Greta Christina has an excellent post on the impact of supposedly transgressive comedy. It is not only about Seth MacFarlane’s bigotry-perpetuating nonsense on Sunday night, though that is the initial trigger.
What’s more: I’m sick to death of the notion that, if you critique something a comedian says or does for being hurtful and fucked up, you need to “lighten up,” “stop taking things so seriously,” and “get a sense of humor.” I remember years ago, Pedro Almodovar responded to feminist critiques of one of his movies (the critiques had to do with rape jokes, if I recall correctly) by saying something along the lines of, “Why are feminists like this? Isn’t it possible to be a feminist and still have a sense of humor?” To which I wanted to respond, “Isn’t it possible to have a sense of humor and still not think your jokes are funny?” This idea that having a sense of humor means giving all comedians a free pass on criticism for anything they say, ever… it’s bullshit. It’s a “Shut up, that’s why” argument. It’s a reflexive attempt to shut down any criticism — artistic as well as political or moral — before it ever starts.
Well, you don’t get to have it both ways. You don’t get to say that comedy is an important form of artistic expression, a valuable contribution to our cultural landscape in which artistic freedom is necessary and paramount… and then say that everyone just needs to lighten up, and what comedians say and do isn’t that big a deal, and it’s ridiculous to call them to account for it.
Yes. I have long been unimpressed by the “JUST a joke” gambit.
Comedy, even the most juvenile, ridiculous type, is not trivial. Like TV shows, movies, books and songs, they are among the stories we tell ourselves about who we are and how we live our lives. This is why prominent comedians are respected entertainers who are allowed to charge us to see them deliver jokes. You don’t get to enjoy the kind of cultural power that we assign to people like George Carlin and Louis CK and then deflect any criticism of your material with “but it was JUST a joke.” Brave humor punches UP. If you’re at the top and punching down at people who are already accustomed to being mocked, trivialized, exploited and assaulted, then you are not a very interesting comedian.