Wednesday, 21 December 2011

What's the Big Deal with "Work it"?

As a rule, I tend to stay away from the politics of gender, but the fuss surrounding ABC's new "Work It" sitcom has me somewhat perplexed. Granted, nobody has actually seen an episode yet, but the premise itself suggest another poorly scripted 80s throwback sitcom that would likely have failed quickly, and then faded into obscurity after an episode or two.

Efforts to stop the show, however, have provided it with the kind of widespread media exposure that most shows would kill for. Check out the full-page ad GLAAD and HRC placed in Daily Variety:

Where my problem begins is with the premise of the show itself. Like Bosom Buddies (the 80s sitcom that launched Tom Hank's career), it's a sitcom about two men who decide to dress as women in order to get a job. They're not drag queens, they're not genderqueer, they're not transvestites, and they're not transsexuals. They are opportunistic scam artists who chose to adopt a costume . . . an obvious disguise.

From what I've read of the premise, these characters are portraying themselves as 100% natural women, and their coworkers completely buy the deception. These characters are NOT transgender, and are not trying to pass themselves off AS transgender. As a TV nation, Americans and Canadians may have atrocious taste, but I really do believe the majority of viewers are smart enough to make the distinction.

As somebody who proudly identifies as genderqueer, I would never EVER laugh at the difficulties faced by my transgender sisters and brothers, but I do get a few chuckles out of sitcom absurdity - recent case in point being when the Big Bang Theory gang dressed in superheroine drag after losing a bet. Honestly, I dare you to look at Sheldon awkwardly dressed as Wonder Woman, or Raj vamping it up as Catwoman, and not laugh . . . and I don't feel the least bit insensitive for doing so.

It all comes down to intent versus content, and to context versus subtext. I don't think people are any more likely to mistake the characters in "Work It" as transgender than they are to do the same with Adam Sandler (Jack and Jill) or the Wayans Brothers (White Chicks).

When it comes to politics, especially gender politics, you have to pick your battles. I just happen to think there are better ones to fight than this one.

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