We Need to Stop Painting Dangerous Men as Comical Goofs

In my workplace, there is a wall of calendars that all feature dangerous political leaders. Donald Trump, Vladimir Putin, Kim Jong-un…many of the months on these calendars feature said leaders pulling a funny face, or having a particularly bad hair day. They are there for people to laugh at, and many often do.

They make me supremely uncomfortable.

“We seem to have ushered in a trend of turning dangerous men into comical collectibles.”

As a society, we seem to have ushered in a trend of turning dangerous men with the power to disrupt millions of lives into comical collectibles. And nowhere was this more obvious recently than at the 69th Emmy Award ceremony this weekend, when Sean Spicer made an appearance parodying himself.

“This will be the largest audience to witness the Emmys, period – both in person and around the world,” Spicer said from a rolling podium, riffing off Melissa McCarthy’s SNL skits as him during his time as the White House Press Secretary under Donald Trump. The audience of celebrities appeared shocked but, on the whole, amused. The one example of a celebrity present speaking out against Spicer’s appearance was Jason Issacs, who famously played wizard-supremacist Lucius Malfoy in the Harry Potter series.

Melissa McCarthy herself has previously expressed her distaste at Spicer trying to get in on her SNL joke’s popularity. “I had a moment of fear about that when he was like, ‘Don’t make me move the podium’,” she told the LA Times. “I thought, ‘No, that’s not your joke to make’.” Indeed, as the camera panned to McCarthy during Spicer’s appearance on stage, she looks more than a little uncomfortable.

Rightfully so, there has been a significant backlash not only to the organisers decision to include Spicer in the award show, but to many of the celebrity attendees for getting pally with the man who famously tried to claim that Adolf Hitler never used chemical weapons. Host of The Late Late Show James Corden in particular has come under fire for getting close with Spicer back stage at the show.

James Corden has attempted to excuse his cosying up to Spicer at the Emmy’s after party by likening it to “that feeling when you get a little drunk and then wake up the next morning and think ‘Oh God, who did I kiss last night?’” I’m sorry, but I don’t buy that. Sean Spicer is not an unknown entity – we are all very aware of his role in Trump’s toxic administration. You just wouldn’t, especially knowing all eyes are on him, give him a jokey peck on the cheek for a comedy photo op. Not unless you don’t really object to his politics as strongly as you appear to.

It’s not the first time this has happened – who can forget when Jimmy Fallon famously ruffled Trump’s hair during the 2016 election campaign? People in the public eye that paint themselves as liberals appear to do an about-turn when it suits, taking someone with a hateful, dangerous rhetoric and turning them into something more akin to a bumbling grandad from an 80’s show, who’s actually kind of racist but oh well, we love him anyway, the old fool!

And we’re hardly any better in the UK – just look at the way we cartoonise our current Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson. Yes, he has a funny haircut and is a bit of a buffoon. He also known for making horrendously racist comments, outright lying about Brexit and of course, supports a questionable Conservative agenda. Funny hair and buffoonery might qualify you to be a scripted children’s television character, but not Prime Minister of the United Kingdom.

“As privileged audience members we need to speak out against this compliance.”

The more we turn these frankly dangerous men into amiable comic book baddies, the more we ignore their harmful rhetoric and the power they have to act upon it. It’s easy to laugh at Trump’s hair getting ruffled if you’re not, say, one of the tens of thousands of transgender people living in the US having their rights stripped. Boris Johnson’s buffoonery is comical if you’re not living in poverty as a result of the Conservative government in the UK.

As privileged audience members (white, male, straight, cis, abled, middle/upper-class, or any combination thereof), we need to speak out against this compliance in allowing known purveyors of hate speech and bigotry to become laughable goofs on our television screens. If we laugh along or brush it off, it’s going to keep happening. Making monsters like Trump seem human is how we ended up with him as President of the United States, passing laws and spreading ideologies that have a harmful impact on real people.

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