TW: Mentions of homophobia, transphobia
Queer audiences in the US and across the globe were not pleased with John Krasinski and Pete Davidson’s opening monologue kiss or Michael Che’s comment about Biden’s repealing the ban on trans Americans enlisting in the US military.
Once again televisions seems to be making stale jokes at the expense of depicting same-sex relationships. Watching John Krasinski and Pete Davidson exchange a smooch on the latest “Saturday Night Live” show made me reflect on all the times queer people’s lives were reduced to mere comical tropes in mainstream cinema.
At the opening of host Krasinski’s monologue, the cast members kept interrupting with various funny references to his character from The Office – including a lot of asking about Pam. That’s when Davidson stood beside him on stage.
“I think they really need for someone to be Pam,” Davidson said to Krasinski. “I think we’ve got to give them what they want. Jim, I think you have to kiss Pam.”
So, they kissed.
After they kissed, the live audience seemed to applaud and chuckle (upon being prompted to?), but Twitterverse was visibly underwhelmed about watching two cis-men kissing as a joke.
Two cis, white, straight men kissing and calling it comedy has always annoyed me. Homophobia is not a laugh track to the narrative of our lives.
The conclusion of a sitcom segment with two straight men kissing is not the same thing as embracing gay people and partners with what they are. If anything, that should be viewed as natural, not as a circus act to keep people amused.
I’m sure there might be young queer community members watching “SNL” who feel strange about watching two white men kiss on national television for hoopla. They might be watching it with their family, picking up on the narrative that this isn’t “natural,” and hence it has drawn attention.
Criticism intensified when Michael Che took a dig at the cost of transgender and gender non-conforming (TGNC) people later in the show. When debating US President Biden’s latest executive order to repeal Trump’s ban on the participation of transgender people in the military, in his “Weekend Update” segment, he joked, “It’s good news, except that Biden calls the policy, ‘Don’t ask, don’t tuck.'”
The remark sparked even more outrage from viewers, especially TGNC viewers, who pointed out that the joke was “transphobic” and “offensive.”
“Transphobia is never funny,” said Imara Jones, the founder of TransLash Internet, in response to the footage.
Dwelling on the use of profane language and performative queerness in popular culture, I think back to scenes in cinema in India as well as in the US. With a few rare exceptions, LGBT characters in the storied record of Bollywood movies, have never clearly existed. And in the unlikely case where they made an appearance, they were depicted in the most homophobic ways imaginable.
Queer characters were either used for delivering offensive punch lines, or worse, they were shown to be such disgusting individuals who covet the attention of straight men.
This stereotyping is not exclusive to Dostana or Kal Ho Naa Ho. There’s a number of other movies like Fashion, Student of the Year, Partner, and Laxmii wherein queer characters were openly stigmatized.
Remember when Pretentious Movie Reviews let us know how Fardeen Khan’s debut film had an effeminate character just to “crack a cringey joke?”
The female lead encounters the character in the most random way possible and says- “Tumhara naam ‘Jay Mehra nahi, Gay Mehra hona chahiye.”
No one show or film need carry all the burden of authentic queer representation. However, given their cult-like following and decades-long tradition of watching and debating SNL sketches in popular media, these gaffes cannot be taken lightly. Token moves such as casting gay performer, Bowen Yang, does not take this onus off of them.
Now, more than ever, queer audiences hope that the discussion around the cheap ploy of a kiss is used to set an example to dissect the gaze that ridicules us time and again.
Sources: Them, USA Today, The Quint