As philosopher and literary theorist Roland Barthes argued in his 1967 essay The Death of the Author, the intentions of the creator are essentially irrelevant in the examination of a work by its author. As Pepe the Frog creator Matt Furie found out, it doesn’t matter if you didn’t create a character to be massively racist or even kill that character, the racist segment of your audience will still use the character racistly. Similarly, it doesn’t matter if Mike Pence makes a children’s book in which his family’s pet rabbit is not explicitly gay, if John Oliver publishes one first in which the rabbit is explicitly gay, it is out of Pence’s hands. And here we are.
As The Daily Beast is reporting, Oliver managed to beat the publication of Pence’s Marlon Bundo’s Day in the Life of the Vice President (bit of a mouthful that one) with his own A Day in the Life of Marlon Bundo by a scant few hours.
Marlon Bundo, the Pence family rabbit, has been featured in a book written by Pence’s daughter Charlotte and illustrated by Pence’s wife Karen that explains to children what being vice president is all about (I presume it focuses mostly on stopping the president from tweeting). Bundo has also been featured in a competing book, written by Jill Twiss (sharing co-author credit with the rabbit himself) and illustrated by EG Keller, in which he pursues a same-sex romance with another boy rabbit.
As of Monday afternoon US time, Oliver’s book was sitting at the top of the Amazon bestseller charts, with Pence’s lagging behind at No. 6.
The proceeds of both books are going to charity, with those from Oliver’s going to The Trevor Project and AIDS United (which focus on LGBTQI suicide prevention and AIDS research, respectively), and those from Pence’s going to Tracy’s Kids and A21, an art therapy program and a non-profit that focuses on sex trafficking.
Oliver’s book has copped some criticism from conservative commentators for making the rabbit a ‘partisan’ issue, but Pence might have already done that himself, including Focus on the Family – a group described by the Human Rights Campaign as “one of the most well-funded anti-LGBTQ organizations in America” – as a stop on the book tour.
This isn’t gayness being used as a punchline, this isn’t someone deciding homophobia is OK because the target is homophobic themselves, this is a celebration of Pence’s gay rabbit. Pence’s rabbit is canonically gay, and that’s wonderful.
Here’s a link to Oliver’s video about it that will only work if you’ve got a VPN. So, uh, you’re welcome.