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Monday, April 27, 2015

Should comedy have boundaries?

The other day, my friend Roy Eappen sent out a tweet, or more precisely a retweet, saying, "Man Killed His Pregnant Girlfriend and Her Unborn Twins When She Refused an Abortion."   

My first instinct was to retweet it myself with the appendage, "proving there's more than one way to skin a cat."  However, showing uncharacteristic restraint, I decided not to incur an onslaught of online opprobrium. But the temptation became so strong, I felt the need to close the twitter window on my computer until it passed.

Admittedly, I'm pro-abortion rights, and can sympathize with the idea of not wanting to pay child support for two unwanted kids for two decades. Even so, you'd imagine that it would be obvious that any reasonable person, or even I, oppose murder and would have been making a joke. Furthermore, I'm an animal lover, and am unequivocally opposed to the actual skinning of cats.

So why didn't I fulfill the urge to send out my little morbid witticism of questionable taste?

Because people can't take a fucking joke anymore.

We live in times where it seems that every moron with Internet access spends all their waking hours scouring electronic media for something at which they can find an excuse to take offense. Then, they'll try to shut it down, by either a petition or some other form of social media campaign. If successful at censorship, they get to shout about their "victory" and feel a sense of power they could never otherwise achieve from, oh, say, creating something or doing something productive.

However, the biggest culprits in this trend aren't the insufferable Internet shitheads who get pleasure from shutting down free speech. It's the media companies, the academic departments, the politicians, and the rest who surrender like an Italian infantry unit at the first sign of trouble.

The appropriate, rational response to an impasse where someone wants to deny another their free speech rights because of a perceived offense is to say, "go fuck yourself." Or alternately to say, "you have every right to choose not to attend or not to listen to things you find offensive, you can insult the person whose opinion you dislike, but you don't have the right to dictate what others can choose to hear."

Which isn't to say offensive comedy can't be problematic. But in those instances, the marketplace of ideas and commerce should be allowed to take their natural course.

It's time we stopped letting sanctimonious would-be censors who troll the Internet dictate to the world what is acceptable humor. There's only one real test for a joke, and that's whether or not it gets a laugh.

The recent example of Trevor Noah comes to mind. The prospective heir to Jon Stewart's throne at The Daily Show got in hot water for a series of old tweets that were insulting to women and Jews.

Trevor Noah's crime was that his jokes about Jews and women weren't remotely funny. Sure, it's a matter of taste. But the problem when a comedian keeps making the same type of unfunny joke over and over, is that it can lead the casual observer to the natural conclusion that it's not actually a joke, and the joker is just an asshole. A case in point is the fascist, French, alleged "comedian" Dieudonne M'bala M'bala. The guy hasn't said anything even mildly amusing on purpose in decades.  M'Bala M'bala's Holocaust "jokes," along with his sincere promotions of anti-Semitic Holocaust deniers, make it abundantly clear he really does hate Jews.  Not that you can't make a living from that. M'bala M'bala has a big following among Jew-hating fascists and Islamists; not demographics generally considered to be major aficionados of comedy, but their francs count as money just like anyone else's.

Balance can be difficult, since comedy, like any other form of social satire, often needs to offend some people to work properly. Unfortunately, the politically correct, intellectually inhibiting climate we have has made contemporary comedy a challenging task.

Part of the dilemma is that identifying satire and parody has become nearly impossible.

We get to witness absurdities from requests for feminist jazz hands, because clapping could be "triggering," to a grievance filed by a transexual upset that she was referred to with the pronoun "Ms" instead of "Mx,"  to UC Santa Barbara apologizing for serving tacos during a science fiction party because it might offend illegal aliens from Mexico. We live in times, thanks to regressive leftists, where there's frequently no discernible difference between parody and reality. 

That became hilariously apparent a few days ago when the brilliant twitter satirist Godfrey Elfwick was taken as a serious "progressive," by the BBC. On a BBC radio show, the hosts had no doubt of Elfwick's sincerity when he satirically described Star Wars as racist and sexist because Darth Vader was a "racial stereotype" who listened to rap music, and that "the one main female character ended up chained to a horny space slug."

Yes, we do live in strangely ultra-sensitive times.

You can show Jesus, Moses, Ganesha, and Buddha in a graphic orgy and no one cares, but all you have to do now is draw one little cartoon of Mohammed having sex with a goat and the next thing you know, some enraged Islamic mob is trying to behead you. And the left is siding with the Islamists because the mobs of maniacs trying to murder peaceful satirists are an otherized minority, making them automatic victims, regardless of their behavior. We've gone from living in times where the political left wants gun control to where they want comic control. Remember folks, cartoons don't kill; people do. And if Islam causes enough damage to the prefrontal cortex so that a cartoon can stimulate great masses of its adherents into uncontrollable rage, maybe it's finally time to make it illegal. Or at least require an Islam license, since evidently, without proper training it can be lethal.

Perhaps the only way out of all this is to utilize the rule described by Alan Alda's character in Woody Allen's masterpiece, Crimes and Misdemeanors.  "Comedy equals tragedy plus time" may well be the rule to live by. Something that's a tragedy today can be the subject of a joke later on. 

There may be a corollary to that rule involving applying common sense and picking an appropriate setting for a joke. For example, a crack about a pregnant murder victim would be a pretty serious breach of etiquette at the woman's funeral service. But among friends at a coffee shop or bar...well..sure, it's still in awful taste, but based on a trial among a small sample audience, it appears it does get a laugh... even if it's combined with a groan.

The Allen Rule with the Klagsbrun Corollary. That could be the guideline for the future of humor. 

If you don't believe me, you can try it for yourself. The next time I write something you find offensive. just take a deep breath, hold it, and slowly count to 240,380.  By the time you're done, I'm sure whatever I wrote won't trouble you in the least anymore. 


Cross posted at The Rebel Blogs "The Megaphone"

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