May 06, 2016
by Sean Philpott-Jones, Chair, Bioethics Program of Clarkson University & Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai
I lost a friend last week. I didn’t lose her in the physical sense. She didn’t pass away or move to the other side of the globe. Rather, after a disturbing online exchange, I made the decision to, in the words of Gwyneth Paltrow, ‘consciously uncouple’ myself from her.
What happened was this: on her Facebook page she posted a popular Internet meme that read, “If Caitlyn Jenner went missing, would her picture appear on the back of a carton of half-and-half?” While some people might find a celebrity-mocking joke like this funny, I found it in exceedingly bad taste.
I was also surprised that this joke was posted by someone who is herself a member of the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) community. I asked her to take the post down, explaining my concerns about the type of message that a joke like that sends. She refused and our online conversation quickly went downhill. I finally ‘de-friended’ her.
Now anyone who knows me well should know that I rarely take offense at jokes. I enjoy sarcastic, self-depreciating and (often) inappropriate humor, particularly of the type that skewers celebrities and politicians, or that calls out some of the absurdities of modern life. My snarky comment about Gwyneth Paltrow is proof of that. So what was it about this joke that got me so riled up?
The problem with a joke like the one about Caitlyn Jenner is it perpetuates ugly stereotypes about the transgender community.
The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.