Not All Jokes, *That* Joke

Apparently Ricky Gervais hosted the Golden Globes the other night.  To be honest, I can’t really understand why.  He hasn’t crossed my entertainment radar recently so I kind of forgot he existed.  As much as I was once entertained by him, there was a turning point that caused me to move on.  It’s fine, Ricky Gervais is not required to be entertaining to specific people.  He’s got an audience, good for him.

In any case, as a part of his Golden Globes jokes, he said something about Caitlyn Jenner, which is as follows:

“I’ve changed, not as much as Bruce Jenner, obviously.”… “What a year she’s had. She became a role model for trans people everywhere, showing great bravery in breaking down barriers and destroying stereotypes. She didn’t do a lot for women drivers, but you can’t do everything.”

There was then backlash about Gevais having used the name Bruce Jenner rather than Caitlyn Jenner.  Many commented that the joke was transphobic to which he later responded…

Nope.  That’s not what it is.  In fact I would imagine that very few, if indeed any, people are suggesting that any joke about Caitlyn Jenner is “automatically transphobic.”  My favorite defense when a comedian disagrees with offense taken at their joke is “oh, so any time I say anything about X it’s automatically <insert oppressive system here>.?”  No.  That is not the case, the offense does not extend beyond the statement in question.

In fact, I would even argue that when he says “she didn’t do a lot for women drivers, but you can’t do everything” is pretty funny.  The joke is not that women are bad drivers.  The joke points to a stereotype about women in juxtaposition with Caitlyn Jenner’s involvement in a deadly car crash.  Caitlyn Jenner, in addition to being a transwoman, is also incredibly rich and privileged and has possibly – like so many famous people before her – escaped justice because of her wealth and fame.  He could totally have complimented her bravery and moved on to the driving thing without preceding it with the bad part which is…

…comparing whatever changes have happened in Ricky Gervais’ life with the alteration of the public presentation of Caitlyn Jenner’s gender identity.  That is transphobic.  When a transgender person comes out and makes the decision to transition (or not), what they are doing is not comparable to basically anything except that.  And of course Ricky Gervais was only saying he had changed as a set up to poke fun at Caitlyn Jenner.  He said “…as I say I’m going to be nice tonight, I’ve changed…” followed by a joke about Caitlyn Jenner’s transition.  That was a joke at the expense of a person’s gender identity.  So, yes, that was transphobic.

Here’s the thing, though, Ricky Gervais is the sort of person who really loves it when you’re mad at him.  There’s nothing that makes him happier.  He’s not listening to any of your reasonable remarks about how “hate-motivated violence against transgender people rose 13% last year.”  He doesn’t care that a survey in 2014 showed that 57% of respondents whose families had cut ties with them had tried to end their lives.  Does he know or care than one in ten transgender people has been evicted from their home because of their gender identity?   I don’t know.  Maybe he does care.  I doubt he’s made of stone, although his personal cause seems to be animal rights.  And that’s fine.  There are lots of problems in the world and we don’t all have to focus on the same ones.

In the meantime, maybe consider that as we progress as a society it may become appropriate to alter the way we speak and there’s nothing terrifying or freedom trampling about it.  Likewise, using language or making jokes that perpetuate a sense that it’s okay to have your fun at the expense of a particular group’s identity is decidedly uncool.  Also, maybe pissing people off for fun doesn’t make you cool or above other people’s petty concerns, maybe it just makes you a douchebag.

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