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.


Matt Wade said...

That headshot of Patton is eye rape.

Doc said...

They will have their own series on TLC by June. Live thirsty my friend.

Anonymous said...

You are willing to come out against misogyny in politics - but as far as I can tell, you still seem reluctant to come out against misogyny in comedy. Criticizing Todd Akin types is not as brave a stand, and not as effective a stand, as criticizing misogynists in your own community (of which there are many). That said, good on you for standing behind women - please consider being more vocal about standing behind them when it's more personally or professionally uncomfortable to do so as well.

Chez said...

No offense, but I'm being told about how it's important to take a stand when it's uncomfortable to do so by someone who posts an anonymous comment. Truly, the definition of irony.

There's misogyny in comedy as there's misogyny in a lot of other areas of our culture; the difference is that humor is difficult to parse and therefore I'm wary of going after a comic for making a joke that can be interpreted as sexist because a) it may simply be able to be INTERPRETED that way, and b) comedy, again, is completely subjective, and I don't want to participate in trying to silence or otherwise destroy someone I find offensive just because I personally find him or her offensive.

Also, yeah, you may think it's cheap and easy to beat up on the Todd Akins of the world, but guess what? The Todd Akins of the world have direct influence over the laws of this country -- which means that their impact is far greater than some guy making a joke.

Anonymous said...

This whole thing is idiotic and you said the right thing the first time. She's dumb and anyone howling along with her is dumb. This is the same ridiculousness they pulled during the Red Scare McCarthy witch hunts.

Why haven't we heard you publicly denounce communism? Are you secretly a communist? Why haven't you denounced rape every chance you get? Are you secretly a rapist?

Well why hasn't this girl come out against African genocide? Does she support brutal local warlords and child soldiers? I've never heard her come out against inner city poverty. Does she hate black people? When did she speak out against the systematic destruction and subjugation of Native Americans? Why does she hate Indians too? She didn't speak out when Michael Vick got in trouble. She hates animals and supports dog fights. I think at this point we can safely assume she's a white elitist, racist, genocidal, animal abuser.

Jkirk3279 said...

You know what this boils down to, right?

One person telling another what their opinion SHOULD be, and chiding them for now agreeing.

If ANYBODY thinks they have the right to tell someone else what to think and how to act... maybe they should become a Pastor and go old-school rather than dabble in comedy.

People have the right to their own opinions.

I'll grant you there are some hot-button issues where there's just no room for dissent; Rape is wrong, the Holocaust really happened, etc.

But telling someone else off because they haven't already jumped in on your side ?

That's the worst example of Political Correctness I've ever heard.

So, we all need to start by defining ourselves, to avoid harassment like this?

Okay, I'll go on record as saying Kittens are cute, Puppies are fun to play with, and Rape is wrong.

Now I'm insulated against attack on those subjects, right?

Narc Issus said...

Why do you have such a problem standing against misogyny in comedy and for what you believe is right? You're only willing to have strong opinions if they are of an anonymous nature? You're part of the problem.

See what I did there? That's pretty easy, isn't it?