If you’re squeamish about sickness, you might want to skip the first few paragraphs of this post.
So, I think I brought home a souvenir from Belgium. I wasn’t feeling 100 percent yesterday. I had a sore throat and a runny nose. I was sneezing, too. It all culminated last night. I had been really hungry, because we didn’t have much food in the house after our brief trip. I didn’t have much of a lunch. So when Bill made bacon cheeseburgers for dinner, I was all for it.
Just as I finished my burger, my body erupted into a violent coughing fit that nauseated me. I froze, looking horrified, and Bill asked me what was wrong. I said I felt like I was going to vomit. I got up and made a move toward the bathroom.
I didn’t quite make it to the toilet and, let’s just say, it was quite the Technicolor yawn. I spewed puke all over the bathroom and the rug outside the door. It took some time to clean everything up, because everything got doused– the floor, the toilet, the walls, and any items that were in the strike zone. Since this house doesn’t have closets, that meant a few things got sprayed. Bill had to go to the grocery store to buy more sponges and I had to do a sudden load of laundry.
Then, after I got most all of the surfaces cleaned, I got out my steam mop and started to give the floors a once over to get the last residue from my sickness. In the process of doing that, I scalded the fuck out of my toe. Naturally, that led to a lot cursing and an urge to burst into tears, which I somehow managed to avoid doing.
This morning, I woke up after a reasonably decent sleep, but my nose is running and I’m sneezing… This could be my allergies, or it could be a cold. Either way, I don’t feel well. However, I still have my senses of smell and taste, and I don’t feel overly tired or achy. So whatever this is, I’m sure it will pass. I’m still horrified about last night’s vomit fest, though I know it could have been worse. At least I didn’t also have diarrhea. I just have a very sensitive gag reflex and will hurl at the slightest provocation, just like the Maggie Blackamoor on Little Britain.
And now that I’ve brought up Little Britain, it’s time to move on to today’s topic… because Little Britain offers a fine segue into what’s on my mind this morning.
A little while ago, I ran across an article in The Atlantic about comedy and comedians. The article, titled “When the Punishment Doesn’t Fit the Joke”, was written by Conor Friedersdorf, is partly about the comedian Dave Chappelle. Mr. Chappelle is no stranger to making jokes that sometimes go over like turds in proverbial punch bowls, as my Aunt Gayle would put it. Personally, I think Chappelle is often funny, but I’m not a super fan of his work. I never saw the Netflix special that got him into hot water, during which he made fun of trans people. Chappelle’s special was pulled from Netflix, and many people were talking about how insensitive and “bullying” he was toward a marginalized group. Some people tried to take it even further, attacking his career, trying to ruin him.
If you’re a regular reader of my blog, you know I’m not a fan of “cancel culture”, especially when it comes to comedians. I may not like every joke I hear, but I am a big proponent of free speech and letting people vote with their wallets and consciences. Also, I like provocative content that makes people think. Sometimes so-called “offensive” humor is thought provoking. Even if a joke is cruel, if it gets people talking, it’s not all bad, in my opinion. Moreover, I enjoy being able to make decisions for myself about what is, and what is not, acceptable humor. I don’t need “help” from the masses.
In his article, Conor Friedersdorf begins by writing about Chappelle, and the performing arts theater at the Duke Ellington School of the Arts in Washington, DC. Mr. Chappelle is a former student at the school and has donated a lot of money to it, so the theater was going to be named after him. But then Chappelle got into trouble for his jokes about trans people. The renaming ceremony was postponed, and Chappelle eventually told everyone “that for now, the venue will be named the Theater for Artistic Freedom and Expression.”
Friedersdorf wrote that his colleague, David Frum, had attended the event and offered an interpretation of what happened.
In sophisticated comedy, comedians play with the tension between formal and informal beliefs, and Chappelle’s is very sophisticated comedy. The function of humor as a release from the forbidden thought explains why some of the most productive sources of jokes are authoritarian societies, because they forbid so much. In the squares of Moscow today, protesters physically reenact an old Soviet joke, demonstrating with blank signs because “Everybody already knows everything I want to say.” That same function of comedy explains why “woke America” is the target of so much satirical humor today, because so much of wokeness aspires to forbid.
When Chappelle deferred adding his name to the theater of the school to which he’d given so much of himself—not only checks, but return appearances—he was not yielding or apologizing. He was challenging the in-school critics: You don’t understand what I do—not my right to do it, but the reason it matters that I exercise that right. Until you do understand, you cannot have my name. Someday you will understand. You may have it then.
The article continued with Friedersdorf’s thoughts on modern comedy and what the role of a comedian is supposed to be. Comedians make jokes and offer humorous positions on any given topic. The great George Carlin once did a bit called “Rape Can Be Funny”. In it, he talked about how comedians run into backlash over “tasteless” jokes all the time, with people who try to tell them what is or isn’t funny, and what can or can’t be joked about. Back in 1990, Carlin said:
I believe you can joke about anything.
It all depends on how you construct the joke. What the exaggeration is. What the exaggeration is.
Because every joke needs one exaggeration. Every joke needs one thing to be way out of proportion.
Now… I want to state right away that, on many occasions, I’ve heard Carlin’s routine about how rape can be funny. I own a copy of the CD it comes from, and have listened to it enough that I can recite it from memory. Personally, I don’t think “Rape Can Be Funny” is Carlin’s best work. He makes some very tone deaf jokes about rape that, to me, just plain miss the mark. Carlin’s rape jokes aren’t funny to me, though, because he seemed to think rape is about sex and sexual attraction. In my view, rape is about people who want to take power over another person. It doesn’t have to be a man who does it, either. Women are capable of raping men. I know this because it happened to my husband during his first marriage. He trusted his ex wife, and she rewarded him by violently assaulting him when he was not capable of defending himself. I don’t think she did it because she was turned on, or wanting to turn him on. She did it because she wanted to hurt him, and show him who was in control. That had nothing to do with love, sex, or bonding. It was an act of violence and, to me, it was definitely NOT funny.
However– even though I don’t agree with Carlin’s opinions about rape, I will admit that he made a very good point in his routine about how anything can be funny to certain people. The most skillful comics can make the most horrifying topics funny. I think Carlin was one of the best comics ever, but sometimes even he flubbed things. I didn’t find his rape routine that funny, but I appreciated the one pearl of wisdom within it, in which his main point is that comedians should be free to tackle all topics. If we don’t like it, we don’t have to laugh. We don’t have to watch the show or buy the album. That would be a fitting consequence of not being funny. Trying to ruin comedians’ careers over one or two bad or offensive jokes may not be a fitting consequence– especially when a certain community presumes to make that decision for everyone.
As is my habit, I went to the Facebook comment section, just to see what people thought of Conor Friedersdorf’s article. As usual, plenty of people who didn’t read it were chiming in. There were also some virtue signalers in there– mostly white guys– trying very hard to prove to everyone how sensitive and “woke” they are, by calling Chappelle a “bully”.
First off, I don’t think that merely joking about someone or something makes them a bully. In my mind, the term “bullying” connotes abuse and harassment that includes threats and intimidation, not merely insults or ridicule. When I think of bullies, I think of people who use their positions of power to control or coerce others. Simply joking about a group, tasteless and mean as the joke may be, isn’t really acting like a bully. Now, if Dave was also trying to force trans people to give him money or property, or threatened to beat them up after the show, that would be more like bullying, in my view.
Secondly, the main virtue signaling offender in the comment section was being very insulting himself. Anyone who disagreed with him was labeled an “asshole”, among other derogatory terms. It seems to me that if one believes comedians should be kinder and gentler, one should be the change they want to see. Name calling those who have a differing viewpoint, especially when you’re pushing the view that people should be pressured/forced into being politically correct, is quite hypocritical. Below are just a few comments made by this guy. I thought about pointing it out to him that his habit of name calling isn’t very PC, but decided I’d rather frost my bush than argue with him.
…life would be better people were nicer to each other and didn’t try to fill the empty voids in their miserable lives by punching down at people more vulnerable than themselves. And it’s okay to call people who do that assholes and say you don’t want to be associated with them.
We’re having that conversation, and a lot of it is “wow, Chapelle really seems to be an asshole who delights in saying hurtful things about marginalized people from atom his giant pile of Netflix money”. But the Atlantic doesn’t like that conversation so they’re trying to shut it down. Fuck that.
…you say “that’s not the world we live in” like this is some divinely ordained state. But it’s a choice. Powerful assholes get away with attacking marginalized communities because others choose to accept it (as long as it’s happening to other people). But we could chose not to just brush off this kind of hate. We could be better.
There was one very sensible woman commenting who brought up that if people in the trans community want to be recognized as “mainstream”, they should be “tough enough” to be made fun of on occasion. One can’t ask to be treated like everyone else, and also demand “special” treatment or membership in a protected class. I totally agree with that notion.
I don’t find all attempts at humor successful, and some jokes really are tasteless, offensive, and too close to the bone, in my opinion. But it’s just MY opinion. Other people have different opinions, and personally I prefer having the right to speak freely over being threatened with being canceled if I express the “wrong” thing or have the “wrong” opinion. And to be clear, I don’t consider refusing to attend a show or buy a DVD to be “canceling” someone. Canceling someone is when a person or group tries to shut someone up or punish them by attempting to ruin their lives. That goes too far, in my view. Especially in a society that is supposed to be “free”, allowing freedom of expression and open exchanges of ideas.
ETA: I had to comment to the virtue signaling guy who was insulting everyone with name calling, as he also called for kindness. I wrote:
“Does it not strike you as slightly hypocritical that you keep labeling people ‘assholes’, as you preach about how we should all be more sensitive and kinder to others? Shouldn’t you start by being the change you want to see? Name calling isn’t the best look if you want to convince people that you’re a good person.”
I just had to do it. This guy seems to think that he should be the one who decides what is– and what is not– appropriate humor, and what jokes we should find acceptable. To quote him, I say “fuck that.” I can make up my own mind about what I find funny, and I can also vote with my wallet, and my feet. Moreover, I don’t respect someone demanding that we treat everyone with kindness and decency as he dehumanizes those who disagree with him by calling them “assholes”. He’ll probably come at me hours from now. Hopefully, I’ll be in an antihistamine induced coma by then.
I will hasten to add that I know I use the word “asshole” a lot myself. The difference is, I try really hard not to presume to “set an example”. I try not to tell people what they should be saying, thinking, or finding funny… or, at least I hope I don’t. I definitely don’t think anyone should necessarily look up to me, or value my opinions… I just like to express myself sometimes. I usually confine my expression to this blog, though, because otherwise, I’ll find myself engaged in a dialogue with someone preaching about being kind to the marginalized, as he calls me an “asshole”. Moreover, simply finding a joke funny– even if it’s vulgar, tasteless, or crass– doesn’t equate to “hate”. I can still laugh at Avenue Q or South Park, after all…
As someone who loves humor, I don’t want to see comedians being canceled. I want them to be free to come up with jokes on any topic. I’m smart enough to decide for myself if I think something is funny or not, and I can choose for myself if I want to consume what they’re selling. I don’t need guys like the woke dude above, calling Dave Chappelle an “asshole”, as he condemns his comedy for being too “mean” and marginalizing groups that he deems “at risk”. I want everyone to have a vote, and I want them to be allowed to choose for themselves. That’s freedom, to me. And dammit, I love irreverent humor, even if it sometimes hurts.
Now, if I could only free myself from this runny nose, headache, fatigue, and sneezing, I’d be batting 500…