South Africans deserve more than homophobic comedy

Last week marketing company iTen Entertainment published a 90 second video teeming with homophobia. They, and many of their viewers, didn’t take too kindly when I called them out on it. You wouldn’t think making homophobic jokes for cheap laughs would be a thing in 2017, and yet here we are.

The video, titled Coming Out Of The Closet, seems promising at first. It plays on the fact that queer people have to come out of the closet but not straight people. But it becomes problematic fast when the father says he did everything to make his son gay and suggests that ballet and musicals was the winning formula. It ends with Durban comedian Massood Boomgaard saying his son cannot be straight because he likes the European soccer team, Liverpool.

That is not iTen’s only homophobic video. Another video posted this month hangs entirely on a man who is disgusted when a gay man hits on him.

After I first shared the post on Facebook, calling it out, iTen’s first response was that I had hurt their employees feelings and that I should refrain from commenting negatively on their posts. They later released a statement saying they “deeply apologize for [their] error in creating a parody out of a sensitive topic”.

The video is still on Facebook. It has over 100 000 views already.

Because they don’t seem to understand the damage they’re causing or why their brand of comedy is bigoted, I’ve broken it up into six easy to read points.

1. Reinforcing homophobic stereotypes doesn’t help anyone. Being into ballet or rugby or being well groomed does not make one gay, just as having no fashion sense doesn’t make you straight. All it does is discourage people from pursuing certain roles, interests or behaviours because of how society will perceive them.

2. Being gay is not a choice. You cannot make someone gay or prevent them from being gay.

3. Having a diverse team, as iTen points out it has, doesn’t make you immune to criticism. This is like saying “My best friend is black so I’m not racist.” You can’t protect bigoted material by pointing to diversity in your team.

4. People in positions of power cannot make fun of people who are powerless. The constitution may have made place for the queer community but the Indian community largely hasn’t. Queer people remain extremely marginalised within the audience this video is created for.

5. Just because your audience has accepted bigotry, doesn’t mean it’s okay to post videos like these. This is not, as your employees say, “freedom of speech”. Almost 700 people liked the video and it was shared over 300 times. Saying that lots of people found the video funny doesn’t diminish the fact that the video is damaging.

6. “Gay” is not a synonym for something you dislike. It’s not okay to say or imply that supporting Liverpool is “gay”. Using the word as a pejorative is homophobic, abusive and in poor taste.

iTen asked me to refrain from commenting on the video on Facebook because its team was sensitive to my “intentional harsh words”. Well, I’m sorry I hurt their employees feelings but the video – which was publically posted to Facebook and remains there until now – is perpetuating negative stereotypes and hurting already vulnerable people. Queer people have lived with limited freedom over the past 20 years. We need to focus on changing communities’ mindsets, not reinforcing damaging misconceptions.

Featured image via Wikimedia Commons