On Thursday night I went out to see The Muppets with a few friends. It was actually really, really good! Funny, cute, and clearly a sincere, heartfelt love letter to The Muppet Show and simultaneously an homage to Muppet fandom. It was fun seeing it with a pretty big group of really cool people too, Muppet fans all. I had a nice time. I even got a little bit teary-eyed when they sang The Rainbow Connection, which I honestly consider one of the greatest songs of the 20th century.
The quality of the movie, though, was just barely able to make up for the unspeakable Eldritch horror that was the trailer for the upcoming CG-animated adaptation of The Lorax. Yes, dear readers, it looks every bit as bad as you fear, and then some.
For those who don’t want to put themselves through watching that thing, it’s basically a tragic cannibalization of one of the most beautiful, simple and important children’s stories ever written, turning it instead into a nightmarish display of everything wrong with Hollywood’s current approach to children’s entertainment: patronize the little fuckers, throw a bunch of snazzy snappy ultra-fast-paced lights and things on the screen, make some fart and anatomy jokes, throw in some random pop culture references, give the principal characters a lot of “attitude” as exemplified by the stupid DreamWorks one-eyebrow-raised face, and assume that your young audience are completely incapable of thought and aren’t worth teaching anything other than to want more Happy Meal toys.
But what especially angered and saddened me was the stinger at the end. A stinger is the last bit at the very end of a trailer, after the title and release date have been shown, where you throw in one last joke, scary scream-and-a-knife shot, or ominous/tense/ironic action-movie line (“guess I shoulda taken those swimming lessons”, “When will it hit Earth? Two hours.”, “Now THAT’S how you use regular phrases!”). It’s nicely summed up as the “two bits” to the trailer’s “shave and a haircut”.
The stinger in this trailer? The Lorax, obnoxiously voiced by Danny DeVito (the very opposite in personality from the gentle wisdom The Lorax should represent) points at another character and asks incredulously “That’s a woman?!”
Yes, a beloved character from my childhood. One of the most noble, kind, just, wise and empathic characters in children’s literature, who always represented defending the defenseless, standing up for the vulnerable, and encouraging social awareness has here been re-imagined as a snarky, cruel, insensitive, cissexist, gender-policing asshole, who mocks variance in gender presentation, and tramples over the defenseless and vulnerable in the name of maintaining cisnormativity (and making the producers a few extra dollars selling Happy Meals).
I wonder how many trees died printing the scripts.
A piece of my heart definitely breaks knowing that these are the lessons we’re still teaching our children: that there are really specific ways a woman or a man is supposed to look (and be) and that variation from that is weird and bad and should be ridiculed and scorned. My heart especially breaks for any of the kids being taken to this movie who are themselves dealing with gender issues, and I’m horrified at the thought of the shame they’re going to take home with them. One more little piece of culture telling them to be ashamed of who they are, and suppress it so that they can fit into their assigned box and not have to worry about being made fun of. By the fucking Lorax.
The worst thing is that this isn’t anything new or surprising. It’s not like I dropped my popcorn, spilled my drink and gasped in scandalized shock. These kinds of jokes are incredibly ubiquitous. So ubiquitous that I barely even noticed them until I began transition. But after that, I saw them everywhere. I still remember how in the first month after I finally made up my mind that I was trans and I was going to transition, I saw six episodes of The Simpsons, and FOUR of them contained jokes at the expense of trans people. That’s two thirds of the episodes I saw that month. And these weren’t just jokes about gender variance, like the one in the Lorax, these were jokes about transsexuality and transgenderism. Using slurs like “tranny” and “shemale”, too.
But the ubiquity of this kind of humour makes these jokes more dangerous, not less. On their own, they’re mostly harmless; just another micro-aggression. But when they accumulate, and build upon one another into an inescapable leitmotif of cissexism, they create a climate where it’s really hard to be trans while maintaining a sense of confidence and self-acceptance… a world where everywhere you look you’re being subjected to who and what you are being ridiculed, mocked, dismissed, or treated as disgusting and horrifying, where you can’t go more than a couple hours or so before finding yet another reminder that you’re supposed to be ashamed of who you are. Another reminder that you don’t belong, or count, in your society. You’re a mistake. You’re an uncomfortable tragedy or incongruence that people want to ignore. You’re creepy, and make people squeemish, and most would rather you just didn’t exist (or at least stayed out of sight). And you’re a punchline at the end of a trailer for a bad comedy… right alongside the slapstick and fart jokes.
But the world isn’t all bad. And Hollywood doesn’t get everything wrong. Every once in awhile, when everything lines up just right, they do it right, and remind us instead what there is in this world worth hanging around and fighting for…