Wednesday, February 15, 2012
Since I posted a link to the interview in HuffPo with Jeff Ross in which he discusses "going too far" in comedy, I wanted to pull something out of the DXM vault. Back during the whole ridiculous Tracy Morgan controversy in June of last year, I wrote a piece that ran at a couple of different outlets defending both Morgan and a comic's right to make jokes that many might find offensive. What that led to was an interesting back-and-forth via Facebook message between me and, as I called him at the time, an Unhappy Reader. I originally posted a transcript of the discussion as a blind item, but Unhappy Reader became even more unhappy with me and asked that I take it down -- which I did.
I still think it's a pretty informative little exchange, though, and I'd imagine that enough time has gone by that I can safely put it back up on the main page without fear of anyone connecting any dots to determine an identity or Unhappy Reader -- if he's still out there -- bombarding me with angry e-mails.
I'd recommend reading the original piece linked above before poring over this.
Originally Published 6.14.11
Unhappy Reader: The kids are missing from your piece. The kids who are beaten and murdered and shunned by their families everyday in this country.
There are consequences to speech. Advocating, justifying or excusing the murder of people (kids) because they are gay as Morgan did and as you did in your Huff Po piece, will draw a very sharp response. Yes, Morgan's behavior in public and the content of his act reflect on his employers - who do you think watches 30 ROCK? The point is that kids are beaten and murdered for being gay in this country every day. It's very telling that you don't even mention the kids who are at the heart of this issue. Mr. Pazienza, you don't seem at all to care about the well being of those kids, or whether or not their fathers beat them to death, Nia Vardalos does -- that's free speech.
Morgan has the right to say what he wants. Decent people who care about those kids have the right to protest and boycott as well.
I'd also suggest you examine Mr. Morgan's contract with Broadway/NBC Universal which I'd bet includes a clause allowing the company to release Morgan for bringing bad publicity to the show in whatever form. See Sheen, Charlie. So, yes it is very much NBC's business, along with the shareholders of GE and Comcast since Morgan's behavior is devaluing an important asset of the corporation.
Yours Truly: While I appreciate your passion, one has nothing at all to do with the other. Nothing. Tracy Morgan didn't advocate, or justify or even excuse the murder of gay kids; that's melodramatic nonsense and its drawing a connection that just isn't there. He made a joke -- an admittedly crude and maybe even cruel joke, because he's a loutish loose cannon as a comic, but that's all it was in the end: part of a comedy routine. You weren't there and didn't actually see it within the context of the show and neither did I, which means that all we have to go on is one offended person's description of events and I assume you understand that comedy is a little like song lyrics -- they don't translate well and can be thoroughly misconstrued without the musical backing with which they were intended. As for NBC getting involved? Let's be practical for a moment: Do you really think the network doesn't know everything there is to know about one of its major assets? You think they're not aware of the kind of insane crap Morgan regularly says? What's more, do you really think that fourth-rated NBC will willingly fire a marquee star from one of its few popular shows? That's a pretty tall order. Oh, and I would resent being told that I don't care about the well being of gay kids -- the ones who are being "beaten and murdered every day" -- but not only is it not true, once again, it has nothing at all to do with a really stupid crack made by one guy at a comedy show.
UR: You resent it? You are excusing and justifying an atmosphere where that happens without once addressing the welfare of those children by ignoring this. You didn't mention the fact once that this actually happens everyday and those kids deserve to be protected. Or perhaps you don't believe that. You didn't bother to say it, so your readers don't know.
YT: Do you hear what you're saying? You're saying that it was necessary for me to add some sort of disclaimer saying, "By the way, violence against children is a terrible thing and I'm totally against that." I'm sorry but that's a little ridiculous given that that's not what the piece was about and, as I said, the dumb comments of one comic made on one night aren't in any way related to the beatings or deaths of anyone. I don't have to go around wearing a t-shirt proclaiming that hurting kids -- gay or straight -- is wrong to prevent people from making the asinine assumption that I might think otherwise.
UH: Many people feel that what Morgan said is justified. I still don't know from your writing if you think bashing gay people is ok or not. Like Wanda Sykes said -- he went into a theatre and yelled "Fire" -- those people in TN weren't just laughing some of them were egging him on -- because they feel he was right to beat the gay out of his child -- or someone else's. Chilling effect on speech? Yes, inciting violence against a specific group of people should be chilled.
It is necessary for you to say that. No one knows what you think on this. You may agree, like many people in TN and other parts of the South particularly, that beating the gay out of a kid is acceptable parenting.
Just read your piece on Huff Po where you chide the media for covering the bullying of gay kids and Tyler Clementi. "He didn't die because he was gay" -- his personal life wouldn't have been an issue if he weren't gay -- your lack of understanding and cruelty toward Clementi and his situation at the time made me sick. It makes sense now that you would ignore or downplay threats of violence directed at those kids.
YT: He wasn't inciting violence. He didn't say, "Every one of you needs to go out when you leave here and kill a gay kid for the good of the country because they're evil; now rise up my comedy club-going minions." He made a dumb, over-the-top joke; it may very well have given some insight into a certain amount of homophobia on his part (and while I think that term is often overused, much like calling someone a racist, it's applicable here), but again for the cheap seats, at the very most you let him know that what he said could really be interpreted as offensive and hurtful and be done with it. You don't take his livelihood away; no, you don't chill his right to free speech that simply was not inciting by any rational definition. And no, it is absolutely not necessary for me to explain to you that I'm a decent human being who doesn't want to see children hurt, simply to make you comfortable in the knowledge that that's not how I'm approaching this subject, particularly since I said right at the beginning of the piece that every facet of this was serious and I made it unbelievably obvious that Morgan's comments may have earned him a rebuke.
As for the Clementi piece, sorry if it made you sick. That's a pretty silly and melodramatic overreaction. Once again, I thought I made it pretty clear that bullying gay kids -- or any kids -- is wrong, but of course you've already proven that you don't want a measured reaction, one that includes the statement that hurting kids is wrong. You just want someone to rant angrily in favor of the singular point you believe needs to be made at the exclusion of all others. You're reading what you want to read and assuming that, again, because I take a slightly different tack -- one that includes, by the way, the fact that bullying gay kids is wrong -- it means I'm some kind of bully enabler. That's such crap. Clementi was gay and he had every right to be and not have to fear being bullied, hurt, or tormented; but the reason the students who did torment him felt like they could -- that it was no big deal -- is because they've grown up in a society that preaches voyeurism and a completely lack of privacy.
UR: You don't understand how that plays in some people's minds. Plus, your piece about Clementi completely lacked the understanding of his situation -- his personal life wouldn't have been an issue if he hadn't been outed to the entire Rutgers community by his roommate. You literally rebuked the media for covering violence toward gay kids then.
"Silly and melodramatic"? But then all "fags" are silly and melodramatic in your world, right?
YT: No, I didn't -- I rebuked the media for hyping a story that didn't deserve to be hyped, because when you hype it you turn it into just another media feeding frenzy. A trend and nothing more. I've worked in television news for 20 years; I know how the press operates and when it gloms onto a story and sucks it dry rather than being measured about how it's covered, it goes away quickly and that's not fair to a story as serious as the deaths of kids. And thank you -- you just lost the argument. I can't take you the least bit seriously anymore after making an unbelievably stupid statement like that last one. Right, because anyone who dares to try to be rational when it comes to this subject has a problem with "fags." Jesus.
UR: My suggestion to you is too be a little clearer with the words in your columns because many people reading them would know that you thought violence against these kids was a serious subject. (I noticed you edited that to make it a bit stronger after our first exchange. That's good.) And for Christ's sake, yes, silly and melodramatic is a lot like telling your black friends to stop eating that fried chicken and watermelon. "Made me sick" were the least offensive words I could find -- the words that came to mind were personal insults but I didn't want to use those here -- less silly?
After seeing the CNN firing thing -- I get why Tracy can say whatever he wants is your cause. But anyone knows you can't provide content for another news outlet when you are working for one. Like Tracy, it's in your contract.
YT: Edited what? The piece? I hope that's not what you're referring to because I didn't touch it. I don't edit myself because one person happens to voice a disagreement with me; I'd never get anything done. And if you consider "melodramatic" the same kind of characterization as saying that a black person eats watermelon, I'm sorry but that's really much more on you than me, since that wasn't my intention (and once again, I don't need to spell things out for you just to make sure you don't misinterpret me). As for my being fired by CNN and my choice of championing someone's right to speak his or her mind, as with the connection between Morgan and the murder of gay kids, one has nothing to do with the other. You're also assuming quite a bit about Morgan's contract, but then, you've assumed all kinds of things since we began this little back-and-forth.
UR: You might want to read this piece. This man tries to help the kids that are victims of this violence. The Huffington Post: Family Rejection of LGBT Youth Is No Joke/6.13.11
YT: I already read this. I applaud his efforts and think they're an inarguable good. His take on the reality of gay kids being bullied and rejected brings up a fine point about how there's a potential teaching moment in all this, but it still doesn't justify demanding that Tracy Morgan be fired from his job because he made an ugly comment without thinking. Which, once again, was the point I thought I made pretty clearly in my own piece. If you're trying to make me understand where you're coming from, incidentally -- to ostensibly drill it into my head what a tragic thing it is that gay youth often face torment and rejection -- it's unnecessary because as a thinking, feeling human being I knew that to begin with. It just wasn't incumbent upon me to spell out in language that would satisfy you personally -- or your agenda -- that this is the place I'm coming from. It's interesting, because I also didn't specifically state that Morgan's liberal use of the word "nigger" could be considered dehumanizing, and yet you make no assumptions or arguments about that, which shows a certain amount of selective outrage on your part. Finally, just because I'm curious, why did you immediately assume that I'm not gay? I didn't assume that you were simply because you feel strongly about gay issues.
UR: My agenda is to make sure kids aren't stabbed to death for being gay.
Of course Morgan shouldn't be fired, but you seem to think it's just fine to suggest there is humor in someone saying that kids ought to be killed because they are gay. A black man saying nigger -- I don't like it but that's his lookout -- he didn't suggest murder of people who are black because they are black.
Finally, of course you aren't openly gay, if you were you would get this on a visceral level. If you were you would have expressed some empathy.
It's funny because your pieces make you seem like more a prick than you are on this thread. Perhaps that's calculated. It must be so hard to be remain relevant.
YT: No, you're just reading what you want to read. We're having a civilized conversation because, as I said at the very beginning, I respect your passion on this issue. It doesn't by any stretch of the imagination mean that I agree with you across the board or agree with the way you argue. You make ridiculous assumptions (there are too many to list throughout this conversation but I'll start with the idea that every single person who's gay HAS to feel and behave exactly the way you do and can't debate from a position of rationality rather than raw emotion, which, by the way, is one of those stereotypes you seem to dislike so much); you completely shut down to any opinion other than the one you start with and proceed to beat into the ground; and, yes, you're slightly melodramatic. Doesn't mean you're a bad person or that your cause isn't righteous -- but you came into this just wanting to thrash the guy who dared to say that Tracy Morgan deserves a very small break despite the painfully stupid thing he said. There's nothing I could say that would even slightly deter you from the mission you've undertaken with laser-like focus or, for that matter, might possibly add a different perspective for you to consider. Oh, and you make somewhat nasty but mostly passive-aggressive little comments like that last one in an effort to, I don't know, piss me off, I guess. For the record, I don't worry about being relevant; I worry about being right.