How easily offended are you?
by Kelvin Wade
Last week, Robert De Niro became the latest person to walk into the hypersensitive land mine that is 2012 America. At a Democratic fundraiser, he introduced First Lady Michelle Obama by saying, “Callista Gingrich. Karen Santorum. Ann Romney,” De Niro said. “Now do you really think our country is ready for a white first lady?” The crowd roared.
Newt Gingrich responded saying, “What De Niro said last night was inexcusable and the president should apologize for him. It was at an Obama fundraiser, it is exactly wrong.”
And the First Lady’s office put out a statement saying the joke was “inappropriate.”
Are you friggin’ kidding me? Really? Aren’t you sick to death of all of this hypersensitivity and faux outrage? Why must we play these games where we pretend we’re outraged and then demand an apology? The other side usually issues a weak non-apology apology in response just to bury the sordid affair.
Some conservative pundits compared De Niro’s remarks with Rush Limbaugh’s recent screed against coed Sandra Fluke. Really? Really??
I’m tired of living in a country that can take offense at the slightest jest but aren’t offended that speculators are driving up gas prices, 11 million homes are underwater and Americans are still coming home in body bags from an 11 year old war.
These days, stand up comics are regularly taken to task for jokes in their act. This would be understandable if this were 1964 when Lenny Bruce went on trial for obscenity. But how, after Richard Pryor, George Carlin, Eddie Murphy, Andrew “Dice” Clay and other comedians who pushed the envelope, have we come full circle and are back to being easily offended?
Actually, this is worse than 1964 because we’re not really offended. There are those of us who think we should be offended, so they act offended. And there are those who pretend to be offended for political advantage. It’s sick.
Could Richard Pryor’s act survive scrutiny today? Remember Eddie Murphy’s hilarious “Delirious,” where he makes jokes about gays? Could Andrew “Dice” Clay’s act survive without threat of a lawsuit by Gloria Allred? Could Damon Wayans go on TV like he did during the 1990s’ “In Living Color” and perform as “Handiman,” the disabled superhero?
Go rent the movie “The Aristocrats” if you haven’t seen it. It’s the most vulgar, disgusting one-joke movie you will ever see but it’s very funny. You’ll never look at goofy Bob Saget, former host of America’s Funniest Home Videos, the same way again.
I’m not saying we shouldn’t be indignant when someone says something we feel is over the line. If it’s a comedian or talk show host, we can always ensure we don’t watch them again. We can tell our friends not to watch them. What makes me uneasy is that the fix for people saying things we don’t like is to remove them from the airwaves. It’s to silence them.
I know many progressives would love to see Rush Limbaugh off the air. Conservatives would love to see Bill Maher off the air or for theaters to not show Michael Moore’s movies. Sometimes the outrage works and people are driven from the airwaves. Think Glenn Beck and Dr. Laura. And it’s one’s right to reach out to advertisers and let them know they disapprove of a program they’re sponsoring.
But I’ve always thought the antidote to offensive speech is more speech. MSNBC bounced Pat Buchanan from its airwaves after Buchanan wrote a book the network found offensive. Now, a network isn’t the government, so they have every right to decide who they employ and what their employees can say. But wouldn’t it have been better if they paired Buchanan with someone who could debate the issues in his book?
Is silencing people who offend us the answer? Do we have such little faith in our own powers of rebuttal? Are we such a fragile people that we can’t take offensive speech? And if most of this is faux outrage, why do we play along by issuing phony apologies? Why don’t we call out faux outrage and continue on?
I don’t want to live in a country where the only ones free to speak their minds are people who agree with me.