We all like problematic shows, and we all draw our lines about what is overwhelmingly problematic in different places. So I'm not judging or criticizing anyone who watches The Daily Show. I don't watch it anymore, and haven't watched it regularly for years, because the balance between valuable and objectionable material tipped toward objectionable for me a long time ago.
Anyway. Today, I've seen Jon Stewart getting a lot of credit for a segment in which he called out the double-standard regarding grandparenting in presidential politics. So I watched the segment, and it was a perfect reminder of why I no longer watch The Daily Show.
Here is a transcription of the relevant part of the segment, running from 1:10 to 2:45, and following an introduction that noted Chelsea Clinton has announced she's pregnant with her first child:
Stewart: News media! Set the 2016 presidential speculatron to behbee!From there, Stewart goes on to observe some other differences about how women and men are treated in politics.
Cut to a news clip of a white female anchor saying: "Everyone is wondering what impact it might have on Hillary Clinton's decision to run for president." Cut to a news clip of a white male anchor saying: "Does the fact that she's going to become a grandmother on top of the other considerations factor in?" Cut to a news clip with video of Chelsea Clinton, over which a female anchor offscreen says: "Could it put a bump in Hillary's 2016 plans? And is it sexist to ask?" Cut back to Stewart in TDS studio.
Stewart: No! No! No, sillybilly, of course it's not sexist. Even though it's a question that has never, ever, been posed to a male candidate ever. For god's sakes, Mitt Romney has like a litter of grandchildren. [an image of Romney with a bunch of his grandkids pops up onscreen, as the audience roars with laughter] Mitt Romney has, for god's sakes, if I'm not mistaken, Mitt Romney has like a grandchild petting zoo! [an image of the Romney family pops up onscreen, to more laughter] The guy added three grandchildren [another picture of Romney with his family] while he was campaigning!
He is the only candidate in history whose electoral college total is less than the number of chairs he has to put out at Thanksgiving. My point is, he, he got crushed in the election by someone with no grandchildren. Yet somehow the grandchild factor never came up in the race between Obama and Romney.
For god's sakes, when William Howard Taft was running in 1908, he was actually pregnant! [an image of Taft, famously the fattest president, comes onscreen, photoshopped so that Taft is holding his belly like a pregnant woman might hold her belly; uproarious laughter] He was pregnant! Nobody said anything! Nobody brought it up!
Okay, here's the thing: I am a firm believer in the simple principle that no type of bigotry, policing, or other kinds of harm are solved by more of the same.
So when Stewart seeks to criticize the policing and politicization of Hillary Clinton's reproduction, and her daughter's reproduction, by policing the reproduction of Romney and his kids, that isn't helping.
Yes, I get that it's a comedy show, and it's supposed to be funnier to say that Mitt Romney has a "litter" and a "petting zoo" of grandchildren, as opposed to just pointing out he's got grandchildren and it was never an issue.
But this is the problem with The Daily Show and Stewart, who constantly want to have it both ways by saying they're not a real news show even as they tackle serious issues: Criticizing the auditing of one family's reproduction is ineffective when you turn around and criticize another family's.
By joking about the quantity of Romeny's grandchildren, he's auditing their reproductive choices. Further, there is a long history of talking about large families with lots of children using animal imagery, especially families of color. To reinforce and legitimize those narratives will not marginalize the Romneys, but it will marginalize the vulnerable families against whom they're routinely used.
And, not for nothing, but Romney didn't give birth to any of those kids. The women in his family did. In taking a swipe at Romney, Stewart is calling his wife and daughters-in-law brood mares. Which is replicating the exact sort of sexism that he's purporting to criticize.
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And then there's the bit about Taft. Jesus Jones. The entire joke, such as it is, rests on the absurdity of a man being pregnant, which disappears the lived experiences of trans men who have been pregnant. And, of course, that old chestnut about how fat men's bellies are pregnancies.
Stewart's fat hatred is nothing new: This is, after all, a man who appeared in a fucking fat suit on the show.
Pregnancy humor at the expense of trans bodies and fat bodies is garbage, in and of itself. But the policing of trans bodies and fat bodies is a crucial feminist issue. To include such rubbish in a segment ostensibly designed to challenge misogyny is not just cruel; it's counterproductive.
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Protip: When your segment on sexism obliges me to defend the Romneys, you are doing something wrong.