Over the weekend, Fox News posted a headline about some very important current events, in this case lawmakers in California and Oregon who are working to pass a law preventing health insurance companies from denying coverage to transgender people based on gender identity. Obviously this is important and denying people access to healthcare based on who they are is wrong, but distracting from the meat of the article is the image the post’s creator/producer chose to run with it: a screencap from the movie Mrs. Doubtfire, featuring Robin Williams in drag and trying to put out a fire that has erupted on his chest. Get it? Because he’s a man pretending to be a woman, and being transgender is the exact same thing as Robin Williams dressing in drag in a movie! It’s hilarious!
It’s a Michael Scott move, is what it is, and in the worst ways. In the better seasons of The Office, whenever Michael Scott would try to educate his fellow Dunder Mifflin employees about matters of race or religion or culture or gender, he would, in an attempt to be both funny and informative, actually produce something cringe-worthy and offensive, e.g. his presentation about Diwali which included Apu from The Simpsons in a list of notable people from India. If The Office ever did an episode about a transgender office employee, you can pretty much guarantee a Mrs. Doubtfire/Mrs. Featherbottom/The Birdcage joke would be in Michael Scott’s repertoire, followed by someone politely explaining to him that being transgender and dressing in drag are not the same thing at all. But Michael Scott probably doesn’t get that. And, apparently, neither does the person who put this on the Internet. And it’s not as funny when it happens in real life.
What’s saddest about this is not Fox News pulling this ignorant BS in and of itself, but how unsurprising it is. It’s almost enough to make you go all preachy and Will McAvoy-esque and long-windedly bemoan the state of things as they are, which is relevant but also unfortunate because The Newsroom is a terrible show.
In journalism school, when you take reporting classes, one of the first things they make you do is write an obituary. There are many reasons for this, but it’s a particularly important exercise because it’s a baptism-by-fire where you’re motivated to make damn sure you get everything right (because no one wants to screw up an obituary) and to learn, rather quickly, how to approach people at their darkest time with sensitivity and grace and still get the heart of the story. You learn accuracy and humanity, which are two things every reporter needs. When you portray someone’s state of being with mockery and inaccuracy by comparing it to a popular movie, you’re basically doing the opposite of that.
And I know this is all easy for me to say as part of the rebloggin’ culture headlines economy, and please forgive me Father and all that, but there’s a difference between taking an editorial stance or laziness/ignorance or “trying to be funny” and straight-up mocking someone’s humanity, and as a media-consuming public, we should demand better. We have to. If we wanted Michael Scott, we could watch reruns of The Office.