The Problem With SNL’s Fat-Shaming, Gay Bashing Spicer Jokes

Sean “Spicy” Spicer returned to SNL this week, played by Melissa McCarthy, accompanied by Sarah Huckabee Sanders, played by SNL cast member, Aidy Bryant.  And let’s not forget Alec Baldwin returning as President Trump.

There he/she was, briefing the press, with food-inhaling “Ms. Huckabee Sanders” standing alongside the podium, responding to the confusion created by the multiple and conflicting explanations of FBI Director James Comey’s firing last week, and the possibility that the President is ready to dump almost the entire senior White House staff, including Press Secretary Sean Spicer.  Then cut to the President at “a golf course in New Jersey” where Spicy has gone to beg for his job and ends by making out with Mr. Trump.  The whole sketch was hysterical…and troubling.

As much as I laughed, I found myself troubled by both my own laughter and why SNL would engage in fat shaming and gay bashing as ways to trigger that laughter.  But was it really fat shaming and gay bashing, some of you may ask.  Watch the clip and you tell me.

I admit that, as a big guy myself, I may be especially sensitive to mocking people who are overweight, but showing an overweight person stuff their face, especially at a moment when it is particularly inappropriate to do so, and trading on our expected response of disgust and derision – if that isn’t fat shaming…what is?

Admittedly, comedy is often all about pushing limits and opening up spaces where we can unmask the BS that gets pushed at us in a whole variety of ways, from a whole variety of sources, but that journey into the impolite and uncomfortable should be related to that which is being unmasked!  Huckabee Sanders’ size is not even related to the absurdly confused way in which Huckabee attempted to explain Comey’s dismissal, for which both she, and the rest of the administration, should be lampooned, leaving me upset, both with myself and with SNL for what amounts to nothing other than a cheap shot at an easy target – one woman’s obesity.

I am not calling them hypocrites, but it’s hard to imagine the writers and actors feeling good about doing something which, under other circumstances, they would otherwise decry.  And yeah, it’s especially egregious when it is done to a woman, as we all know that in our culture, it is far more difficult to be an overweight woman than it is to be an overweight man.

That part of the sketch was about a deep dislike and disrespect for overweight people, which we all seem to have – whatever size we are, and whatever political side we are one – and yeah, I think that needs to be noticed and acknowledged.  SNL can keep on trading in those deeply ingrained feelings, because that, too, is part of what makes comedy work, but when it doesn’t also extend the message they are going for, I question whether or not it’s really worth doing, and hope that they will too.

The same can be said for the make-out scene between Spicy and Trump.  The only reason it worked was because the writers and performers were trading on the expectation that the vast majority of their audience both dislikes what the administration is doing and is grossed out by two men making out.  Absent that dual assumption, or one’s relating to the notion that Spicer was willing to make himself the President’s “bitch” in order to keep his job (another pretty hateful way to assume under what circumstances two men might kiss each other), that part of the sketch does nothing to make it funnier.

Again, I admit that I both laughed and cringed at that moment, so I claim no great superiority or sensitivity here.  Just that that it pays to notice when and why we laugh at people – especially when we do so, when, under other circumstances, many of us laughing would challenge others for their laughter.

It was a funny sketch, but it also reminds us that pretty much any of us will bracket our best impulses regarding people in general when we are angry enough at any particular individuals.   And believe me, I get feeling angry and provoked right now, and don’t think we need to be shy about why many of us are.  I just think we need to be careful about making too many exceptions regarding what many of us would call our better selves.

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