Monday, June 13, 2011

Tracy Words

It's rare that I do this, but I wanted to take a minute to clarify my opinion with regard to Tracy Morgan's recent "anti-gay" comments and the reaction to them. I'm not doing it as a means of backtracking on anything -- I stand firmly behind what I posted yesterday -- but rather because I think that every facet of this ugly miasma has a certain amount of importance and therefore deserves as much thoughtful consideration as possible. Obviously, what Morgan said was pretty vicious and I see how it could be interpreted as cruelly homophobic to the point of earning him a rebuke, or at the very least a conversation that begins with the words, "Dude, did you really mean that stuff?"

Where the angry hordes who've chosen to take up Morgan's statements as a cause lose me, though, is when they demand something more than simply the apology that they've already gotten. I get that forcing someone to say that he's sorry should immediately make the sincerity of that apology suspect, which is why I've never understood why people instinctively make that demand in the first place. But if you receive a very public mea culpa, doesn't that accomplish the goal you're supposedly aiming for, namely to show the world that the offense had a far-reaching negative impact even if there wasn't one intended?

Tracy Morgan made a comment within the context of his stand-up routine and in front of an audience which paid to see him that at least one guy in the crowd was appalled by; my position remains that Morgan is a crazy person and that everyone in the crowd should have understood going into it what they were in for, but this guy decided to take the joke far beyond the confines of the comedy setting for which it was specifically intended. He was offended, and so he told the world about it -- and a bunch of other people who were never supposed to be exposed to the joke in the first place suddenly got to not only hear it but to react indignantly to it, as if Tracy Morgan had come to each of their homes and insulted them personally.

And so now you have groups like PFLAG, concerned celebrities like Nia Vardalos, and average armchair pundits chiming in to demand that Tracy Morgan be made an example of as an object lesson to the rest of society. Because that's really what this is all about: It's not about forcing Morgan to understand that what he said was hurtful and crossed some line in the sand; it's about teaching everyone else that crossing that very subjective line will not be tolerated and will be met with the severest possible punishment short of having you arrested. You say something we deem unacceptable, even in the context of a joke, and we'll take away your livelihood and make you the cultural pariah you deserve to be. Because intolerance will not be tolerated. The desired outcome is nothing less than a chilling effect on what you say and how you say it.

Sorry, but that shouldn't stand.

Tracy Morgan wasn't attacking an audience member, a la Michael Richards, and he wasn't speaking as a representative of NBC or as his character on 30 Rock, so running to his "parents" and commanding them to discipline him -- demanding that NBC fire him outright -- is an abusive overreaction and a slightly underhanded move. As ridiculous as it was that Don Imus was fired by MSNBC for making an ineffectual and hilariously archaic comment about the Rutgers women's basketball team, at least that comment was made while he was on the air at MSNBC so it was within the network's purview to take action. Morgan was doing a comedy bit during his personal stand-up act; his role as an actor on an NBC show, working for a Broadway Video production, had no bearing whatsoever on it and should remain a separate matter. It's, quite frankly, not the network's business what Tracy Morgan does or doesn't do during his gigs. Likewise, there's an argument to be made that it's not really anyone's business who didn't buy a ticket to that show that night what Morgan said or didn't say.

One last thing: You've probably noticed that I tend to defend comedians pretty fiercely. There's a reason for this: they're the vanguard of our right to free speech; they're the ones we count on to be able to push the envelope, challenge our sensibilities, even offend us occasionally because it's necessary for us as a culture. More than that, the interpretation of what they do is entirely subjective, and it simply isn't your right to tell me what is or isn't funny -- just like it isn't my right to tell you or anyone else what's funny. The world would be a much more tedious place without comics willing to truly put themselves out there and take risks -- to make fun of the sacrosanct and vilify the revered if necessary -- and their ability to do that should be protected at all costs. Making them grovel before the altar of political correctness, in the end, damages all of us.


Bill Stancill said...

I'm curious at the lack of outrage over Morgan's "threat" to kill his brother during the routine. Why is that? I guess the complainer was OK with implied black on black violence but drew the line at the gay reference. Spare me the selective outrage.

Benoit from Ottawa said...

You're right, Chez. It's nothing more than an "off with his head!" overreaction.

Mind you, the United States IS a little Alice-in-Wonderlandish these years.

(Alice in Weinerland, these days...)

Megan said...

Extremely well said. I couldn't agree more.

Anonymous said...

TOTALLY agreed. It is a travesty to take a comedian's words and set them to print--utterly devoid of inflection and utterly out of context--and try to demand some political "explanation" from the guy who did the routine! Stand up is a performance. If you weren't there, you missed it. Having someone who was there repeat it, and in print, does not provide any kind of reliable information or evidence. The self-righteous are hopeless idiots. And I (much like former NJ Governer Jim McGreevey) am a gay American. Basta.

Bill Stancill said...

I meant son in my reply, which makes it worse in my opinion.

Becky said...

@Bill Stancill

Isn't that the main part of the outrage? He threatened to stab his son if he ever came out to him as gay. Unless there was a separate "joke" about him killing his son, this is all outrage over the same homophobic rant, which included the threat.

This is one of the very few instances where I disagree with you, Chez. But you've stated your case eloquently and rationally and I have a great deal of respect for that. Kudos.

Kyle said...

"...intolerance will not be tolerated."


The Bacon said...

"...and a bunch of other people who were never supposed to be exposed to the joke in the first place..."

That is where you hit it right on the head.

It's usually way out of bounds to stick dollar bills in womans underwear, but if you're in a strip club you shouldn't be offended by it.

And besides, in the context of a comedy routine, the words by themselves don't tell have the story. Without the context, tone and delivery, nobody really has enough info to judge.

Capt Clow said...

George Carlin has said dumb kids who eat marbles should die, rape is funny, terrorism is a form of entertainment for him, and asked God to kill his audience. God bless George Carlin.

marija said...

I always likened the stand up comics to court jesters. The court jesters were usually the only ones allowed to tell the truth about any matter. And I believe that stand up comics are currently the only ones who are (and should be) allowed to say all the outrageous little truths we as people living in an increasingly PC world choose to push under the carpet.

djESNO said...

There was a character named "psycho" in the 1981 movie "Stripes." Now, there may be people who find that movie objectionable, but it was mostly a National Lampoon-(in the best possible sense)style romp.

During basic training (or as close to BT as they convey in the movie) "psycho" says, "The name's Francis Soyer, but everybody calls me Psycho. Any of you guys call me Francis, and I'll kill you."

Well, then! Maybe it IS possible to threaten to kill somebody with a comedic purpose!

He goes on, "And I don't like nobody touching my stuff. So just keep your meat-hooks off. If I catch any of you guys in my stuff, I'll kill you. Also, I don't like nobody touching me. Now, any of you homos touch me, and I'll kill you."

Should we now put a hit out on Bill Murray? He WAS a co-screenwriter, after all.

For good measure, let's just kill all the Ghostbusters!

If anything, his (Tracy Morgan's) joke pointed out that people who act that way are ridiculous and SHOULD be laughed at! SHEESH! He's a motherfucking comedian!

djESNO said...

When i say "motherfucker" I don't mean that every motherfucking motherfucker fucks their mother. That should be implicit, no? BTW, motherfuck every motherfucking one of you motherfuckers. Oh, please insert other random epithets here, I don't want to single out JUST the motherfucking motherfuckers. All you motherfucking minorities and motherfucking majorities are motherfucking ridiculous and motherfucking make me motherfucking sick with your motherfucking sanctimonious motherfucking moralizing about motherfucking everymotherfuckingthing. Also, I'd like to send you a motherfucking picture of my motherfucking cock. Motherfucker. Wait, I don't have your email. Well, you can get my DickPic from your motherfucking mother, motherfucker.


*curtsies gracefully*

Janean said...

I'm not quite sure what I think of all of this. On the one hand I don't like the way people immediately jump on a bandwagon to ruin every entertainer that says something un-PC, but on the other hand those were pretty horrible things he said. Unless he was attempting some sort of parody I don't see how that's the least bit defensible or funny. I think calling for him to be fired is a bit ridiculous too though; people that found what he said repulsive and refuse to accept his apology should just not watch or buy anything that involves him. I think it's kind of weird to be so offended by something a stranger says that you think you have the right to personally punish him. Why not just ignore him as a worthless person if you find him disgusting? That's pretty much my reaction to this sort of thing.

If we honestly believe that a bunch of gay kids will be more inclined to suicide or parents will be more inclined to beat their kids based on what Tracy Morgan says then I think we should be focusing more on providing mental health care for these zombies that are so susceptible to every suggestion any entertainer makes than censoring a dumb ass "comedian" (quotes because I really don't think he's funny).

Wouldn't it be better to just ignore him instead of giving him all of this attention? I think he probably deserves a smack in the head, but I couldn't care less if he keeps his job or not.

Anonymous said...

I think one of Chez' strongest points is that you are taking this comment out of the context of a standup routine. I watched a Louis CK HBO special not long ago where he told a joke about possibly wanting to fuck a child cause his/her parents were so beautiful. Then, he said, "No, I'm kidding. I wouldn't fuck a child. Well, maybe if it was dead." When I write that out here it probably sounds like Louie was endorsing child rape and murder. In the context of his routine it was knee slapping hysterical. I guess what I'm trying to say is fuck all this outrage, it was a comedy bit.

Anonymous said...

suck a bag of dicks, motherfucker.

Chez said...

As the aforementioned Louie CK says, that's not an easy thing to do.

Anonymous said...

do i have to suck them all individually? do i have to make them all come?

Ref said...

I agree with your point. On the other hand, Morgan is the principle reason I've never made a habit of watching 30 Rock. I just find him annoying.