Fuck you, ABC

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Work It is offensive to just about everyone and their gender

Can't Think Straight
Jonathan Petrychyn
A&C Editor

Did you know cross-dressing jokes are still funny?

Apparently American television network ABC still thinks so.

ABC thinks the state of masculinity in America is so dire that the network replaced its failed sitcom Man Up, ostensibly about a bunch of men who have to grow up and act like “real men,” with Work It, another sitcom ostensibly about a bunch of men who don’t know what it means to be a “real man.”

But, while the premise of Man Up is that men are too childish in contemporary America, in Work It, the premise is that men are just too gosh darn manly and need to learn to be more sensitive. And the only way they can do that is to dress up as women.

At first glance, you could read Work It to be a feminist rewriting of contemporary America. This reworking places women as dominant in the corporate world – though this rewriting only works if you ignore the fact that the corporate world depicted in Work It is that of a pharmaceutical company, and also if you ignore almost everything else about the show.

Work It makes cross-dressing its comedic centre, and suggests through the very way its camera approaches Lee, the show’s “protagonist,” when we first see him in drag, that Lee’s apparent gender transformation is inherently out of place and deserves a second glance. Add a laugh track on top of that camera’s double-take pan, and you get by far the most offensive shot you will see on television this year.

The rest of the pilot is essentially sight gags about how hilarious it is for a man to be dressing up as a woman. Lee recruits his friend, Angel, to also dress up as a woman to get a job at the pharmaceutical company. Cue gags about how Angel, who is Latino, shakes his booty like Shakira when he walks. Cue more gags about how Lee and Angel have to wrap up their package with a tensor bandage so it doesn’t bulge out underneath their skirts.

On one level, it’s unfortunate that Work It appeared on the air now, especially when the transgender community is coming to the fore. According to the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, the show trivializes many of the problems transgender individuals face, and makes them “inherently funny.”

On another level, the very fact that such a show exists in 2012 is perhaps a sign of the visibility of transgender issues in contemporary media. Despite the fact the show is offensive to absolutely everyone – did I mention that Angel, as the only Latino character, is an out-of-work mechanic? – the very fact that show exists allows discussion around transgender issues. If Work It had premiered in the 1990s or 1980s, it may have been welcomed in a similar manner that the films Tootsie and Mrs. Doubtfire were. In some sense, it did premiere in the 1980s as Bosom Buddies, but Bosom Buddies was more like Billy Wilder’s film Some Like It Hot in its approach to drag. But it’s fortunate that Work It has premiered now in the face of trans activism, as it gives the show a much different tone than its thematic predecessors.

Sure, it’s offensive and downright despicable, but at least it’s getting the conversation started.

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