Tuesday, May 14, 2013
Incensed of Humor
Yesterday's column over at the Daily Banter took a look at a piece in Salon from last week that targeted Patton Oswalt. The problem, according to the author, is that Patton hasn't used his considerable forum and eloquent voice to speak out against the very serious problem of rape and "rape culture."
Here's an excerpt, and you may recognize some of it from a quickie post here on Saturday:
"Patton Oswalt didn’t do a damn thing wrong. He’s a comic. He believes in being funny. He believes in doing whatever’s necessary to ensure that he and other comics like him — male and female — continue to have the freedom to take chances when it comes to being funny, because humor is so subjective and, one more time, no one has the right to tell somebody else — or to dictate as the voice of an entire culture and for the alleged benefit of society as a whole — what is or isn’t funny, what can and can’t be poked fun at as long as there’s no genuine malice intended. Patton’s history as a comic is one of brilliance, insight, and, yes, a lack of malice toward anyone; what Molly Knefel did to him was cheap and unfair and the only person it should make look bad is her. Maybe her intentions were pure, but as she so piously lectures Patton on, intentions mean shit."
Read the Rest Here
Since being posted yesterday morning, the piece I wrote has picked up quite a bit of steam, mostly due to Patton Oswalt thanking me for it via Twitter. That of course brought out a lot of very angry women and men who took me to task for what they believe is my insulting and condescending tone and, well, my "just not getting it." Once something takes off, you tend to go back and reread it and try to see it through someone else's eyes, particularly the eyes of those having a problem with it. I did that. And I stand by what I wrote and the overall point I was trying to make.
That said, there is something in the column that I want to apologize for. While I may think that what comedian and writer Molly Knefel said was wrong in the sense that she was blaming Patton Oswalt for something he didn't do and was under no obligation to do -- and I'm sorry, but the "if you're not part of the solution" argument is just ridiculous since you could make that claim pertain to anything -- it was wrong of me to refer to her as a "small-time" and "quasi-professional" comic. It truly did sound petty, condescending and insulting and that wasn't my conscious intention. I don't think Molly's heart was in the wrong place and I believe she was trying to be respectful to Patton even if her overall goal of dragging him into a fight that she personally deemed should be his was more than a little questionable. I'm sorry if I personally belittled Molly Knefel; I shouldn't have.
Again, it's a damn shame that I have to say this since it shouldn't need to be said, but I'm pro-women and stand against rape unequivocally -- no hedging, no excuses, no "legitimate or illegitimate," none of it. Rape is a despicable wrong, full stop. There are rotten men working in our government right now trying to either chip away at women's rights or swing a wrecking ball at them, and I suppose that's why, in my view anyway, there are far bigger and more important battles to fight on the subject of women's sexual sovereignty and authority than raising hell over a bad joke made by a comedian or, certainly, the lack of a soapbox stand by a comic who's proven time and time again that he's a good guy and someone who espouses liberal politics in the best possible sense of the term. No, by saying this I'm not telling you what you can and can't get angry over or be offended by; I'm offering up an opinion, the same way you are, which has as much value -- or lack thereof -- as all those other opinions that people are free to shout into the ether.
The issue I've always had when it comes to call-out culture and the outrage "machine" that ramps up whenever someone finds himself or herself offended by something these days has been well-documented: Thanks to social media, indignation can now snowball until it becomes an avalanche, the resulting cacophony vastly disproportional to the original offense. Our furious quest for satisfaction can sometimes have unintended consequences and can take a toll far greater than any sane person should be hoping for. That's the danger of reacting to everything with the same level of outrage. And the way that a column that may have been written with good intentions and meant merely to start a conversation can spiral downward into a guy who didn't hurt anybody being accused of making jokes he never made and generally suppressing women through, at best, silence which a select group interprets as a tacit admission of guilt and, at worst, public displays of misogyny.
The overall fight may be a noble and necessary one, but Patton Oswalt was the wrong person to pick it with.