Wednesday, April 4, 2007

The F*G jokes go on

Talking about the recent lesbian spring event, Jay Leno quipped that they held “a wet lumberjack shirt contest” (as opposed to a feminine wet T-shirt contest, ha ha!) as his pet band leader dutifully guffawed. Then Leno mimicked someone writing a letter in protest, a lame attempt to make the point that if you protested the joke you had no sense of humor. Well, I have a great sense of humor, but I've heard stuff like this too often over the years. It's basically a "fag joke," even if that and the “dyke” word weren't used. If Ellen Degeneres told this joke – although she probably wouldn't (and if she did I would suggest that she, like Leno, needs better, fresher material) – would it be funny? Maybe it would depend on the delivery, if there was a certain sense of irony. But gay humor as interpreted by a gay comic can become a fag joke when told by a straight person, especially one as clueless as Leno. I'm sure Leno might tell you that the joke should be categorized as one of those that's “so offensive it's inoffensive,” that the political incorrectness was deliberate and not meant to be hurtful, that we need to get over ourselves, and that of course he knows all lesbians are not super-butch caricatures (not that I mean to put down any lesbian regardless of where she lies in the butch to femme spectrum). But does he? Leno is typical of the snide straight comic who feigns sophistication with matters gay but in reality he's just another hetero who thinks “who are they kidding? Dykes are all butch, ugly and mannish in their apparel.” Does anyone think he really knows any better?

I've no doubt even some gays may say “it's not that bad, it's silly, you gotta have a sense of humor” but I say that I've heard too many jokes like this over too many years to find them even remotely amusing anymore, if ever. The joke is old hat, tiresome -- it and endless variations of it have been done countless times before. It isn't clever or witty, it's witless and unoriginal. And, yes, it's homophobic.

An aside: sadly I know there are some gay men who have issues with gay women ( and vice versa) and may have laughed along with the rest of the audience. To them I would say try making a gender switch with the joke and insert, say, hairdressing contest or something along those lines. I'm offended by anti-lesbian jokes because it's the put-down of a gay person, and I'm a gay person, albeit male. If you laugh at the put-down of a lesbian, you're laughing at a put-down of yourself. (One of the many problems I had with the program Will and Grace was its generally dismissive and crude attitude towards gay women; I also object to put-downs of women in general.)

But there's something worse. Several months ago a young gay man sent a letter to Leno complaining about all the gay put-downs on the Tonight show; the letter circulated the Internet. Leno's pantomime of an angry gay or lesbian writing him a letter pretty much says what Leno thought of the very well-written and impassioned missive he received from the young gay man who'd simply had enough of his crap.

You see, people like Leno truly think of gays as a small oddball section of the universe. It probably never occurred to him that some lesbians, vacationing in New York, would even come to see his show tonight (even if it is entirely geared toward a straight middle-class audience) because they wanted to see a particular celebrity or just wanted a chance to see themselves on TV. If any lesbians did attend the taping, I can imagine how they felt: diminished, belittled, dehumanized. Comics like Leno tell fag jokes – and make no mistake that that's what they are – because to them gays are virtually invisible, and therefore their feelings don't really matter. He can't be bothered worrying about a bunch of freaks who, in his opinion, are a minuscule part of his audience.

When I was in the Gay Activists Alliance in New York I exchanged a series of letters with the producer of the Tonight Show when Johnny Carson was behind the desk. He was polite, somewhat interested, but I had a feeling I never really got through to him. But now decades have gone by, and we're still not “getting through” to people. Then as now, some people will get it and some people won't, either because they're too narrow to understand the message or don't care to stop, listen and cogitate on something that is basically outside their narrow sphere of utter self-absorption.

It's fair to say there will be no big change in the near-future.