A mailman, a roofer, and a writer walk into a bar. They all look miserable and could use a stiff drink. The mailman says, “rain, sleet, and snow, my foot! Last winter I had to deliver mail in three feet of snow!” The other two nod sympathetically. After a swig, the roofer says “Well, this heat wave is killing me. All day long up on a sizzling roof in the blazing sun? No thank you.” The other two nod sympathetically. Finally, the writer says, “Well, those sound horrible but I think I have you both beat.” The other two brace themselves expecting the worst. “This one time,” he says, “I went a week without WiFi.” The other two hastily order another round for their friend.
Yes, having moved into my new apartment I found myself without WiFi for over a week now. It’s been a nightmare scenario that haunts my waking hours. It’s also why I have struggled to pump out the number of articles I used to be able to do: Researching and finding sources is tough when those sources are online and you aren’t.
It’s not a complete wash though because I have managed to write a lot more fiction and reflective essays in the interim. I am trying to look at this time as a bit like Henry David Thoreau’s time at Walden Pond (but with more electricity and less tranquility). Who knows, maybe while I’m missing the latest trending topic on twitter I’ll discover the next great American philosophical movement. Or perhaps I’ll just think up some more corny jokes.
Butter Queen Paula Deen has found herself entangled in a damaging lawsuit involving a former employee of hers, who alleges that the TV personality and “down home cooking” chef and her brother Bubba (seriously) peppered workplace conversations with racist remarks and jokes. This week, the disposition she gave at her trial was released and among the numerous gems that lay bare her inherent racism are these:
Deen testified that she probably used the racial slur when talking to her husband about “when a black man burst into the bank that I was working at and put a gun to my head.”
“I didn’t feel real favorable towards him,” she said, referring to the robber.
Jackson lawyer: “Have you used it since then?”
Deen: “I’m sure I have, but it’s been a very long time.”
Then later she recounted having used, or been around her brother when he used, racial slurs in the context of jokes, saying:
When Jackson’s attorney asked Deen if she had ever used the N-word, Deen reportedly answered, “yes, of course,” and listed specific times she had done so. Regarding racist jokes, Deen allegedly said, “It’s just what they are — they’re jokes…most jokes are about Jewish people, rednecks, black folks. … I can’t determine what offends another person.”
The world reacted with an outrage that lacked the self awareness to realize that these two examples are instances where we have either been guilty of racism ourselves or have been guilty by association as they were said to us and we laughed politely or ignored it.
What Paula Deen has admitted to saying doesn’t make her special or even particularly racist. It just makes her dumb or brave enough to say it to a less than sympathetic audience who was ready to tar and butter her from the second they smelled this week’s outrage machine beginning to churn.
What gets lost when we publicly out and shame a celebrity for their racial indiscretion is the deeper, more troubling fact that their views aren’t uncommon. If we really hope to make a positive change towards a less racist society this is the most inefficient way to do it. We can’t simply change people’s minds one by one when they mess up (and they inevitably will since racism tends to pervade a person’s thoughts and speech no matter how hard they try to control it in mixed company). That is, for one, ineffective at curbing racism generally, but even worse it allows the rest of us a cop out as we can point to them and declare “racist” without ever having to turn that microscope back towards ourselves.
I wonder how well any of us would do during a three hour interrogation about our racist jokes, or racist family members, or our racist attitudes. I’m guessing Paula Deen would fall somewhere around the average racist mark. Half of us would be worse. That should scare us.
What’s also important about this Paula Deen story is how unapologetic she seems about the whole thing. She truly feels like she has done nothing wrong. Let’s take a look at how, by pulling apart the examples I quoted at the top of this article.
When Paula was working at a bank in the 1980s, she was robbed at gun point. Obviously, this was a terrifying experience for her and she testified to using the N-word when later describing the assailant to her husband. When asked for a justification for the racial slur she said the most telling line she could have: “I didn’t feel very favorable towards him”
That is the deep racism I am talking about. It’s the idea that we should be tolerant and “nice” towards minorities as an act of good will, but the second they cross certain lines or violate a white woman’s sense of safety, she feels justified in using a racial slur in regards to him. If she had just said he was an “uppity black”, people would have lost their minds. But this is no different. Minorities cannot be truly equal when the terms of their equality are tied to acting a certain way, being a certain way, and speaking a certain way. That’s still racism.
The second example I cited was her use of jokes. Paula seems to think that all jokes are in someway or another, jokes targeting a particular group of people. She listed “Jews, rednecks, and blacks” as some of the groups jokes are about. If you get past marveling at her ability to say that out loud with no sense of reservations, you would realize that for a large portion of the country, this is probably dead on true. Jokes are about targeting “others”. You make fun of them, and your friends laugh at how different they are. This is probably one of the most ancient forms of joke telling in existence because of how easy it is. A outside group’s behaviors or beliefs seem weird to us and it’s up to the would be comedian to harvest that sense of weirdness. What Paula doesn’t understand is the damage these jokes cause when we are trying to create a just and equal world. It draws lines between people instead of circling all of humanity. Jokes are kernels of truth surrounded by a meaty shell of the absurd, but if that kernel of truth comes from a place of xenophobia or hate or even merely condescension, the joke itself becomes a vehicle of racism.
None of this should surprise us. This should all sound familiar. And that’s the point, Paula Deen is a victim of her culturally ingrained racism when you remove self awareness and the conscious effort to be less biased. As her sponsors jump ship to swim towards another one that has yet to take on water, maybe Paula Deen will start to wake up or maybe she won’t. When Michael Vick went to jail for dog fighting he was probably my least favorite person on the planet, but I now believe that he somehow had not even known dog fighting was wrong. He grew up so ignorant of the larger abhorrence to dog fights by people who view dogs as cherished members of our society (if only other animals got the same placement) that even questioning what he was doing was beyond him. Since then he has seemed legitimately horrified at his previous behavior and contrite when speaking about it. It reinforces the fact that education and diverse perspectives can have real, meaningful impact in a person’s thinking where Nike voiding their sponsorship cannot.
I just hope Paula Deen takes this opportunity to learn why she is wrong and not just how she got caught up in another celebrity take down scandal.
A lot of my time is spent at parties (it isn’t, like almost never at all) so I know how hard it can be to break the ice and meet new people. A lot of the self help books I read tell me I should always have a few jokes up my sleeve which can instantly endear me to the people I’m trying to impress. The problem is, I’m not spontaneously funny (I am, but I could imagine not being so)! The first thing I did was purchased several joke books to memorize, because nothing says “watch out, we’ve got a real firecracker in the house!” like a person who has read and memorized a joke book that he got at a garage sale.
Unfortunately, I’ve come to realize that the jokes held within these books are NOT having the desired effect. Instead of being surrounded by adoring fans, I usually end up lurking in a corner while the guys and girls with “personality” or “interesting stories” get all the attention. It’s bull crap! So I’ve taken it upon my self to modernize the classic jokes. THESE AREN’T YOUR FATHER’S JOKES. (That would be a great joke, feel free to use it.)
Old Joke: “Why did the chicken cross the road?”
Punchline: “To get to the other side”
Updated Punchline: “Because the other side of the road had a better WIFI signal.”
Old Joke: “What is black and white and red all over?”
Punchline: “The newspaper.”
Updated Punchline: “The Associated Press mobile app for iPhone and Droid smartphones.”
Old Joke: “Why was 6 afraid of 7?
Punchline: “Because 7 ate 9”
Updated Punchline: “Because 7 ate 9 doubledowns and chased it down with a can of 4 lokos”
Old Joke: “What time is it?”
Punchline: “Time for you to get a watch.”
Updated Punchline: “Do you need to borrow my iPhone charger?”
Old Joke: “A guy walks into a bar…”
Punchline: “…and says ‘ouch’.’
Updated punchline: “…and writes a scathing review on Yelp”
Old Joke: “What do you get when you cross a sheep and a bee?”
Punchline: “A bah-hum bug.”
Updated Punchline: “They are doing this in a NSF funded lab at MIT.”
Old Joke: “What washes up on tiny beaches?”
Updated Punchline: “Debris from the latest hurricane caused by global warming.”
Old Joke: “Is your refrigerator running?”
Punchline: “Then you better go catch it!”
Updated Punchline: “That’s good. Did you see the Tupac hologram youtube video I sent you?”
Old Joke: “A priest and a Rabbi walk into a bar…”
Punchline: “…and the Bartender says ‘What is this some kind of joke?'”
Updated Punchline: “…and the Bartender says, ‘good for them, let’s hope they reach some kind of understanding that all humans have the right to express their faiths without fear of violence or retribution for it.'”
Old Joke: “Why is the broom late?”
Punchline: “It over swept.”
Updated Punchline: “For some reason, it’s phone must be the only one left on the freaking planet that doesn’t automatically switch the clock for Daylight Saving Time.”
Old Joke: “Why didn’t the alien eat the clown?”
Punchline: “Because he tasted funny.”
Updated Punchline: “Because the History channel’s Ancient Aliens program is the real joke.”
Ann Coulter offends me. It isn’t because of her political or social views, those just simply make her a very horrible human being. Ann Coulter offends me because she’s a person who thinks she’s funny when she isn’t. That probably describes a lot of people, but what sets Ann Coulter apart is that she seems to attribute her popularity to her wit and not, say, her vile political positions. I’ve never met one, but if I were to come across a person who thinks Ann Coulter is funny, I am willing to bet they aren’t funny either. I’m wiling to bet they like her humor for the same reason she uses “humor” in the first place; it gets both of them out of the uncomfortable position of saying and thinking cruel things about other people because, after all, it was “a joke”.
To update everyone, a week ago MSNBC’s Martin Bashir said something that ruffled Ann’s feathers. I’ll let her describe it:
MSNBC’s Martin Bashir suggested that Republican senators need to have a member of their families killed for them to support the Democrats’ gun proposals.
To which she added:
(Let’s start with Meghan McCain!)
That’s the joke (apparently, it’s obvious when you add an exclamation point). In case you missed it because you’re a dumb liberal or something, Ann Coulter’s joke was that if Republican Senators had to have their family members killed, Ann would be fine if it was Meghan McCain (because Meghan McCain disagreed with her a few times over the years). Her defense of having said that was that she was being sarcastic (again, note the exclamation point!) and therefore the “uptight citizens brigade” was just overreacting as always.
As a side note, it’s telling that she uses the contraction “Let’s” because in her universe, an abstract point being made about Republican senators not personally identifying with the victims somehow makes Ann identify her and her readers as the group doing the killing, naturally. Although, I’m not surprised, Ann is a bit of a savant when it comes to not identifying with victims.
That remark brings me to why I get offended by Ann Coulter’s humor. It’s from a place of hate, not a place of love. The best comedy is that which approaches familiar topics and exposes them, questions them, shakes their head at them, but never hates them. You shouldn’t hate the subject you’re joking about, it’s a violation of the comedy Golden Rule “laugh with them not at them”. Ann Coulter knows that the people she’s writing for hate the people she’s writing about. With good reason, Ann Coulter writes whole books on why you should hate them. It’s kind of her whole schtick. So when she says, “Let’s [shoot] Meghan McCain” she knows the people who laugh are the people who despise Meghan McCain for her outspoken views on Conservatism.
Comedy should never be used as a shield against accountability. It is not impossible, nor should it be discouraged, to joke about sensitive things but it’s bad comedy to do it in a sarcastic, sneering way towards the target of your scorn. That shows a lack of respect and an ulterior motive. Ann Coulter wasn’t making a joke, she was trying to make a point, at the expense of Meghan McCain and the liberals she consorts with. Don’t play coy with us, Ms. Coulter.
- Ann Coulter “jokes” about killing Meghan McCain, Fox News deletes the blog post (eezzbeat.newsvine.com)