Monday, September 25, 2006
I'll make this quick.
There's a used car dealer in Cincinnati who's incurred the wrath of the local Muslim community -- a debatably ill-advised idea given recent events -- by planning to run an ad campaign based entirely on the theme of "declaring Jihad on high auto prices."
Understand: everything about this is funny.
A used car salesman. Jihad* on high prices. Pissing off Muslims. Hell, even Cincinnati is a poor man's Cleveland when it comes to punchlines.
I've always believed that when you're talking about humor -- lighthearted mockery especially -- nothing is off limits.
The moment you begin allowing a person or group to dictate what's fair game and what isn't, you find yourself having to censor everyone. As a culture, we make fun of that which frightens and oppresses us; it's simply a coping mechanism. I'm pretty sure that I can say without fear of contradiction that nothing frightens or oppresses us like religion. The specter of defying the will of a supreme being is difficult for those who believe in its existence; for the rest of us, it's just a fucking hilariously inviolable target, and one rife with priceless terms and imagery.
The Muslim community is of course howling about the need for its religion to be respected; it's the argument typically made by anyone who feels that his or her faith has been offended. But I'm going to take an unpopular stand here and say that that's horseshit. Demanding that those outside of your funny little cult adhere to the rigid demands placed on those inside it -- namely that its beliefs and rituals be held as sacrosanct -- is fucking absurd, and these days dangerous. Even if you don't believe in a supreme being and fear offending him, all Americans have been taught to fear the supreme being and prophet worshipped in Islam; we've been assured that we'll pay for our apostasy with our lives. Talk about fright and oppression.
I would actually make an alternate and in some ways opposite argument: if a group of people came to you and said that they believed in a spaceship behind a comet, and that they worshipped the entity that controlled it and would die to be taken into its arms, would you respect that belief -- or would you think that it was at least worthy of pity and at most deserving of merciless ridicule? The fact is, you probably already have ridiculed it; it was the Heaven's Gate cult that believed that crap, which is undeniably no more insane than believing in the fantastical contents of the Bible or the Koran.
Just because millions choose to believe a fairy-tale in no way makes that fairy-tale true.
As for the ad campaign, which among other things urged buyers to come in for "Fatwa Fridays:" humor doesn't have to be tasteful to be good, regardless of which worshipper of which sacred cow finds it distasteful.
In the words of a popular 70s t-shirt: Fuck 'em if they can't take a joke.
(*One of the inherently funniest words in any language)