State-run Vietnam Television (VTV) is in hot water after its special Lunar New Year’s Eve episode became the center of a public backlash due to homophobic and sexist jokes thrown around by the show’s characters.
Two LGBT rights organizations have sent a letter of objection to the national broadcaster, while viewers are calling for an end to the 15-year-old show.
The comedic show, ‘Gap nhau cuoi nam’ (Year-end get-together), also commonly known as ‘Tao Quan’ (Kitchen Gods), is widely popular in Vietnam and considered a must-watch program on Lunar New Year’s Eve for many Vietnamese families.
Since its first episode in 2003, the show has grown to be famous for offering a comedic and satirical view of social and economic issues in Vietnam throughout the previous year, played out by some of the most popular comedians in northern Vietnam.
However, in recent years ‘Gap nhau cuoi nam’ has been drawing criticism for its overexploitation of LGBT characters as a comedic tool and its failure to integrate some current issues of great public interest into the plot.
This year’s episode of the show, which aired on the evening of February 15, elevated the use of homophobic jokes to a new level when one of its main characters ‘Bac Dau,’ a transgender human embodiment of the Big Dipper asterism in Vietnamese astrology, became the target of constant jokes about their gender.
“Half-woman,” “disgusting” and “faggots” were among the words hurled at Bac Dau by other characters.
Many viewers have also taken to social media to express their disgust at the show’s poor comedic taste, citing body-shaming and objectifying comments made toward a plus-size female character, who was also discouraged from wearing a bikini due to her weight.
|A plus-size character appears in the 2018 ‘Gap nhau cuoi nam’ special episode of VTV. Photo: VTV|
On Thursday, the Institute for Studies of Society, Economics and Environment (iSEE) together with the Center of Protection and Advocacy of LGBT rights in Vietnam (ICS) jointly sent a letter to VTV to voice their objection to the show.
In their letter, the non-governmental organizations stressed that they had collaborated with VTV in producing many TV programs promoting the protection of LGBT groups in Vietnam and building a positive image of the community in public view.
“However, we also acknowledge that there are some ‘bad apples’ in VTV programs, notably the ‘Gap nhau cuoi nam’ special where LGBT people have been constantly used as a tool for invoking laughs, and a target of unacceptable insults,” the letter reads.
“As organizations with many years of experience working for the rights of the LGBT community in Vietnam, we object to the use of offensive remarks toward members of the LGBT community solely because of their body features, as well as any action that worsens existing prejudice and discrimination against this group,” it continues.
Hoang Huong, vice chairwoman of iSEE, told Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper that the prevalence of homophobic and sexist jokes in ‘Gap nhau cuoi nam’ has been observed for years, but this year’s show was the last straw that prompted iSEE and ICS to break their silence over the issue.
“A person’s gender is no laughing matter. It’s a human matter,” she said.
“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 influences on public awareness, I think VTV should be the first to make the change,” Huong added.