This is part four of a wide ranging series, exploring things like hate speech, politics and satirical humor – and how an enlightened society can deal with them from prosperity consciousness. And as I said at the beginning, it gets messy. Very messy…
The truth is, movies like “My Big, Fat Greek Wedding,” “Crazy Rich Asians,” and “Annie Hall,” work because those ethnic clichés and tropes are actually a lot more universal than we might think. Most of us relate to them through the perspective of our own subset. You could make “My Big, Fat Jewish Wedding,” or “Crazy Rich Armenians,” and they would be just as funny.
Last post we discussed Ellen DeGeneres having Kevin Hart on her show and lobbying to get him back hosting the Oscars. We looked at the threatening culture in the Black community towards LGBTQ people. In Hart’s case, his comments weren’t part of any political satire or even his comedy work. He simply revealed his opinion of gay people, which was (or is) homophobic. And we know that homophobia poses a real danger to LGBTQ people.
I have a friend from Indonesia, who lives in Florida now. The reason he lives here, is because if his brother or father find out he is gay, they will kill him. They. Will. Kill. Him.
They love him as most fathers and brothers do. But if they were to discover that he is gay, they will kill him without hesitation, because that’s what their religious beliefs teach them. That’s the world we live in. There are places where they throw gay men off of rooftops for entertainment.
Now I could go into depth on how harmful organized religion is to an enlightened society, but that’s not the focus here. (And I’ve done other blogs on that topic, such as here, here, and here.) Let’s stay with the topic that every human being has an inalienable right to dignity.
A few years ago, I was channel surfing and came across a comedian doing a set on the divorce between Heather Mills, and Paul McCarthy. I can’t tell you the comedian’s name, because I switched it off when he began mocking Heather for having had one leg amputated. However, I was really conflicted…
The premise of the bit as I remember it, was him making fun of the settlement amount she was going to receive, and saying something like, “You only have one leg and you married one of the Beatles!” I knew as I was watching, that I was witnessing was gutsy comedy, which showed some creative genius. But I simply couldn’t watch it, because I felt it robbed Heather of dignity.
Some of this also takes me to a topic I raised in my Mad Genius book, that fine line between creative genius and the dark side.
Bill Cosby is a comedic genius. And now we know he is dangerous to society. R. Kelly produced some of the most amazing and iconic music of his era. And now there is a mountain of credible accusations that he is a pedophile and an abusive predator. Elon Musk is one of the most brilliant (and my favorite) entrepreneurs alive today. And…if we’re being honest here…sometimes acts a little sketchy.
How far is too far? What are the rules?
I think we’re still trying to figure that out. And it evolves as society evolves. Should I delete Ignition from my playlist now because I’ve seen two episodes of “Surviving R Kelly”? Is it wrong to enjoy an old episode of The Cosby Show, Roseanne, or House of Cards? Are you going to go through your collection and discard the Blu-rays of movies produced by Harvey Weinstein?
A large part of society agreed that when Kathy Griffin held up a bloodied Trump mask, it was over the line. I believe things like that are over the line today, because there are so many mentally imbalanced people who are inspired by political commentary, or satirical humor to actually carry out violent acts.
The recent audio leaked of Louis CK’s set caused quite a controversy. Louis is one of the comedians I believe has helped to expand and accelerate societal change, like Carlin, Lenny Bruce, and others. Brilliant comedians poke fun at inequalities and hypocrisy in our society. And as I said in the first post, to receive the benefit of that, we’re also going to have to weather the humor that doesn’t work, or crosses the line.
In the Louis CK audio, he jokes about the Parkland school shooting survivors, gender-nonconforming teens, and resurrects the Asian men small dick tropes. To me, the Parkland and LGBTQ kids should be off limits, simply because they are kids. (And the additional dangers that ridiculing them can create for them.) Louis has a platform advantage that is inherently unfair and he’s punching down. As far as the cliché Asian humor, it doesn't pass muster because it breaks the cardinal rule of comedy – it's just not funny.
I think we have to go back to my first assertion, that we need to navigate commentary, satire, and all forms of humor through the lens of whether we are stealing people’s dignity. We have to attack, speak out against or criticize the behavior or ideas – not the person. Now this is where it gets messy for me…
I play on a gay team in a LGBTQ softball league and can tell you the amount of trash talk, gay bashing, and homophobic humor is staggering. (Full disclosure: I can smack talk with the best of them.) And I have a wicked, subversive sense of humor, so I’m often making jokes that 90 percent of society might find offensive.
My friend Lee Ann called one day asked me, "What do you feed a gay horse?" I took the bait. To really appreciate the answer, you need to hear it audibly. The best way I can write it would be, “Haaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay!”
That became my new favorite joke, and I shared it with everyone in my world. Now of course I’m allowed to repeat that joke, because of the United Nations resolution and related international treaties, which stipulate that Black people can call each other niggers, homosexual men can call each other faggots, Israelis can make “cheap Jew” jokes, Asians can make small dick jokes, etc.
But what price do we pay for that?
Is it really okay for me to make gay jokes, knowing that I’m continuing harmful and offensive stereotypes? Does this create a culture where those stereotypes filter down and put other LGBTQ individuals in danger? Am I robbing them of their dignity?
I don’t know the answers to all of this. But I do know I need to think about it deeper. And have to do better in the future.
What about you? Thoughts?