So here’s the thing, kids:
Last week, some database containing my credit card information was compromised, and as a result, someone took my credit card number and ran up a variety of charges, including $170 at Victoria’s Secret. As I am of the “sleeping bra with ironic t-shirt” breed, the few times I’ve spent this amount at Vickie’s were gifts for bedmates, which is to say they were actually gifts for ME. But I digress. The point is, some skell decided to appropriate my card number for his or her use, and I didn’t even get a free fashion show? My rage was immediate, fiery and far-reaching. Lo, I did stretch forth my hand across the ether, and grabbed a customer service specialist by her throat with the iron grip of my will, and said, “CROSS ME NOT, MORTAL, FOR I WILL CONSUME THE SOULS OF ALL WHO OPPOSE ME IN THE INFERNO OF MY WRATH!”
OK, so what I ACTUALLY did was call up US Bank right away, and they of course deleted all the nonsense, sent out a new card, and let me talk to a Fraud Investigator, a very serious-sounding gentleman who probably wears sunglasses at all times and has his suits tailored at the same shop on Savile Row used by James Bond. So, in the space of an hour, I went from a white-hot supernova of all-consuming rage to a relatively calm, albeit moderately inconvenienced, writer of checks (until my new card arrives). This was Friday.
Saturday night, having completed another day of classes, I returned home, made some dinner, and watched a movie while I waited for Saturday Night Live to start. (If you’ve not seen “Red” yet, by the by, I heartily recommend it; nobody’s winning any Oscars for this carnival ride, but it will entertain the hell out of you.) I had stopped compulsively checking my balance to make sure the bastards hadn’t decided to clean me out totally, and as I sat drinking my tea and working a crossword,* I was feeling pretty okay with the world. Then Saturday Night Live came on, and after enduring a protracted and awkward opening with something called a “Jesse Eisenberg,” I adjusted my expectations and decided the episode could still be rescued by a new appearance by Stefon. However, what greeted me after the break was a fake commercial for something called “Estro-Maxx,” and by the time it was over, I felt like my identity had been stolen again (CAUTION: The following skit is what experts call “offensive as hell”):
Here’s my issue with this trainwreck of a skit: it violates the cardinal rule of humor, namely that whatever one is doing in the name of comedy should, in theory and practice, be FUNNY. It’s been a long, LONG time since “Saturday Night Live” was anyone’s idea of cutting-edge comedy, but within the boundaries of this piece of shameful dreck, the viewer is exposed to the very epitome of the lazy, sub-schoolyard humor that SNL’s writers have fallen back upon time and time again. What are the assumptions at play here? Allow me to enumerate:
1) Transwomen are simply men, acting like men, who happen to be wearing women’s clothing while they yuk it up.
2) Certainly transwomen cannot be portrayed as feminine, or dealing with a genuine medical issue, because, you know, we’re DIFFERENT, and that makes us both scary to the patriarchy and open targets for discrimination, mockery and derision.
3) No actual effort is required to make a point or clarify what, if anything, the writers were attempting to portray as amusing, as the mere sight of men in women’s clothing, playing with their developing breasts, is all the comedy one needs.**
Now, before the chorus of “aww, c’mon, can’t you take a JOKE?” fires up, I want you all to understand that I believe in equal comedic opportunities. I get that we all laugh at the white dude jokes, the gay dude jokes,the tree-hugging liberal jokes, the uptight, Bible-belching conservative jokes, the whatever-the-hell-is-wrong-with Michelle Bachman jokes, et hoc genus omne. But the point I want to underscore is that this skit falls outside these rules, both because it contains zero humor (the “joke” appears to be a slipshod mockery of venereal disease treatment ads (“Just once a day!”) and, I suppose, the fact that transwomen are genetically male, a tidbit that is, at its core, about as amusing as any other congenital birth defect. “Your baby has spina bifida? THAT’S HILARIOUS!”) and because it is LAZY AND IGNORANT of its target (OF COURSE transwomen walk around with full facial hair all the time! Har, har, har!). I’ve noted before with some discomfort the ease with which Seth Meyers’ staff on SNL, as well as that of Meyers’ mentor, Tina Fey, throw around the word “tranny” on their shows, using it to harvest the kind of cheap laughs the word “faggot” used (and, really, continues) to draw. Everyone is fair game for humor, but you don’t get a free pass for lazy hate propaganda smuggled in under the comedy flag.
Consider the following: Imagine a skit in which the individuals portrayed had another congenital ailment; Klinefelter’s Syndrome, for example. Often, there are no external signs of the extra X chromosome carried with this syndrome; as with Gender Identity Disorder, one cannot simply look at the individual and know that it is present, but it nevertheless affects one in 500 males born. Some seek hormone treatment to establish a more masculine identity and shape (some men afflicted with Klinefelter’s have a slightly rounded, faintly feminine cast to their features and body shape). So, imagine if you will, an advert wherein these men were shown taking “just one pill a day” to address a serious genetic anomaly. Imagine an advert with African-American women seeking treatment for Sickle-Cell Anemia, or a group of Hispanic individuals taking insulin for diabetes. A non-stop laugh fest, am I right?
I’ve seen other commentators taking issue with this skit refer to it as something “as offensive as blackface,” and I’m inclined to agree; seeing these members of the white male establishment parading around, ignorant of even the faintest understanding of the people they’re lampooning, made me want to chew tin foil. The point is, in drafting this skit, the writers and cast of SNL have not only contributed directly to a host of wildly incorrect assumptions and stereotypes about transwomen, but have, in effect, robbed us of our identity, stripping us of our womanhood and humanity, turning us into cardboard caricatures and turning our struggle to correct a painful and pervasive congenital defect – a struggle whose cost is measured not only in dollars, but in lives and dreams deferred – into fodder for their LCD-focused Laff-o-Meter.
And there’s nothing funny about that.
PISSED OFF? WANT TO LET NBC KNOW ABOUT IT? SPEAK UP!*Yes, I know you’re TOTALLY jealous of my Saturday nights. ** Provided one is, y’know, SEVEN YEARS OLD.