Monday, January 23, 2012

Give Me My Words Or Give Me Death

When the Space Shuttle Challenger blew up in 1986, killing all on board including Christa McAuliffe, the first member of the Teacher in Space Project, the following joke hit the streets within minutes of the disaster:

Q: “What were Christa McAuliffe’s last words?”
A: “What does this button do?”

If that joke had made the rounds today with the Internet as our Orwellian gatekeeper, the person who first said it would be spending hours apologizing to the McAuliffe family and explaining themselves to the press. And if they were employed they probably would have been fired.

Like it or not, comedians say things others are thinking but are afraid to speak out loud. It’s brave. It’s often cringe-worthy. But mainly it’s brave.

The purpose of comedy is to make people think. Its purpose is not to make you comfortable or make you smile. Its purpose is to make you laugh. And in the pursuit of that end, there will be casualties.

What other profession combines making you think with making you laugh? Politics, but that’s probably not on purpose.

Does this mean we can’t make fun of death or tragedies but can make fun of little old ladies driving in Florida, Mexicans trying to get into the U.S. or Tiger Woods and his white mistresses? Where do you draw the line and do you draw it for everyone? Or just for yourself? The correct answer to that question should be Just For Yourself. Please leave the rest of us out of it. Don’t tell me what I can’t say and I won’t tell you how badly you need a nose job.

I was unfollowed on Twitter by an irate gentleman who took exception to this tweet of mine:

“People in Mississippi can't wear white sheets after Labor Day.”

The U.K.’s most controversial and, according to him, most fired radio personality Neal Mayhem was unfollowed for this tweet:

"Police now use an iPhone app that scans irises to ID suspects. It replaces their previous method: scanning for dark skin."

Of course both Neal and I thought our tweets were hilarious. Others did not. That’s because comedy is subjective. Not forbidden.

While she was interviewing people on the red carpet, celebrity basher Kathy Griffin said that Dakota Fanning was in rehab. Steven Spielberg’s movie War of the Worlds was coming out and insiders speculated that he insisted that the E! channel ban Kathy for saying such a "horrible" thing to the young star of his movie.

They did.

Off the wall comedian Tracy Morgan was performing in a comedy club and after a lengthy anti-gay rant ended it by saying he would not talk to his child and would stab him if that child was gay. NBC threatened 30 Rock with pulling advertisers if Tracy didn’t apologize.

Tracy apologized.

Because 75% of Aflac’s business is in Japan, well known shock comic Gilbert Gottfried was fired from being the annoying duck voice on the annoying Aflac commercial because of a series of dark but funny tweets he made about last year's Japanese tsunami.

Gilbert apologized.

The world jumps on the lone tweet, comment or sound bite from a comic while we let movies like The Hangover - which is phobic, racist and sexist – slide. The 40 year Old Virgin had an entire scene of "You're so gay because…" and it was never criticized once in the press. There appears to be selective outrage when it comes to products that make millions of dollars, like hit movies, and stand up comedians, who don't.

Stop the political correctness; I want to get off.

I don’t have to like or agree with anything anyone says but threaten me and you threaten the first amendment of the U.S. Constitution, part of the Bill of Rights:

The 1st Amendment protects the freedom of religion, speech, and the press, as well as the right to assemble and petition the government.

We have to let the Westboro Baptist Church protest at funerals of soldiers, gays and public figures like former First Lady Betty Ford because it’s their right. We wouldn’t dream of taking away someone’s religious freedoms even if it is as hateful as theirs.

Firing someone, forcing them to resign, threatening them with loss of income doesn’t work. Because people keep speaking their minds. As recently as Academy Awards producer Brett Ratner, who made a gay slur and ‘resigned’ from this year's event. Did Ratner live in a bubble so small that he was unaware of the trouble Gilbert Gottfried and Tracy Morgan got into? Did he, a movie director, not hear about Danish movie director Lars von Trier, who was ousted and banned from the Cannes Film Festival in 2011 for saying he sympathized with Hitler and was himself a Nazi? Apparently the Danish are not known for their comedic talents because Von Trier said he was trying to make a joke.

Not all of my jokes go over either.

36 comments:

  1. That was awesome.

    I love the part about "the right to assemble and petition the government" because if I could assemble the government, I'd assemble them in the shape of an X-Wing.

    That would be awesome.

    ReplyDelete
  2. -->People need a better sense of humor.
    I've seen a lot of Twitter bios lately declaring that their thoughts do not reflect those of their employer.

    ReplyDelete
  3. I think the white sheets joke is hilarious. I draw the line at making fun of genocide. Just about anything else is open season.

    Love,
    Janie Junebug

    ReplyDelete
  4. I need an entire head job.

    ReplyDelete
  5. That is exactly the point: people cannot censor someone else's sense of humor.

    Though they think they can.

    There may be humor we find tasteless, cruel, without sympathy...but that's for us to think, and not censor.

    If we want to unfollow, or unsubscribe...we will. Our choice, our freedom...just like the joke teller's choice to tell, or not tell.

    If I haven't told you one hundred times already, Suzy, you have got a brain on your shoulders. HOLY COW.

    ReplyDelete
  6. I was doing a short set at a club here in Austin right after the big wildfires in Bastrop, which is just south of here, and everyone going on that night was told by the manager of the club in no uncertain terms that he would not tolerate any bits about the fires. Guess whose set was ALL fire jokes? Not just me. None of the comics did fire jokes that night. On stage, anyway. We did tell each other, though.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Yupp :-) Neal was right we Don't!! An Answer me why I can't have a bounce network... oh yea I am white and from Ms!!!

    ReplyDelete
  8. This is so weird, I was just thinking about this today!
    I'm so sick and tired of all the political correctness and forcing celebrities/comics to apologize for something they've said.

    I say fuck it! Let's just all say what we want and what we feel and to hell with the consequences!!

    ReplyDelete
  9. Bobbi, we can blame the Internet for most of this censorship, followed briskly by the mommybloggers who think they run the Internet.

    ReplyDelete
  10. Thanks Suzy for putting my thoughts into words. I think humor is an endangered commodity in the world today and I am glad you are fighting. Sign me up.

    Oh and you should check this one out:
    http://emilylhauserinmyhead.wordpress.com/

    I got banned for attempting to start a dialogue and questioning this "activist" on the reasons behind her words. She got snarky, then *bam* I was outta there. If you want a touch of irony, check out her "Stop Censorship" banner on the top right.

    Love you and your mind.

    ReplyDelete
  11. If the point of your speech is to cross the line, to push the boundary, to find out where people are uncomfortable, then it's totally disingenuous to plead against people saying back to you "Here's the line, you crossed a boundary, I'm uncomfortable." The Constitution enshrines a right to not be arrested for saying what you feel; it does not enshrine the right to suffer no social or economic consequences from your fellow citizens for saying what you feel.

    I know comedians feel this way about their speech. But it's wrong-headed. If comedians have a purpose in the world it is as canary in a coal mine, not as prophet on a mountain. There's nothing sacred about jokes.

    ReplyDelete
  12. This comment has been removed by the author.

    ReplyDelete
  13. Holy Crap, BackPackingDad. Never before have I read such a total missing of a point made so eloquently. Undoubtedly, you have a gift for using words. It's just a shame that gift is wasted on typing such nonsensical bullshit.
    Suzy's point wasn't that comedians should be ABOVE recourse or consequence. Sure, if I say something about your culture or race that pisses you off, you have a right to say "Oi, Mayhem, you pissed me off. Apologise"
    What SHE'S saying, is that if I piss you off, and you then go to my boss (thankfully I AM he) and demand my immediate dismissal because I said something that made you get your panties all in a huge knot right up into your anus, and my boss then demands I get fired, and consequently disabled from making any further jokes like that in the future, then that is not right, and amounts to censorship.
    We don't have a constitutional right to the freedom of speech in this country. Russell Brand, who is a dickwad of a talentless idiot, got fired from a national radio station because he called a well known celebrity, and left a voicemail saying he'd had sex with his grandaughter. Predictably, Sachs was plenty pissed. And Radio 2 fired him.
    Was it right that Sachs complained? Sure. He has a right.
    Was it right that others complained on his behalf? Sure. They have a right too.
    Was it right that Brand was subsequently fired, as was his radio station colleague who just happened to be in the studio at the same time as him? Absolutely not.
    Some broadcasters get away with murder. One in particular, Chris Moyles does so because, staggeringly, he has a large audience. Mostly, all he has to do is say "I'm sowwy, I won't do it again, pwomise" and his incredibly average show prevails.
    Russell Brand was working a Saturday shift in a much smaller slot. Most were not even aware he was on.
    Comedy IS subjective.
    Something YOU find funny, I find dull as shit. I don't laugh hysterically at EVERY single thing that Suzy herself writes, or anyone else for that matter. But I KNOW she's funny, because I can see through my eyes, and I have a brain. Conversely, some of the things I write, many find grossly unfunny. Others find these same things hysterical.
    It's not rocket science. It's called taste.
    I think we're perhaps back on point now?

    In summary;
    Suzy wasn't saying she's above being called out on her jokes. She's saying she would just rather you didn't stop her being able to afford her meat sub, just because you didn't like her saying "poop filled diapers", or something equally hilarious.

    ReplyDelete
  14. Poop filled diapers.

    ReplyDelete
  15. I didn't like that Suzy. Your ass needs to be fired

    ReplyDelete
  16. I thought both Suzy's and Neal's jokes were funny, but I think Backpacking Dad makes a very valid point about the limits of freedom of speech.

    Societal censorship and governmental censorship are two entirely different things.

    That said, some people are waaaay tooo easily offended.

    ReplyDelete
  17. Holy crap, Neal. I have never read such a total making of an equivocation made so eloquently.

    Suzy, and now you, have both equated firing comedians, because of economic pressure, to censorship. It IS censorship, in the broad sense of limiting speech. It is not censorship, in the narrow sense that the courts, or the Constitution, care about. Noting properties of a thing described by a term and applying those properties to a different thing described by a similar-sounding term is called "equivocation", and it's logical fallacy.

    Suzy raised the Constitution in her post, and I disagreed that she was right to do so. What, precisely, is the point that was missed that makes my objection nonsensical bullshit? That is the whole strength of her piece, that WE ALL AGREE CENSORSHIP IS WRONG, RIGHT? LOOK AT THE CONSTITUTION; THEREFORE THIS IS WRONG. But she's not right about that. We don't all agree that censorship is wrong in the way she needs us to in order for her argument to work.

    She's allowed to make the much more limited plea that maybe we should try to extend our notion of protected speech into the private sector. She's allowed to say we should feel bad for comedians who get fired. She's not allowed to say they shouldn't be fired because the Constitution says some stuff.

    ReplyDelete
  18. Holy crap, Neal. I have never read such a total making of an equivocation made so eloquently.

    Suzy, and now you, have both equated firing comedians, because of economic pressure, to censorship. It IS censorship, in the broad sense of limiting speech. It is not censorship, in the narrow sense that the courts, or the Constitution, care about. Noting properties of a thing described by a term and applying those properties to a different thing described by a similar-sounding term is called "equivocation", and it's logical fallacy.

    Suzy raised the Constitution in her post, and I disagreed that she was right to do so. What, precisely, is the point that was missed that makes my objection nonsensical bullshit? That is the whole strength of her piece, that WE ALL AGREE CENSORSHIP IS WRONG, RIGHT? LOOK AT THE CONSTITUTION; THEREFORE THIS IS WRONG. But she's not right about that. We don't all agree that censorship is wrong in the way she needs us to in order for her argument to work.

    She's allowed to make the much more limited plea that maybe we should try to extend our notion of protected speech into the private sector. She's allowed to say we should feel bad for comedians who get fired. She's not allowed to say they shouldn't be fired because the Constitution says some stuff.

    ReplyDelete
  19. We didn't have any of these random bellyaching and firings before the Internet was able to disseminate information and get everyone all pissed off because someone made fun of the consequences of a tsunami. I refer you back to successful movies, where no one gets fired.

    Comedians do. And they shouldn't. And I'll stand by that till the day I die.

    The same people firing comedians and thereby CENSORING THEM, are the same ones pushing to eliminate SOPA and PIPA.

    Make up your minds, people.

    ReplyDelete
  20. I want to add the ONLY word against the law to say in a crowded room is FIRE. You can be arrested if you say it and there's no fire.

    ReplyDelete
  21. What pissed me off was David Remnick apologizing for that New Yorker cover of Michelle and Barack dressed as terrorists in the Oval Office. He was satirizing the Right's depiction of Obama, not repeating it, and there was NOTHING to apologize for. Also, it was their best cover ever.

    ReplyDelete
  22. Should people be fired for offending someone? I don't think so, but it has and will continue to happen when the person is working for a business, because business relies on customers and when those customers choose to withdraw their financial support, the business must cut their losses to remain viable.

    Do I think this is right? No, but that doesn't mean it is wrong for the offended parties to express their unhappiness. It's part of living in a free society. The good news is no comedians (that we know of) have been beheaded for their choice of words, as they might be in some other countries, like Connecticut or Alabama.

    It is a choice the comedian consciously makes to present thought-provoking, potentially inflammatory material. No one should ever challenge our right to do so, but we also must be prepared to live with the consequences of our choices.

    ReplyDelete
  23. As Henny Youngman once said "Take my freedom of speech, please."
    X David

    ReplyDelete
  24. May favorite comedians poke holes in the absurdity that becomes accepted knowledge and practice. It won't surprise you that some of my favorite bits come from political comedians and people like George Carlin for his bits on how we use and abuse words.

    A perfect example of the role of comedians is the fact that some of the best, most honest political coverage is coming from Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert. If people in this country understand how ridiculous and dangerous the Superpacs are, it's because of Stephen Colbert.

    Also, I can't believe Neal was fired for that tweet. What was so offensive about the truth?

    If you have to worry about being fired or banned for pushing the boundaries, how can you create? Seems like that would put the brakes on humor.

    Ramble over.

    ReplyDelete
  25. I have to agree that we are all far too sensitive these days. I'm hoping it's growing pains - the Internet is still fairly new and we're not used to hearing every itty bitty thing as it is uttered. Comedy has survived these things before (think Lenny Bruce, Carlin and Richard Pryor), and I imagine it will again.

    But you're right, success is the best protection. Money talks.

    ReplyDelete
  26. Correction: Neal was unfollowed, not fired for that tweet. Which is still silly that someone would unfollow him for that. Must have been someone from Mississippi with their sheet in a twist.

    ReplyDelete
  27. Poop filled diapers. I like that S.
    Didn't one of our Supreme Court judges just say 'change the channel if you don't like something'? Unsubscribe if you don't like it, but let other people make up their own minds.

    ReplyDelete
  28. Suzy, you and I both know comedy is NOT subjective. Some people just don't get the joke.

    (I'd like to do a study that involves professional comics deciding whether something is/isn't funny, regardless of whether it gets a laugh)

    ReplyDelete
  29. Oh, you just reminded me of when Bob Tzu got hammered for doing a joke about Billy Joel's daughter trying to commit suicide by taking homeopathics ("she underdosed").

    None of the people who screamed that "suicide isn't funny" got that the joke was about HOMEOPATHY!

    Bob did not apologize and, luckily, the followers who DID get the joke supported him.

    ReplyDelete
  30. You know it's a great post when I'm coming back a day later to read more comments.

    ReplyDelete
  31. Regarding Steven Sashen's comment about a study to decide what is funny or not, I believe you can probably get grant money from the stimulus fund 2010 to get that study under way. That should get you laughing all the way to the bank. Laughter should start everyone's day....
    I love all of you in the comedy world!

    ReplyDelete
  32. Found you after reading your comment on Vodka Mom's Joe Paterno post. I wanted to know who the brave person, that wrote exactly what I was thinking, was. And I'm a Vodka Mom fan but I found myself reading the post and the comments thinking huh? I actually went back and read some updated articles just to make sure I hadn't missed the news that informed us that he didn't know anything or had gone to the police about it. Couldn't find it.

    ReplyDelete
  33. Jessica, like you, I read the comments on that post and was dumbfouned. Did they not read what happened?

    ReplyDelete
  34. Haha! The joke about Mississippi is priceless. I'm going to follow you on twitter right now!

    www.issheserious.com

    ReplyDelete
  35. This is the most interesting group of comments I've read lately and it follows a well-written and thought out post. Yes, comedy is subjective. Personally, I thought the white sheet tweet was hilarious, but on the other hand, because I have a gay son, I was highly offended by Tracy Morgan's anti-gay rant and had I been a company advertising on 30 Rock, I damn well would have wanted to pull my advertising had he not apologized. And I would have had every right to do so.

    ReplyDelete
  36. about 3 seconds after 'political correctness' was forced down everyone's throats, i was tired of it, yet, like 30+ year-old rap crap, it persists...

    back in the day, folk said 'disco sux'... it may have, but unlike rap, was allowed to die... today, nearly everybody and his dog puts out 'music' with at least a nod to rap...

    wtf?

    did all intelligent musicians die off?

    hey, i grew up on blues and jazz, so don't call me 'racist'... they remain my fave forms of music... cuz they ARE music!

    GRRRRRRRRRRRRRR

    ReplyDelete