It’s no joke: The Lorax trailers make punchline at women’s expense

The Lorax by Dr. Seuss is classic tale of environmental conscience, and it is a story that my three-year-old son enjoys. In fact, it was one of the first longer children’s books that managed to keep his attention for the entire story. Something about it just captivates him.

Today, I saw the trailer for the new Lorax movie for the first time. It’s a computer animated feature film based on Dr. Seuss’s book, and I smiled at the quality of the animation. There was a dream-like beauty to the Truffula Trees.

But as the trailer came to a close, it wiped the smile off my face.

Why? Because it ends with a joke that I don’t find funny at all.

Jump to about 2:20 in the above video, and you’ll hear the following exchange:

WOMAN: So who invited the giant furry peanut?
THE LORAX [gesturing threateningly]: I’ll go right up your nose! [He begins walking towards her, punching at the air. She leans towards him aggressively]
MAN: You wouldn’t hit a woman!
THE LORAX: [Incredulously:] Hoo! That’s a woman???

The “joke,” if you can call it that, is that the Lorax–voiced by Danny DeVito–doesn’t recognize his antagonist as a woman. After all, she is heavyset and not conventionally attractive, and she is behaving in a combative rather than demure way. So she’s gotta be a guy, right?

In other words, it is misogynistic and fat-shaming

The other trailer at the Lorax Movie’s official web site ends the exact. same. way.

Because it’s “just a joke,” it may seem like a small thing–but it isn’t. The comment demeans women whose bodies and behaviors don’t fit our culture’s overly narrow definition of feminine beauty. And when messages like these are relayed over, and over, and over, it becomes a really big deal. This “joke” reinforces the idea that it’s okay to objectify women–that women’s value is in their appearance–and that women who don’t fit the cultural ideal don’t deserve to be regarded as actual women.

I would find this joke reprehensible anywhere, but it really has no place in a children’s film. Surely the writers and directors could have done better! But, no–apparently the producers thought it was comedic genius. Cuz, you know, when women’s bodies aren’t sexy, they’re funny.

Readers: What do you think?

For further reading: It’s just a joke“: a theoretical but interesting discussion of offensive jokes

18 Comments on “It’s no joke: The Lorax trailers make punchline at women’s expense

  1. I think you’re reading too far into it. Not every joke is an attack.

    What I dislike the most about the clip is the fact that the writers went for such a weak joke. “The Lorax” is actually really clever, and to see such cheap laughs disrespects Dr. Seuss.

    • That is the challenge with media, Joe. Jokes like this are all to common and “normal,” and therefore people don’t see the biases that they reinforce and perpetuate. Media companies are more concerned with entertaining and making money than they are with ethics. If they can get away with making fun of anyone for anything to improve the appeal of the content, they will. They certainly couldn’t have gotten away with putting a racist joke in there.

      • You have a point. These jokes become commonplace and people ignore/overlook the mean spirit behind it. But sometimes you have to roll with the joke and admit that some people make themselves look like fools by not trying to understand others.

        For me, the bigger joke is the Lorax putting his foot in his mouth. He looks like such an idiot, and it’s funny because we’ve all been there. We’ve all said something stupid, and that’s funny. That the writers had to use such a cliche way to deliver it is what bothers me.

        • Joe, why do you say that people who are appalled at the “Hit a woman! That’s a woman?” joke “have to roll with the joke?” This particular joke is featured as the punchline (pun intended) for the TV commercials and official website. If you search the web, you will find many threads celebrating this highlight. In a deliberately “adult” vulgarity-based farce, this kind of joke is perfectly at home, and people may justify or decry that type of humor. But here, “The Lorax” is making a real big deal about what a wonderful, positive “message movie” it is, for the youngest children. It postures as an instant classic, banking on the cache Dr. Seuss bestows. Which part is funny? “Hit a woman?” Or “That’s a woman?” Do you seriously suggest that 4 year olds will interpret this as some kind of meta-humor? That little kids will step outside the joke’s gut-level, obvious, common cultural meaning? They see the girl who is the motivation of this movie (a story not present in the book), slender, flowing hair, ingratiating. And a large, confrontational woman by contrast — THAT’S a woman? This joke is so old, so common, and so continually poisonous and typical of mass market junk products. Hit a woman, Joe. I guess she’ll just have to roll with it. If you don’t find her sexually appealing. Hit a woman. Hilarious. Especially for children. Lesson learned.

    • No, IT’S JUST A JOKE is the answer people always give when they resist really looking at something harmful they have deliberately said. I don’t know if it’s the embarrassment of getting caught going along with a hateful sentiment, or if it’s doubling down on the hate itself. What makes The Lorax unique among daily gender-stereotypes is this: It’s aimed right at little kids. It presents itself a a morality tale, supposed teaching some sort of values. It is a major movie, with a gigantic cross-promotional blockbuster instant classic marketing campaign. It represents an ultra famous, influential, positive, non-violent children’s book writer. It its exactly on the celebration of Dr. Suess 100th birthday. And this precise joke, from a pivotal part of the plot, is delivered as the punchline to the main trailer, which is bombarding the media and appears first thing on their web site. So, if it wasn’t this big of a deal in the first place, I guess you could say it’s “no big deal.” But it’s big. And lots of kids will see it. Lots of kids will find the taunt familiar from the daily aggression of schoolyard bullies. Kids who think this is a funny “joke” will grow up in a world where people who do not fit gender stereotypes are actually hit, and killed for it each year (look it up). “You’re not a woman/man/etc.” will be the last thing the victims hear. Great fun for the whole family.

  2. I don’t like that there’s violence in it. Kids have enough violence everywhere else, and I think Dr. Seuss may have been upset that it was being put into a movie based on one of his creations.

    Even more than that- the dreamy girl, the guy who has to come to the rescue…the whole thing is a continuation of gender roles. Once it’s out on netflix I might see it just to get an idea of how horribly off-message it really is.

    (On a final note- I got to teach a lesson at Nature camp, called “Trial of the Lorax”, where he is blamed for not doing enough to prevent the demise of the Truffula trees, and all the others. Think about it. He only goes in afterwards and yells “Bad!”, doesn’t give clear warning beforehand of what might happen. So is he really a “good guy”? He doesn’t try to work with the Once-ler for a sustainable operation, lots of other things he could have done differently.)

    • Great points! The romance narrative rubbed me the wrong way, too. Producers will write romance narratives into just about *anything*. I’ve always felt Pixar’s Cars would be much better without the Lightning McQueen/Sally subplot. Let her be her own character, not someone who becomes subsumed as a factor in the bad-boy lead character’s reformation.

      That’s really interesting about the Nature Camp lesson! But–hmm–in the original, doesn’t the Lorax try to intervene repeatedly while the trees are being cut down, not just afterwards? Here’s a link to the full text: What do you think?

  3. What a dude thing to say, Joe. Seriously, we females have heard this ‘joke’ over & over & over again. It’s not funny; it fucking HURTS.

    • If this joke hurts, then I suggest you grow a pair of ovaries. Please don’t think that I’ve haven’t been the butt of many jokes, especially in the media. I am, and when it happens I don’t cry to the Internet.

      Don’t get me wrong. The fact that these kind of jokes are so prevalent in American culture is a problem, but woman are not the only group who face them. Instead of complaining, own it and return the joke. Sometimes men act waaaay to manly, and that’s funny. But it’s almost never made fun of in popular culture, and that something to complain about.

      • Hey Joe,

        Pointing out that an offensive joke exists in the media (and is part of a more pervasive problem) =/= “crying to the Internet.” It’s a form of cultural criticism. In media studies, pausing to unpack seemingly trivial moments is considered a useful way to take the pulse of the broader culture, raise consciousness about problematic content, and advocate for change.

        You mentioned that women aren’t the only ones who face such issues: You are correct. Of course we aren’t! But that doesn’t mean women (or anyone in a similar position) should be silent on the subject. For one thing, silence is acquiescence; for another, one group’s hurt doesn’t nullify another’s. It’s not a zero-sum game where only one group can express concerns about the issues they face. Everybody facing issues should speak out.

        Returning the joke is a valid strategy. I can certainly see how it would work as a resistance strategy, at least at some times and for some people, but everyone is different. I respect people’s preferences and comfort zone differences–and so much of it depends on your target audience. (Humor totally worked with my TSA cupcake thing!) But YMMV with any given strategy.

        For the record, I’d be quick to critique a homophobic joke or a racist joke, etc, as well as a sexist or weightist joke– but people’s radar tend to be most attuned to the issues they’ve faced directly. As a woman, I can’t tell you how many times in my life boys/men have tried to silence me or imply their superiority over me using insults about my weight as a tactic. This is even though I think I am on the slender side and my weight is healthy. But our society teaches girls and women that we should be as small as possible, which makes many of us really sensitive to the idea that we’re failing at that internalized goal. As is typical, I was pretty sensitive to such comments when I was younger, until it clicked for me what the purpose of such comments were. So now I’m basically personally immune, but I know what a mechanism of control it can be (it’s like pushing a button for so many people), so speak up when I see it happen because it’s SO problematic.

        Finally, here’s a neat (though pretty theoretical) link on unfunny jokes that you might find useful: Enjoy!

  4. Such a shame. The Lorax is probably my most favorite Dr. Suess book. I’d like to think he would have been just as disappointed. It’s a story of being responsible, thoughtful, caring, respectful… does this fit in? I couldn’t agree with you more – they could have done a lot better!

    • Responsible, thoughtful, caring: you’ve hit the nail on the head! It’d be one thing in a new comedy, but it’s so problematic in a film based on a well-known and well-loved story with a pro-social message.

  5. I was really glad to find your blog post. I googled “Lorax ‘that’s a woman?’ fat bias” and yours was the first result. You hit the nail on the head.

    I’m so hurt by “jokes” like this. I’m a very tall woman, I sometimes go through heavy phases, and I can tell you [Joe] that this kind of casually cruel remark not only hurts, it wears away one’s confidence.

    It tells me that a woman who is too big is not really a woman.

    As tall as I am, I’m still a woman. Except to the Lorax, evidently women like me aren’t really women. And apparently it’s perfectly fine to say so out loud and expect other folks to laugh at this bit of humor.

    I feel bad for every little girl who happens to be the tallest – perhaps the heaviest – in her class and sees this movie.

    This may be her first inkling that she’s not entitled to the same respect, admiration or even simple kindness that a smaller, ‘prettier’ girl will garner.

    I realized when I was about 10 that the worst thing a woman could do in our society was take up too MUCH space. The worst thing a man could do was not take up ENOUGH space. Sadly, things haven’t changed a lot in the past 40 years.

    • Annie, I’m so glad you found my post, too. Yes, the messages children hear about masculinity and femininity can do a lot of damage. People need to speak out against “jokes” like this one.

  6. Gosh! You’re Complaining Too Much! I’m A Woman! They’re Just Poking At Fun! XD What’s Your Problem?

    • I don’t know what “her problem is” but I know your problem is you obviously didn’t read the article/responses.

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