Archer and trans panic: how “Midnight Ron” deals with “tranny truckers.”

Archer, Season 4

Ron Cadillac Is Freaking Epic! Archer’s Trans Panic, Less So.

Archer, Season 4

Ron Cadillac Is Freaking Epic! Archer’s Trans Panic, Less So.
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Feb. 7 2013 10:30 PM

Archer, Season 4


Ron Cadillac is so freaking epic! Trans panic, less so.

(L) Sterling Archer (voice of H. Jon Benjamin) and (R) Ron Cadillac (voice of Ron Liebman).
Sterling Archer (voice of H. Jon Benjamin) and Ron Cadillac (voice of Ron Liebman).

Photo by FX Network

In Slate’s Archer TV Club, Jeremy Stahl will IM each week with a different fan of the FX spy comedy. This week he chats with freelance writer and Archer fan Mark Joseph Stern.

Jeremy: Bonjour, mon ami! Merci beaucoup for joining today.

Mark: My pleasure! I'm especially happy to chat about this episode, because, true story, I once lost 120 (Canadian) dollars at the Montreal casino in 40 minutes flat. So I can relate to Archer's woes.


Jeremy: Archer's Québec expedition was even more fraught than your own. He gets stuck there without any money, or a passport, and probably with a drug resistant strain of socialist Canadian V.D. He then had to be rescued by his hated stepfather Ron Cadillac (née, as we find out in this episode, Kaczynski). A bonding plotline between the two men ensues, and we also get the Ron Cadillac back story. So, then: how freaking epic is Ron Cadillac?

Mark: FRIGGIN. EPIC. And voiced beautifully by Ron Leibman, Jessica Walters' real-life husband. It was a busy episode—maybe a little too busy, although that's a hard line to draw. Adam Reed likes to have as many balls in the air as possible, and the fast pace really serves his style of humor. The intercutting between past/present, action/office comedy here was divine. As much as I adored Ron's backstory, I think the ultimate twist was a pretty thin reed upon which to hang a narrative!

Jeremy: I agree. Oftentimes the narrative arc of Archer is the least important part of an episode. The story is just there to deliver really great punch lines or some keen, meta look at the way television tropes work.

Mark: Indeed. Like porn, no one watches Archer for the plot.


Jeremy: This episode, however, was very much about what it was about, which was bringing Archer and Ron Cadillac together. Because of that, some of their misadventures—especially the tranny truckers sequence—seemed forced. Also, when I heard that phrase I thought, That's not cool? Even for Archer. Is it? You wrote a great post last week about how you think Adam Reed regularly crosses a line with his LGBT jokes. I wasn't entirely convinced at the time, but this episode raises more of those questions. Did you think the drag trucker sequence was offensive? Or like me did you just find it to be kind of a cheap, lame joke that felt a little too random?

Mark: Not to get oversensitive and earn the ire of a legion of Archer fans (again), but a lot of members of the trans community view the word "tranny" as analogous to "faggot" in terms of offensiveness. I can't imagine Archer, for all its edginess, would ever play off the word "faggot" as a joke. But right now, "tranny" is, culturally, in a transitional phase, probably on par with "retarded" in terms of offensiveness. I think most people still throw it around lightly, and without malice.

To the bigger issue, though: In the four episodes of this season so far, two have employed sexual minorities as the characters' primary antagonists. Using LGBT characters as menaces is nothing new; historically, Hollywood routinely implied that villains were gay, adding a new component to their villainy: not only are they looking to bring down the hero, but they also threaten his masculinity, and sometimes even present a sexual threat. Archer’s use of LGBT characters as villains could even be a meta-joke, parodying the use of such characters as antagonists in older films, especially spy films (even James Bond!).

But: Was the sequence a little random? And did it contribute to my developing theory that Adam Reed is inexplicably fixated on the comic potential of sexual minorities? Yes. Was it cheap? Probably. I mean, the drag trucker thing was pulled out of thin air, and it was basically a sight gag of saggy, hairy, grotesque men in bras and heels. However, I don't think it quite crossed the line into transphobia. More like trans panic, or perhaps trans fixation. Also, the entire sequence could, as Archer explicitly notes, be seen as a parody of The Road Warrior ("as directed by John Waters").


Jeremy: I agree with you, that in this case the truckers feel like they are there to set up jokes—some of them are funny (craft services table on the set of a snuff film), others less so (trucker high heels getting caught in mud). Personally I think the biggest sin of this episode was trying for a cheap laugh and failing.

Mark: Indeed—and in an episode otherwise stuffed with brilliant laughs! A running joke about Master P! C.W. McCallgirl! Guy Owen! (Read a book.) Aside from the trans panic, this episode is an immediate top five for me.

Jeremy: One more note on the trans panic stuff: the first thing that the lead trucker says to Archer and Ron when offering them a ride is that the law requiring them to ride in the back was "compliments of those Democratic queers in Congress." In retrospect, this feels like an attempt to set up the trucker characters as a bunch of bigoted red-staters who secretly got their jollies filming pornographic snuff films in drag. This makes the case stronger that the whole sequence was knowing parody: Reed is playing on homophobic stereotypes about homosexuality and masculinity, but he's also playing on liberal stereotypes of evil, prejudiced conservatives who are actually just projecting their own hidden self-hatred. Viewed like this, the sequence is easier to read as satire.

Mark: I'll tentatively concur with that theory, although I think "satire" has too intellectual a connotation. If that's truly the joke, it's fairly broad—I'd call it burlesque parody, or maybe just a spoof, or, best yet, comic absurdity. Actually, come to think of it, we might just round most of these eyebrow-raising jokes to absurd humor, which Archer usually excels in.

Jeremy: It’s been a pleasure chatting with you, Mark, but I've got to go make sure that no WWII veterans have stolen my gold-plated tank.

Mark: So long, Master P!

Jeremy Stahl is a Slate senior editor. You can follow him on Twitter.

Mark Joseph Stern covers courts and the law for Slate.