Good comics challenge those in power. Hacks suck up to power.
Here’s a hack for you: Bill Maher. Bill got together with a Republican, Ben Sasse, and as privileged and oblivious white people are wont to do in conversation, yucked it up by mocking the black and the underprivileged, making light of slavery and using a word white people should never, ever use. I shall refer you to Damon Young, a Very Smart Brotha, for the definitive ruling.
Nigga and nigger are two separate words with two separate meanings and connotations, and White people — regardless of how “down” or woke” they want to be — aint allowed to say either. Sorry, y’all. (And by “Sorry, y’all” I mean “LOLOLOL not fucking sorry at all get the fuck out of here and go kick some gluten-free rocks.”)
It’s a really simple rule. And no, you don’t get an exemption when you’re kicking it back with a chummy conservative senator from a conservative state. Actually, that’s about the worst time you can feel free to get a laugh about black people.
Young has more to say.
It’s apropos that he’d catch this heat — and possibly lose his show — for saying this word, as it provides a convenient intersection for two similar issues: White people vexed that they’re not allowed to say this word, and privileged White people — privileged White men, specifically — lamenting on how political correctness and “outrage culture” has made us too sensitive. Both issues are issues because of (some) White people’s unfamiliarity with the concept of “No.” Where they’re so used to being able to do and say what they want — believing they possess some sort of manifest destined dominion over literally everything — that saying “Yeah, you can’t do this one thing” contradicts their personhood and their Whiteness. “What do you mean I can’t do this one thing? I’m White! I can do everything! I thought the life-long “Do Everything” pass came with the membership package! I need to see a manager!“
I have two objections.
This is Bill Maher. He’s kind of the epitome of neo-liberal white obliviousness. It’s a good characterization, but humility and respect for others ain’t how he got his show.
“possibly lose his show”…I am laughing over here. He won’t lose his show! He’s a white male comedian with a reputation for “edginess”, which covers a multitude of sins! Also, it’s not as if he made a Republican uncomfortable.
But you know who is going to lose a show? Kathy Griffin. This one is more complicated.
She posted a photo of herself holding what looked like the bloody decapitated head of Donald Trump. I have mixed feelings about it.
On the one arm, explicitly joking about killing people, even Donald Trump, is a bad thing. We need to discourage it.
On the other arm, it’s Donald Trump, and it’s definitely punching up. That’s what comedians should do. Did she go too far? I’d agree with that.
On the third arm, shouldn’t the condemnation be evenly spread around? Why is Ted Nugent, who joked about shooting Obama, given private tours of the Trump White House? I thought it was bad when he did it, and it’s fair enough to expect I’d also condemn Griffin when she does it.
On the fourth arm, fairness doesn’t seem to be a universal here. Maher can punch down, and not get even a fraction of the hate mail that Griffin gets when she punches up. Fairness would dictate that I defend Griffin while deploring the specific action.
On the fifth arm, wait a minute, I saw Griffin’s photo and recognized a famous Biblical and classical theme. It’s Judith beheading Holofernes! People, look it up! This is the story of a woman whose city was threatened by a marauding, raping, sacking army of Assyrians, and Judith seduced their general, got him drunk, and then hacked off his head! She was a hero, according to the Bible!
On the sixth arm, this was an incredibly popular theme in art. I mean incredibly popular. I’m not kidding when I say you should look it up.
On the seventh arm, being a popular theme in Christian-inspired art does not excuse the barbarism. That something was heroic in the bloody Middle East B.C.E. does not mean it’s a good model for modern behavior.
On the eighth arm, it worked. Holofernes was threatening annihilation and total destruction of a few cities, Trump is threatening global catastrophe. We are perhaps not reacting forcefully enough.
On the left feeding tentacle, the art implies a solution that sets a terrible precedent. I don’t want Trump assassinated, I want a useful legal strategy for how an incompetent and dangerous president can be removed from office that can be followed for future rogue presidencies. Rule of law, please.
On the right feeding tentacle, I confess to a visceral appreciation of an illustration of the ignominious end of a terrible human being. I have to work to repress that.
On the whole, I feel like Griffin did the wrong thing, but that it was a relatively small wrong compared to the corruption and treachery and small-minded viciousness of the Trump administration. That’s not an endorsement of either, obviously.
I think, to be fair, that if it was just to dismiss Griffin from a gig for an insensitive and tasteless photograph, it is also just to dismiss Trump from his job for an insensitive and tasteless public life. Fire both.
Griffin would probably embrace that as a reasonable exchange.
Obviously, I have the wisdom of Solomon.