So if you are going to be in New York tomorrow, and you care to protest the shameful exploitation of both trans women and some of the most brutal murders of trans people, you might want to run down and help us protest the Tribeca Film Festival’s decision to screen Ticked Off…Disparaging-Word-For-Trans-People…With Knives.
“Protest/rally Against Tribeca’s Decision to Premiere Transphobic Film “Ticked Off Trannies With Knives”
What: A protest/rally demanding that Tribeca Film Festival remove the transphobic film “Ticked Off Trannies With Knives (TOTWK)”. Melissa Sklarz- Director of New York Trans Rights Organization, celebrities, elected officials & LGBT activists will be speaking. A candle light vigil for trans victims of hate crimes will also be held.
Why: The movie makes light of violence and rape against trans women, exploits the high-profile murder of teenager Angie Zapata, includes the pejorative term “trannies” in its title, inaccurately depicts trans women’s identities as drag queen “performers” and “caricatures” and misrepresents the lives of an extremely disenfranchised group who suffer violence at alarming rates.
I can’t say that I’m a Sacha Baron Cohen fan. (Now, Simon Baron-Cohen, I can totes get behind.) My niece liked his song in Madagascar, I’ve probably seen Ali G a few times, and other than that I’ve been pretty much indifferent to him.
But that hasn’t been much of an option of late, thanks to this:
A lot of people–led by Liss over at Shakesville–have talked about the, oh, FAIL risk inherent about using homophobic humor to expose…homophobia. Hell, even the New York Times–not my usual stop for cutting-edge progressivism–says as much in a well-balanced review by A.O. Scott:
The film demonstrates, at a fairly high level of conceptual sophistication, that lampooning homophobia has become an acceptable, almost unavoidable form of homophobic humor, or at least a way of licensing gags that would otherwise be out of bounds. An early sequence that graphically shows Brüno and his lover exerting themselves in various positions and with the assistance of, among other things, a Champagne bottle, a fire extinguisher and a specially modified exercise machine, derives its humor less from the extremity of their practices than from the assumption that sex between men is inherently weird, gross and comical. The same sequence with a man and a woman — or for that matter, two women — would play, most likely on the Internet rather than in the multiplex, as inventive, moderately kinky pornography rather than as icky, gasp-inducing farce.
However, here at The Second Awakening, we don’t just do analysis: we do analysis of privilege! (It says so somewhere in the mission statement, which I think The Grey Mouser is using as a pillow right now.) So what can we say about the privilege used, abused, hidden, and sickeningly visible in Baron Cohen’s work? And is that the reason why no matter what, you always feel vaguely icky watching it?
To answer the last first: Yes. Yes it is.
The thing is, both Borat and Bruno1 are humor for privileged people. They let you, the privileged person, laugh at other people who aren’t as privileged as you. To make it funny, of course, we use multiple axes of privilege: so Borat spent a lot of time lampooning white people of different educational or cultural backgrounds. (Most egregiously, the Romanian villagers who provided the backdrop for the movie’s early scenes.)
The way that both these movies mitigate any privilege guilt you might have about laughing at other people (please, please tell me you have privilege guilt for laughing–not everybody does) is by selling you the ultimate privilege: you’re in on it. Unlike the hapless buffoons of the movie’s universe, you get the joke. You know all along that Borat isn’t really a Kazakh journalist, that Bruno isn’t really a gay fashionista–that Baron Cohen is using these guises to draw people out of their shell and show their true colors. Which are inevitably ugly or laughable. As A.O. Scott says,
They — Americans just like you but of course nothing like you — were exposed as bigots either for being outraged at the things Borat did or for politely agreeing with his misogynistic, anti-Semitic or otherwise objectionable statements. Any twinge of guilt you might have felt on behalf of the actual glorious nation of Kazakhstan was quickly soothed by the spectacle of American intolerance and idiocy that “Borat” purported to expose.
That’s not to say that this isn’t a time honored technique (Jonathan Swift, for example, used it to great effect.) But I have to feel that there’s a fundamental difference in, say, attacking the powerful by pointing out they were essentially eating the children of the Irish by oppressing them into starvation, and getting a laugh out of a few ordinary citizens who aren’t hip that they’re being lampooned.
I mean, it’s not like racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia (my personal fave) or anti-religious bigotry needs much encouragement to come out; nor is it likely that using a horrid charicature of gayness to draw people into overt homophobia is going to do much to alleviate homophobia. Instead, it’s more oppression masquerading as liberation; a joke for those “good” enough to be in on it, a joke on everyone else.
‘Cause not having privilege is hysterical. For them who have it.