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Tet Comedy Special 'Tao Quan' Under Fire for Transphobic, Body-Shaming Jokes

The show has been a comedy staple that's loved by many for its use of humor to shed light on the country’s social and economic issues; however, it tends to fare poorly on gender and sexuality matters.

Vietnam Television (VTV)'s annual Tet comedy special Gap Nhau Cuoi Tuan, meaning, year-end gathering, is facing a public backlash over recent transphobic and sexist jokes, Tuoi Tre reports.

Every year, on Lunar New Year's Eve, VTV airs the special, which takes place in the fictional court of heaven. During the play, various court mandarins, or Táo Quân, present a report on their specialized field, such as transportation or public health, to the King of Heaven. The premise makes room for actors to poke fun at various hot issues in Vietnam during the past year.

The most recent show, however, didn't sit well with some viewers due to the crude and demeaning way it treated a queer character.

Specifically, in this year’s episode that aired on February 15, the show’s main character, Bac Dau, a transgender human embodiment of the Big Dipper asterism, was the target of derogatory comments from other characters. They include addressing the transgender character as "what kind of thing who is neither woman nor man" and "half-woman." Other characters also examined Bac Dau's body and commented that their body parts are confusing.

Other than the aforementioned controversial remarks, some viewers also took issue with how Gap Nhau Cuoi Tuan treated a curvy character, specifically Tao Huu Tri, a female mandarin overseeing social welfare who became the butt of the joke after another character implied that fat people like her shouldn't wear a bikini.

The inappropriate comments have prompted the Institute for Studies of Society, Economics and Environment (iSEE) and the ICS Center – the country’s two biggest LGBTQ rights organizations – to pen an open letter to VTV in opposition to these practices.

The letter stated in Vietnamese: “We understand that humor and laughter are an integral part of life, and that entertainment shows are a necessity; however, we don’t think demeaning other people and directing distress at a marginalized community is humorous or ethical.”

This is not the first time women and LGBTQ individuals have been on the receiving end of inflammatory jokes on the show. In recent years, the show has been known for exploiting LGBTQ character for comic effect, a homophobic trope widely used in many representations of queer characters in local media products. According to Hoang Huong, vice chairwoman of iSEE, this year’s episode was the final straw that forced the organization to speak out.

Huong added that such values are unacceptable for the state media to uphold, adding: “The LGBT community is accepted by a growing part of the Vietnamese society, and the public view on LGBT issues has shifted for the better for so long. As a national broadcaster with great influence on public awareness, I think VTV should be the first to make the change.”

[Photo via Tuoi Tre]

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