jumping the cod

plane crash telly

Back in May, David Walliams and Matt Lucas appeared in adverts for the Nationwide Building Society, prompting me (and quite a few others) to complain about their portrayal of transgender characters and its contribution to the marginalisation of actual transgender people, lending, as I described it, “a model and a vocabulary for people (people who have never even met me) to treat me as a caricature“.

well, not far wrong then

Walliams and Lucas have completed a new series for the BBC; the first episode of Come Fly With Me was aired on Christmas Day, and was described in the Daily Express (surely the spiritual homeland of those who watch lots of telly on Christmas Day) as “quite the worst “sketch show” or “sitcom” ever to have gone out on a Christmas Day“.

I finally got to sit through the second episode on I-Player, to see what the hoo-hah with David Schwimmer and transsexual porn was all about. It took two attempts, as I gave up ten minutes into it the first time round. There is surely something in this programme to offend everyone; or at least, anyone with a sense of humour being asked to find this funny… though at least it saves the trouble of deconstructing the various other ways in which it is offensive; unfunny comedy has a pretty short shelf life.

…anyway, leaving all that aside, what’s with the brief appearance by David Schwimmer? -He plays himself, arriving at a UK airport and  having a pile of transsexual pornographic DVDs confiscated by Customs. This gives Walliams, as the Customs officer, the opportunity to reel off the titles of the offending DVDs- “Chicks With Dicks, Shemale Orgy, Tranny Mania, Ladyboy Lickfest, Shemale Sandwich”. Schwimmer is deeply embarrassed,  claiming they are for a friend and loudly proclaiming that they are disgusting. “You’re sick and you need help,” says Schwimmer to the camera, addressing the supposed recipient.

Fair enough. I happen to find all pornography disgusting, as it happens. But I am surprised that they should claim that it is illegal to import it to the UK, given the amount of pornography that is available in all bad high street stores and, apparently, being viewed as perfectly acceptable by ‘nice’ middle-class people- or at least, middle-class men. And boys. Is ‘tranny’ porn somehow less socially acceptable than cisgender porn?

It’s an odd little scene, that’s for sure, not least as it has been claimed of Walliams that “he has stood up and spoken out for the trans community for years. They are very important to him and he has always felt as one of them.” If so, then maybe this is an exercise in self-flagellation.

If you want to see it but have no patience with the other stuff, it’s about 25 minutes into the programme, which you can find through this link.

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23 Responses to jumping the cod

  1. Jo says:

    Well said Dru. The point is WHY did this passage require the inclusion of ‘transsexual’ porn? Was ‘regular’ porn not ‘funny enough’? Not ‘weird’ enough? Clearly not…Walliams and Lucas needed something that would – they hoped – provoke shock and surprise in the viewer to comedic effect.

    Fascinatingly, when you deconstruct this, it’s clear that ‘transsexual porn’ sits for these two somewhere on the comedy spectrum between ‘regular porn’, or ‘gay porn’ (not available for this gag as Lucas is gay, so he presumably wouldn’t be laughing), and ‘child porn’. The latter obviously would not be suitable for such a show, judge the authors, and they certainly wouldn’t have got Schwimmer to do it. And it’s certainly ‘not funny’. But there is a clear, symbolic nod to this reference – someone being arrested for smuggling illegal pornography…where have we heard such stories before, and in what context? What part of the public imagination does that tap into?

    Chris Morris on the other hand might have tried to push it there, and confront the viewer with the discomfort of this reference direct.

    ‘Comedy’ boundaries aside, it is, as ever, simply cheap and nasty from these two. You do wonder what particular insecurity within them drives this constant need to act out a need for acceptance within the social norms of society, by constantly lining up with it to laugh at ‘peculiar’ minority groups. So often in their comedy – and it’s not confined to trans people – they seek to find the little buried grain of prejudice which they hope resides in the viewer about a particular group and fan it to create a laugh. Jim Davidson did the very same thing.

    And they, and others, will say ‘it’s just a joke’, and so on, and say comedy should have no boundaries, and all that. But when the diet is constant, and trans people are ALWAYS portrayed in these terms, helping to define the way society sees them, then it is time some collective responsibility appeared. But there is no sign whatsoever that Lucas and Walliams give a damn about this in any way.

  2. Caroline says:

    Perhaps I am just too sensitive but I shuddered the first moment I watched some of their earliest work in my quest to stay informed about who’s who and what they do. That was before they even started a really offensive sketch, they were just so creepy and sick.

    They would appear to have offended other groups too so why on earth are they still polluting the airwaves? Can I still use that phrase in a digital age?

  3. Jenny Alto says:

    Well done for sitting through an entire episode, you’ve obviously got a stronger constitution than I have. Showing my ignorance I had to Google David Schwimmer to find he’s “The slightly less annoying of the blokes from Friends“. Silly man, I had nothing against him until now.

    The Express is obviously a very intelligent paper to have such insightful views on Christmas telly. I must start to pay it more attention.

  4. jess says:

    he has stood up and spoken out for the trans community for years. They are very important to him and he has always felt as one of them.

    God spare us from such ambassadors – friends like that who needs enemies?

  5. Charlie says:

    Walliams is a casebook example of internalised transphobia. I just wish he would keep it internalised.

  6. Jennie Kermode says:

    I have to wonder… has anyone reading this ever met anybody who considers themselves part of the ‘trans community’ these people are standing up for? Because to the best of my knowledge, I haven’t.

  7. Dru says:

    Maybe the relationship between Walliams and the ‘trans community’ is akin to that between Cecil Rhodes and those poor benighted Africans, the burden of whose interests he so nobly shouldered.

  8. Suzzy says:

    I find these two at best moderately funny, myself – they’ve raised the odd giggle but never an outright laugh from me. I think there are a few million televiewers out there who find them funny too, who are essentially nice enough people, and who are not simple-minded enough to absorb a reading of comedy at a certain level and then allow it to morph directly into an attitude they nurse and then wield to harmful effect in the real world of real people surrounding them. My daughter laughs at Lucas and Walliams and has never shown anything but positive regard for the trans me. Is she a dupe or a dope? A hypocrite? I know she isn’t!

    I think comedy like this operates at many levels, and we each naturally find the level or levels that serve us in some way. At one level, the takeaway from ‘Fly-Lo’ may well be, for instance, that we are supposed to conclude that trans porn is disgusting because trans people are disgusting; but just allow one more level of irony to crystallise and that’s not the takeaway at all. For instance, there’s the reading where what’s funny is Schwemmer’s reaction – it’s funny because it’s a frank over-reaction; the customs officers are as functional yet unfazed as they would have been be with any contraband, and are not, for example, complaining about how ‘disgusting’ Schwemmer is for concealing this particular kind of contraband.

    Deep in my own trans bones I do not feel that Lucas or Williams are malign. To me, their comedy really is just a joke, which is to say, not a campaign or an agenda. Let’s all analyse the laughs and gossip we each have ever enjoyed for potential victims, were they but in earshot, and my guess is those victims will be plenty. Never told a joke or laughed at one? Ever had the honesty to do it in front of a large audience? Does this mean that ‘mainstream’ comedy that, as often as not, relies on accentuating deviations from the ‘norm’ should be banished? I don’t think so. It seems to me that newly emerging phenomena, in their time (virtually all the codified mental illnesses, homosexuality, transsexuality, for instance) have to go through a phase of adjustment that includes a sort of ritual ridicule like a form of social exorcism. It’s just human nature, and there’s no getting away from it. We could suppress it, but that won’t do much good. You can’t go from total taboo to neutral acceptance in one swift move. There’s always a transitional phase, and we’re in it. And I don’t think that ridicule is necessarily the thin end of a wedge that thickens into fascism, either.

    There’s plenty going on with trans people apart from comedy with trans as its subject (and reactions to that comedy). Plenty of good examples are being set, and pervading the public consciousness just as inevitably as the ritual comedy. That’s what I believe.

    What pains me most isn’t any by-product of television trans comedy – it’s more the anxiety that people feel in dealing with me, for example, unwillingness to ask about my life history for fear (I assume) of offending or upsetting me, resulting in occasional feelings of exclusion. Possibly this is connected with my own tendency to take myself too seriously by far, which I reckon people detect quickly enough, and maybe things would go easier for me if I could more quickly see the ‘funny’ aspects of myself.

    In a funny sort of way, I think Lucas has achieved this particular form of liberation in that he invites laughter about his own shortness, baldness, gayness and fatness. It could be that he in later life pays the price in terms of a destroyed sense of self respect or something, but I’d be very surprised.

    I think that if Walliams says he is on the side of trans people, or something like that, I’m inclined to think that really is the way he feels and that he is not subject to undue self-delusion or internalised phobias, or having a cruel or even unthinking dig at transpeople under a guise. He shouldn’t be held responsible for notions that may arise in other people after watching his show – again, doing comedy is not the same as, say, preaching in favour of ridding the Earth of an entire group of people.

    I do get angry, but not at Come Fly With Me. Mind you, I probably wouldn’t actually set aside time to watch it, either. If I’m going to get angry and stay angry with someone, I’d want to be sure they were being wilfully and persistently stupid or vicious, and my own persistent anger at someone wouldn’t be in and of itself sufficient evidence of their stupidity or viciousness. As in law, justice hinges on motive more than consequence.

    I hope you don’t mind me saying this on your blog, Dru, it’s just that I think disproportionate anger can be harmful. I could just read and stand by, or else pipe up! I know it can happen, if only because the strength of my own feelings has proved disproportionate and harmful as a result on more than one occasion.

  9. Dru says:

    I don’t mind you saying that, Suzanne; I am not even angry, never mind disproportionately angry; I do find this ‘comedy’ unfunny and contemptible, though. And, as I have just found that this blog post has been rendered practically invisible to Google (it was practically top of the first page this morning) I have to conclude that the dirty tricks department are silencing criticism. So I am not going to waste my energy in trying to see the nice side of Walliams and Lucas, if such a side exists.

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  11. Ruby66 says:

    If you don’t like what you see, don’t watch it! i find it hilarious and i’m not transphobic or whatever i just want to have a laugh he makes fun of everyone and everything including himself. If it was truly transphobic and homophobic they wouldn’t be allowed to air and their ratings would be low, which they aren’t and they don’t mean for people to take it so seriously, people need to lighten up rather than go on about racism, they dressed up as black people AND white people, they acted out gay AND straight people, they played as women AND men!!!

  12. Dru says:

    Thanks, Ruby. I’ll give some serious thought about taking your advice and ignoring things that I think are wrong or offensive.

    OK, finished.

    Our local paper, the Bristol Evening Post, carried a story about a trans person, only a few days ago. The comments section was disabled and removed, on the advice of the police, within 24 hours because there were so many offensive comments and threats of violence. And yes, the ‘laydeee’ thing was being used there too, by these people. UK media has a long way to go yet, and so have OFCOM and the PCC. You say “If it was truly transphobic and homophobic they wouldn’t be allowed to air and their ratings would be low” ….on the former point, if only! -and on the latter one, the critical reception of this new series has been less than enthusiastic. Times change, and so do opinions about what is acceptable. And what is funny.

    Glad you’re not transphobic or whatever, though. I used to work with someone who wasn’t a racist. I knew that because they often said, “I’m not a racist”. Usually followed by “but…”.

  13. Ruby66 says:

    hey dru, yes i’m not racist, (my husband is of ethnic minority). there are soooo many people out there who are racist and transphobic and stuff. it seems even if we mention anything about black or asian we get persecuted, even though white people get verbal abuse from black people but yet we have to ignore it. True equality needs to be both ways no just one….
    Okay my turn.
    Come fly with me viewings, this is one persons point of view! – i bet not one of those ppl that complained where even black. I’m black and i thought it was hilarious! – what are people saying, white people can’t ever play a black person, or visa-versa?? why not?! can we have no more female’s playing th character of Fool in King Lear?! do drag queens have to quit their acts?! no one ever seen the movie “hot chicks”?! gimme a break – this country is going mad.
    - PD, UK, 27/12/2010 23:55
    Click to rate Rating 3944 <<<<<< READ!

    Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/tvshowbiz/article-1342025/David-Walliams-Matt-Lucass-BBC-spoof-Come-Fly-With-Me-accused-racism.html#ixzz1BlmWUkhS

  14. Ruby66 says:

    or we could just leave out blacks, asians, men dressed up as women…oh no i forgot, THATS RACIST!!

  15. Dru says:

    Thanks, Ruby. I get the message. You like CFWM, you think it’s funny, and you don’t find it offensive. Thank you for sharing.

  16. The Lulz says:

    Dear transsexuals please get over yourselves, you take your ‘lifestyle’ choice far too seriously, at least the homosexual community has a sense of humor and thick skin to the prejudice they unfortunately will occasionally receive from the margins of decent society. If anything I think its offensive to the homosexual community that the all too self righteous transgender community are often lumped into one and the same thing. Transgenders seem desperate to bathe in the controversy of what is probably the last great taboo of human sexual nature, while homosexual culture does not subscribe to such adolescent desire for synonymity with rebellion and struggle over injustice.

    • Dru says:

      Thanks for the comment, The Lulz; or may I call you The?
      I spent a while trying to deconstruct your post, and decided it wasn’t really worth the bother. But at least it’s instructive to see what some gay people (or one gay person, anyway) think. Unless you were engaging in parody. Anyway…. onwards and upwards, eh?

  17. Charlie says:

    Does being a troll count as a lifestyle choice, I wonder? Or are they just born like that?

  18. Jenny Alto says:

    homosexual culture does not subscribe to such adolescent desire for synonymity with rebellion and struggle over injustice.

    Really? Someone ought to tell Peter Tatchell. Thinking about it, better not. If he realises he doesn’t fit in with homosexual culture any more he might come and join us, and that would have synonymy with disaster for the Transsexual Agenda. (or is that the Transgender Agenda? You don’t seem sure, but I think the latter has a nicer ring to it.) With Petra Tatchell on side I’d have to consider giving it all up, and I’ve spent so much on all the spangly ball gowns, big hair wigs and shoes and all, what with it being such a lifestyle choice.

  19. Dru says:

    Still, it’s nice to think that a desire for struggle over injustice is characteristic of adolescents. I shall think more highly of the teenagers in my life, now.

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  21. Martha says:

    ..or Transgender Asexual in my case
    LOL@troll=lifestyleChoice.. Lulz when we get equality it will be a relief not a lack of anything to do.. sound familiar? Probably not.

    XXXXX Martha

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