Why is “A Dude is Kissing Another Dude!” Still a Punch Line?
C’mon SNL. You can do better.
A lot of friends and social media types have been raving about this year’s season of Saturday Night Live — “The only people who are benefiting from Trump are the SNL writers” is a pretty common refrain. It’s true — the SNL crew have had some pretty ripe material to work with: this week’s news cycle alone was pure “if you can’t cry anymore, you may as well start laughing” comic gold. While this week’s episode got a few good zingers in, like most weeks before it, it wasn’t actually that funny, that biting, or even that smart. And worst of all, the writers felt the need to waste Melissa McCarthy’s sublime impression of Press Secretary Sean Spicer on the hackiest and most well-visited of SNL gags: two men kissing.
You’ve seen the “har har, dudes who like dudes!” punch line before, and despite it being 2017 and most of us knowing that men dating/marrying/having sex with other men is a normal and natural thing, the mere idea that two men are together in a sexual or romantic way continues to be “funny” enough for comedy writers to think that it’s enough to make a joke fly. We’ve seen countless memes (and dear Stephen Colbert, among many, many others) suggesting that Trump’s kowtowing to Putin is best (and most hilariously) explained by comparing whatever is going on between them power-wise to a sexual relationship. This trope is, obviously not new and it’s not always used as part of a political commentary— think of that seemingly innocuous scene at the Golden Globes where Jimmy Fallon and Justin Timberlake danced together a la La La Land to titters and giggles. Trump and Spicer’s embrace was just the latest in a long line of the pervasive idea that men sexually engaging with other men is laugh-worthy.
We all know what these jokes are getting at when they involve political figures — the suggestion is that gay sex is shorthand for domination and that somehow at least one of the players is being forced, coerced, or compromised. What does this say about how we perceive gay men and gay couples who are in loving relationships? I don’t think most writers are drawing those parallels when they write these kinds of jokes, but if “OMG, they’re just like gay men!” isn’t the punch line, what is?
Transpose this to heterosexual relationships: we don’t see similar jokes where Trump is making out with the equally sycophantic Kellyanne Conway or the clearly unqualified Betsy DeVos (though, the later clearly paid her way into her appointment). The one person in the Trump administration who actually did sleep his way into his job is Ivanka Trump’s husband Jared Kushner, and while we certainly hear complaints of nepotism, sex is rarely mentioned in those criticisms. And it’s not because in Trumpland the idea of sexually manipulating women is too on the nose — it’s because even comedy writers know that it’s distasteful and degrading to suggest that women in 2017 are exchanging sex for power. Yet somehow it’s still funny if the exchange is between two men. Though, I’d still argue that there is some misogyny at play in these kissing gags — we all know that old-fashioned misconception that women in positions of power must have slept their way to the top. Casting Trump or his underlings in a sexual role suggests that they are weak, easily manipulated, and engaging in behavior that women have been subjected to all along.
And on top of all of that, these jokes are just plain lazy and hackey. For decades if SNL writers haven’t known how to end a sketch (which is almost always) they too often haven’t been able to resist the temptation to go with two men making out. There is so much room for real political commentary and subversion with this administration, but they keep going with what’s familiar and what’s easy. This is the time for comedians to be brave. Last night SNL missed a big opportunity to show that it has what it takes to help dig America out of this mess.