The Weekend of HELL, and its aftermath

So this thing happened here in New Zealand over the past week. A popular pizza chain, HELL, caught flack for having, among their Misfortune Cookie line, a “misfortune” that read “You will marry a transgender” (sic). A photo of it made its way around Facebook, starting around Friday evening, and several people (myself included) responded on HELL’s Facebook page (and other blogs, like the fantastic Coilhouse) that we didn’t think it was funny, it was in fact tantamount to bullying, which transgender people have to put up with on a regular basis already, and so could you please stop it? By Monday evening, HELL co-founder Stu McMullin released a statement:

“We like to be irreverent and cheeky, and most of the time we think we get it right…..On this occasion we experienced a sense of humour failure. We have caused offense, and contributed to the bigotry that hurts LGBT people all over the world every day, and we regret this.”

How genuine this statement is, who can really say? Businesses generally do what’s most economically expedient, and with (very… slowly…) growing support of LGBT rights around this country and the rest of the developed world, it’s not just the business of queer folks you might lose, it’s the business of their friends, family, and anyone else who thinks it’s not cool to dog-pile on them. I’m willing to give them the benefit of the doubt.

Most of the furor has subsided, but there are still a few people complaining on HELL’s Facebook Wall who, clearly operating under the impression that they’re some sort of freedom fighters in the culture wars, think that what will hereafter be referred to as “the Cookie Incident” was a miscarriage of justice and a travesty for free speech.* They insist that the rest of us need to “get a sense of humor”, “lighten up”, “don’t be so PC”, and the usual accusatory litany that I’m quite familiar with from reading trollish comments on feminist blogs. Some are actually saying that the misfortune in question actually was funny. “It was a joke!” they insist. Really?

You know what? Fair enough. I’ve actually not ordered the Misfortune Cookies before. (I prefer the Cheesecake, and the Churros, when available.) Let me see if I can analyse exactly what kind of joke structure they’re supposed to adhere to. Because nothing improves a joke like explaining it!

So in my first order since the whole ordeal flared up, I got a snack pizza and a six-pack of the Cookies.** Pizza was tasty as always. Now for the Cookies! Six standard-issue fortune cookies, with the set-up clearly being that what’s inside is not going to be some banally heartening platitude, but some wicked little curse to cause tingles and laughter. The gold-and-black wrappers dutifully list potential allergens, and a prominent “warning”:

WARNING! Contents may offend young children, young adults, adults, old adults, nuns, priests, the PC, prolific complainers & up-tight bastards.

No idea if this is a recent addition in response to the Cookie Incident. Probably not, not enough time has elapsed. Anyway, moving on. Cracking open one Misfortune Cookie after another, here are the messages I got, with my initial responses:

“Your whole purpose in life is simply to serve as a warning to others” — Heh.

“Your babies will all look like Hitler” — Snerk.

“Hope you enjoyed your meal. Mr Bond” — Ooooh, that one’s a bit of a thinker! Punctuation’s iffy, but does require a bit of pop culture knowledge to get.

“You will meet someone who is your perfect opposite. Good looking, intelligent and culture” — OH, snap!

“You peaked in high school” — Hahahahaha! Burn! (Demonstrably not true for me, thankfully.)

“Next time you have sex you won’t be able to get Hone Harawira off your mind” — Ah, see, I only vaguely know who that is, still being a recent import to the eNZed. BRB, Googling… Oh yeah, he’s a Mana Party member of Parliament, an older gentleman of Maori descent. Yeah, try harder, bro.

So there you are. The general tone of all the above messages is of the teasing, just-warming-up-at-the-Friar’s-Club variety, mostly so ludicrous that they wouldn’t affect even those with the shakiest self-esteem.*** Hone Harawira might be a bit miffed at that last one, but even if he knew about it, he’d probably not care. Why? Because he’s a well-known, well-off gentleman who’s too busy calling his fellow politicians racist and doing other productive things with his time. He is by some measure untouchable.

And there’s the rub, that not a lot of people are pointing out. Who is fair game when it comes to humor? If you say “everyone”, and you actually believe that, fine. Feel free to stop reading, you probably think I’m a dry-twatted bore by now anyway. But if you’re curious as to where I’m going with this, read on.

HELL has courted controversy before, with one billboard picturing then-President of the United States George W. Bush captioned “HELL: too good for some evil bastards”, another billboard for Easter promoting hot cross buns with pentacles captioned “For a limited time. A bit like Jesus”, and still another promoting their gluten-free brownie captioned “At least our brownie won’t eat your pet dog” referring to a local Tongan man’s having recently roasted his pit bull in his backyard. I’m not going to deny the blatant racism of the last one; instead I want to focus on the Bush and Jesus ones.

There was a tradition in a theatre company I worked with back in the US, the California Revels, where during our yearly Christmas show some players would bring an audience member up on the stage, clap a silly crown, cape and scepter upon him and declare him the Lord of Misrule. This refers to a Saturnalian tradition where, quoth Wikipedia, “the ordinary rules of life were subverted as masters served their slaves, and the offices of state were held by slaves. The Lord of Misrule presided over all of this, and had the power to command anyone to do anything during the holiday period.” Sounds like the sort of merry mischief and mayhem that HELL could get behind, right? In the Revels version, it was meant to poke light-hearted fun by making someone look momentarily foolish onstage, and the players were encouraged to select someone who looked more or less like The Establishment: white, middle-aged, able-bodied, male. Someone who could take a bit of embarrassment, laugh, and go back to an otherwise happy and comfortable life.

To steal a phrase from another popular Kiwi brand, “let’s be honest”: Bush and Jesus are representative of The Establishment. One is richer than he knows what to do with, the other is allegedly immortal or God himself. They both enjoy vast followings who jump to their defense at the slightest provocation. People who disagreed with Bush’s policies while he was in office, or people who try to practice a religion outside the Christian mainframe, were and are routinely outnumbered and frequently slandered by conservative outlets such as FOX News and increasingly unstable movements like The Tea Party. And while I’m sure Jesus at least appreciates it, being a decent-seeming bloke, neither he nor Bush really need that much defending. They are, again, quite untouchable.

Transgender individuals, on the other hand, do not enjoy such societal protection. A bitter irony, because they could use a lot more of it. Mainstream society has portrayed them throughout the years variously as pathetic, confused, less-than-human, deceptive and deranged, and has allowed to go unpunished the most shocking abuses against their bodies, their lives and livelihoods—all for not fitting neatly into the dominant constructs of gender and sexuality. But advocacy on behalf of trans folks lags years behind even that which supports gays and lesbians.**** Trans folks have to search a lot harder than most to find communities that accept them, family members that don’t reject or harm them, and entertainment that doesn’t run the risk of blindsiding them because some frat-boy mentalities still think it’s a given that dating or sleeping with a trans person is vomit-inducing.

That, my friends, is what we handful of “too PC” “whiners” were wanting to bring to light, and still want to be kept in mind, in the wake of the Cookie Incident. If you want to criticize us, ask yourself: who exactly are you defending? The misfits who band together against unthinking cruelty and soul-crushing normativity, because they’ve had to in order to survive? Or the people who have been so lucky to have never been on the receiving end of torrents of pointless hate and degradation that they absolutely don’t give a shit when it happens to others?

I know who my friends are. And I will defend them always. I don’t care if that makes me an unfunny bitch in some people’s eyes. I won’t pander to anyone who hurts the people I love. And I don’t respect anyone who does.

Thus ends my first big ranty-ass post on this blog. Thank you for reading.


*Never mind that free speech is nowhere near as enshrined in New Zealand as it is in my home country of the United States. That’s a topic for another post, as I’m still learning the details of it myself.

**No, I never intended a permanent boycott. I understand those who do. For them, there is a Facebook page, which makes a big deal about tolerance in one of its inaugural Wall posts, although it rather contradicts this message by using a display picture of director Michael Moore snarfing pizza with both hands, a choice that could definitely be considered fatphobic.

***Unless you really did peak in high school. In which case, my condolences. Try yoga?

****By the way, hi, I identify as bisexual. Or multisexual, if you don’t care for the binary. Where do WE fit into all this? Another post, another time, my dears.


One thought on “The Weekend of HELL, and its aftermath

  1. Really good!!

    I so agree, hmmm didn’t hear about the brownie one, ye that is quite racist. I do find Hell Pizza a tad childish.

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