A colleague defended the SNL skit by comparing it to lampooning Sarah Palin – isn’t it okay to make fun of people, he asked. Well, that’s the same as defending making fun of someone for being a “f-g” by saying “we make fun of other people too, so why not make fun of gays? Why are they off limits?” Well, it depends. Are the people you’re making fun of an oppressed minority that doesn’t have full and equal rights in our society? Are they beaten and murdered for who they are, do their young far too often kill themselves because of the perceived taint of who they are? Will they lose their job and their family for who they are?
Gay? Yes. Trans, yes. Sarah Palin? Not so much.
The issue isn’t “can’t we make fun of people?” It’s very much a question of who you’re making fun of and what you’re saying about them. When you use offensive stereotypes to belittle an oppressed minority, the joke is not satire or parody that somehow teaches us all a lesson about tolerance. Rather, like this skit, or the Ron Howard “that car is gay” joke in his recent movie, simply reinforces the prejudice – the viewer watches and says to himself, “that’s funny because those people are freaks.” Sarah Palin isn’t being mocked because she’s a woman, and you know, women are freaks. She’s being mocked for being a moron – it’s simply different. And probably, for starters, because no one tries to kill for you being dumb.
That’s why the SNL skit was wrong.