Are Jon Stewart’s Jokes About Global Homophobia Hypocritical?

Expanding the LGBTQ Conversation
Jan. 22 2014 2:38 PM

Are Americans Hypocrites When It Comes to Global Homophobia?

olympics
Racing "backward."

Still from The Daily Show.

Last night, Jon Stewart presented a signature sad-funny segment on The Daily Show called the 2014 Sochi Homophobic Olympics, a competition between the nations of the world that runs “parallel” to the winter games. Putin’s insidious “think of the children” anti-gay statute makes Russia a strong contender in the race, of course, but other countries are putting up strong showings as well—Uganda, Nigeria, and India are all currently forces to be reckoned with when it comes to how terribly a state can treat its LGBTQ citizens.

While the latter part of the segment does include some relatively minor feats from the U.S. delegation (the star of The Bachelor thinks we’re “more pervert in a sense”), the central joke was a play on how “backward” the most homophobic countries in the world are.

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If that kind of xeno-humor strikes you as a little hypocritical, you’re on the same page as Helen over at Autostraddle, who happened to publish a great essay today on the legacy of Western colonialism and anti-LGBT legislation. She points out that much of the homophobia we see in African and other societies today is not necessarily inherent to those cultures, but is rather one of the lingering “gifts” of the British Empire. Plus, Americans on the right are still more than happy to export hate. Here’s a choice snippet:

Queers in the West may not be in favor of anti-LGBTQ evangelicals invading Afro-Diasporic countries with horrible belief systems, but we cannot ignore the religious right’s actions. Before Westerners criticize policy makers and government systems in the Diaspora, how about we challenge our government’s imperialist relationships with other nations. Before Westerners decide that Afro-Diasporic nations are so “backwards,” how about we take a look at our own histories, how after centuries of unjust laws we are merely beginning to move towards equal rights legislation, and the way that oppression often begins with us. Before Western countries talk about cutting off aid to states with homophobic legal policies, how about we talk about how much harm Western “aid” has done in the past.

As much as the kind of violent, state-sanctioned bigotry we’re seeing in certain areas now can be difficult to understand, it’s worth complicating our thinking a little—none of this emerged in a vacuum. Helen’s essay is a fine place to start

J. Bryan Lowder is a Slate assistant editor. He writes and edits for Outward, Slate’s LGBTQ section, and for the culture section.

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