Selena Gomez doesn’t want to be mocked. Nobody really does. But Gomez and her fans are mobilizing to scold a show that made a one-second quip about her kidney transplant.
The line wasn’t even really about Gomez. In a discussion on cancel culture, characters on “The Good Fight” were listing off topics that can’t be joked about, like “necrophilia,” “autism,” and “Selena Gomez’s kidney transplant.”
The writing was meta, and Gomez is proving it right. As Buzzfeed notes, “The joke was likely a reference to a 2020 episode of the Saved By The Bell reboot that included a joke about the singer’s 2017 transplant, which she received as part of her treatment for lupus,” recalling that Gomez’s fans called the show “cruel” and “disgusting” after the joke aired.
I am not sure how writing jokes about organ transplants for television shows has become a thing but sadly it has apparently. I hope in the next writer’s room when one of these tasteless jokes are presented it’s called out immediately and doesn’t make it on air.
— Selena Gomez (@selenagomez) August 3, 2021
On Tuesday, the former Disney star tweeted, “I am not sure how writing jokes about organ transplants for television shows has become a thing but sadly it has apparently. I hope in the next writer’s room when one of these tasteless jokes are presented it’s called out immediately and doesn’t make it on air.”
Ashley Tisdale added to the pile-on, instructing the writers to “go back to school to come up with something clever and actually funny.”
With their misdirected opprobrium, Gomez and her not-so-merry band of keyboard warriors are proving the joke right. It was about cancel culture, not Gomez. What’s hilarious is that one of the “Good Fight” characters actually asks in the same scene, “Do you think we could get canceled for even joking about being canceled?”
The answer, of course, is yes, and for two key reasons illustrated by this exceptionally silly controversy. Social media conditions us to publish and then amplify our emotional reflexes, which boosts hot takes over cooler ones tempered by, say, a 10-second pause. Worse, entertainment media’s overcorrection from the frenzied tabloid days of the aughts means celebrities increasingly feel entitled to friendly treatment.
They weaponize mental health awareness and stan culture, a trend itself fueled by alienation and dystopian tech, to police the media into compliance. It’s a repulsive display of elite entitlement, but the entertainment media rolls right along with it.
Next month, we’ll have been without Joan Rivers for seven long years. While Rivers may have regretted an Elizabeth Taylor joke or two, she justified her constant mockery of celebrities by pointing out that their vast wealth and privilege made them fair game. Yoko Ono? “The woman has $250 million, and right now she’s screeching somewhere and making a record,” Rivers said nearly 40 years ago when pressed by ABC over her “cruel” comments. Liz Taylor? “I don’t think it’s cruel when the woman is the most beautiful woman in the world, one of the wealthiest women, and is still a star of great magnitude,” she said.
“I’m cruel to big guys, but I’ll make sure I’m nice to room service who can’t answer me back,” Rivers added. “I don’t care if Elizabeth Taylor is unhappy. I do care if a little lady that’s driving an elevator is upset by something I said to her.”
A climate in which comedy writers and tabloids are hesitant to mock and criticize celebrities is a climate that allows celebrities to shield themselves from the unwashed masses, growing their fortunes and their power more easily thanks to disproportionately kind treatment. (Chrissy Teigen is Exhibit A.)
Of course it’s okay to mock Selena Gomez’s kidney transplant. I’m sure there are legitimately inappropriate ways to mock her kidney transplant, but mocking about whether or not it’s okay to mock certainly isn’t one of them. Nor is the lukewarm exchange from “Saved By The Bell” where characters speculate about who Gomez’s donor was. Not only is it okay to make those jokes, it’s healthy. The notion that mild jokes at the expense of a celebrity’s medical condition are off-limits does the bidding of elites who are manipulating the public into protecting them.
Elizabeth Taylor was reportedly hurt by Rivers’ many jokes at her expense. Gomez may, indeed, have been legitimately hurt by these gentle sitcom barbs. If that’s the case, it wasn’t the fault of “The Good Fight” writers.