comedy scene that I find unfunny, preferring to let it die on its own by the cold hard slap of silence. However, sometimes we have to talk about why things aren’t funny.
When the joke – and I use the term loosely – hinges on portraying a section of society which, as GLAAD points out, is so often dehumanized, and does so without thought for those individuals, as evidenced here by blatant misgendering and by misrepresenting the transitioning process itself, I am forced to question the comedic sensibility behind the work.
Moreover, I would stress that this skit actively uses trans people and their lives to prop up the labored joke. Whatever the true subject of the skit was (apparently they were taking aim at modern, pill-popping culture), the skit stands out as being exploitative.
It should also be pointed out that this puerile material, whether intentionally or not, draws on the way in which many anti-trans groups seriously portray trans-identifying individuals by reducing them to sexualized caricatures. In fact you can see the men in a dress meme being actively cited by right leaning groups (the so-called “bathroom question” comes to mind) as reasons used to deny trans people basic protections such as employment non-discrimination.
GLAAD is calling on NBC to apologize for the skit and would like to remind them that dehumanizing trans people for the purpose of getting a (cheap) laugh is unacceptable.
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