No apologies

11 Jun

I don’t like the word “faggot.” I’ll use it—in context or, very rarely, to make a point—but I don’t think it’s worthy of reclamation. It’s a term with a violent, hate-charged history, and I loathe hearing it. That having been said, I would never suggest a comedian not use it. You can’t censor comedy—I mean, you can, but you shouldn’t. If someone wants to use “faggot” or “retard” or the N-word (I’m still not comfortable typing it out) for comedic purposes, that’s his or her prerogative. If I don’t like it, that’s on me.

I bring this up because Tracy Morgan has come under fire lately for comments he made during a live show. It’s been called a “homophobic rant,” but I’d label it severely misguided comedy. Morgan essentially said (joked?) that queer people should stop being “pussies” about getting bullied. If his son were effeminate, he continued, he would stab him to death. Ha ha? It’s horrifying and, worse, it’s not even a little bit funny. But who cares? While Morgan should know better than to tell “jokes” so grounded in hate, I don’t think he would seriously kill his kid for being gay, nor do I think he was trying to incite his audience to violence.

Does it rub me the wrong way? Definitely. Will I ever see Tracy Morgan live? No, but I probably wasn’t going to, anyway. You have to look at the comments in context, as part of his set, not as a political statement. It’s ridiculous to call a bit of comedy a “homophobic rant.” I look at the jokes many of us write on Twitter—I know they’re supposed to be tongue-in-cheek, but they could easily be condemned as sexist, racist, ageist. Maybe some of them do come from a place of genuine ignorance or prejudice, but no one wants to be labeled a monster because of a bad joke.

Remember when Michael Richards got in trouble for using the N-word repeatedly during his set? (If you don’t, he’s TV’s Kramer!) That was a case of very real and very blatant anger, as Richards launched into an attack on the hecklers at his show. There was no joke there, poorly conceived or otherwise. He was pissed, and that’s the worst word he could think to use. And if Morgan had singled people out in his audience, incessantly screamed “faggot” at them with no trace of irony, I probably wouldn’t be as quick to defend him.

And let me clear about my “defense”: I don’t think Tracy Morgan is funny, and his gay jokes were in the poorest of taste. It’s also disconcerting to hear that people in the audience were cheering him on, if only because it’s unclear they appreciated his tone. Violence against gay youth is a very serious issue, and there are certainly parents out there who believe they can knock some sense into their fruity kids. But does that mean comedians can’t joke about it? Of course not. We don’t have to like it, but evangelical Christians probably don’t like it when I joke about Jesus’ washboard abs. And I don’t plan on knocking that off any time soon.

Everyone is offended by something, so while I find Morgan’s material to be especially abhorrent, I’d feel like a hypocrite if I agreed that he should have apologized. What’s especially disconcerting is that he was forced to do this because he’s on a TV show—NBC had to publicly condemn his jokes, as though they represented his official stance on homosexuality. Comedians should be able to aspire to greater career heights (you know, like a TV series) without worrying about having their comedy neutered. Morgan isn’t a mouthpiece for 30 Rock or the Peacock. Comedy isn’t a PSA. The more you know!

So why is GLAAD wasting its time with this? Because what GLAAD does best is take everything way too seriously. Look, I recognize the harm of hate speech, but I’m also pragmatic about it. I don’t give a shit about what Tracy Morgan says, especially when there are legitimately dangerous anti-gay politicians in power. We’ve got another major election next year: we continue to fight for our right to marry, and to defend our right to serve in the military. Why are we wasting energy on this?

For all its good work, GLAAD frequently seems to miss the point. Let everyone take Morgan’s jokes as they will, but don’t tell him what he can’t say. And don’t tell us what we should be offended by. I’m too busy fearing every word that comes out of Rick Santorum’s mouth to concern myself with a comedian. Now, if Tracy Morgan decides to run for president, we can revisit the issue.

Crossposted to Huffington Post Entertainment here.

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15 Responses to “No apologies”

  1. Kerry June 11, 2011 at 2:22 pm #

    From what I read, it really was more of a rant than part of his routine. But demanding apologies is worthless. That’s why I never forced my kids to apologize to me. An apology you demand is likely not sincere. However, there is definitely a place for criticizing the behavior, and his comments (still not convinced they were part of his comedy) were disgusting.

  2. modernsophist June 11, 2011 at 2:45 pm #

    I think this is a solid defense.

    I used to think Morgan was kind of an idiot, and I really didn’t find him funny. It wasn’t until I saw him speaking serious on some issues (Daily Show) that it dawned on me how much of his routine is kind of a self parody.

    People have every right to be offended if they want to be but comedy often comes from painful, unpleasant things, and there’s value in shining a spotlight on some of our sore points.

  3. Lady T June 11, 2011 at 2:52 pm #

    It’s also disconcerting to hear that people in the audience were cheering him on, if only because it’s unclear they appreciated his tone. Violence against gay youth is a very serious issue, and there are certainly parents out there who believe they can knock some sense into their fruity kids. But does that mean comedians can’t joke about it? Of course not. We don’t have to like it, but evangelical Christians probably don’t like it when I joke about Jesus’ washboard abs. And I don’t plan on knocking that off any time soon.

    I think you stated the problem exactly. I wouldn’t say that comedians can’t joke about it, but I honestly think that they shouldn’t, because while a comedian joking about killing a gay kid is not ‘as bad’ as politicians trying their darndest to keep gays from having any rights, I do think it’s all part of the same, bigger problem. I also don’t see how your joking about Jesus’ washboard abs demonizes Christians or encourages violence against Christians. I don’t think it’s the same thing.

    Sure, Tracy Morgan has a ‘right’ to say these things, I suppose, but I also have a right to think he’s a homophobic douchebag at worst, and an extremely lazy, unoriginal comedian at best.

  4. Cameron June 11, 2011 at 3:02 pm #

    It’s not just the stabbing his son joke that people are freaking out about. At least that sounds like a failed attempt at a joke (albeit a horrible one). It’s his comments that being gay is a choice because God wouldn’t make the mistake of creating someone gay or that gay kids are learning to be gay from the media. Most of what he said was not structured as part of a comedy act. It was just him on stage talking. If I tell three knock-knock jokes and then follow them up by saying that I hate jews it still doesn’t mean that the last part was a joke – even if I’m on stage with a microphone while doing it.

    The bottom line though is that this is not censorship. Censorship is when a government or institution legally prevents someone from expressing their views. Freedom of speech covers his right to say whatever bullsh!t is on his mind – it does not shield him from having others voice their own opinion in reply. No one’s locking him up in jail. The government isn’t burning his memoirs. We’re simply exercising our own right to free speech by expressing our anger and disappointment in what he’s said.

    The fact is that in this country gays & lesbians still are not treated equally in the eyes of the law. Until they are we have to speak out when public figures say to thousands of people that being gay is a choice or that being gay is a mistake of nature. These people vote. These people put pressure on their representatives on how to legislate our country. He has the right to say what he wants but we’re well within our own rights to say – No, this man is spewing lies. What he’s said to you is bigoted nonsense and it pisses us off.

  5. jbenick June 11, 2011 at 3:06 pm #

    I waffled on how I felt about Tracy’s rant and came to a conclusion similar to yours. I always appreciate your posts. It seems that there are few of us out there who are able to take a look a both sides of things even when it would be easy to cling to the side that seems more appealing or comfortable at a glance.

    The only thing I disagree with you on in this post the use of the word, ‘retard.’ I feel it is different than the ‘N-word’ or ‘Fa-word’ in that it is used to make fun of a disability. Being black or gay isn’t a disability, as I’m sure you know. Other people may cause a black person or gay person to be held back from accomplishing things, but there is a fight against that that can be won. The fight with being mentally disabled is with the self…only made worse by the insults and apathy of others.

  6. Sarah Anne Lloyd June 11, 2011 at 4:08 pm #

    This pretty much exactly articulates how I feel about the whole deal.

  7. dirtypicturestv June 11, 2011 at 4:38 pm #

    Hitler, onstage at a comedy festival: “Why did the Jews cross the road? Because they were fleeing their burning ghetto!”

    Let’s be clear, this kind of humor is the outer perimeter of what you’re defending.

    While I am also not for censoring comedians, it’s also fair, in response, to point out any hateful speech on their part. The reason such “rants” are bad, is that they give others the idea that it’s okay to malign or demonize the group being mocked. I don’t believe Tracy to be a virulent homophone, but I do believe that some in his audience lean that way — and ask any gay African-American about the black community’s terrible track record when it comes to acceptance of homosexuality.

    Also, if you give comedians a license to say anything, any racist or bigot can go in front of an audience and claim that whatever he or she spouts is “comedy,” as use the term as a shield for hate speech.

    So let comedians say what they will. But let anyone else, in return, react how they want. Free speech — ideally — is about dialogue between opposing viewpoints. Why should Tracy get a pass, but GLAAD not?

    • Rainicorn June 12, 2011 at 3:56 pm #

      I definitely believe Tracy is a virulent homophone. 😀

      (Sorry to be an ass, but it’s a funny typo…)

      • dirtypicturestv June 12, 2011 at 10:03 pm #

        Haha! Right you are, Rainicorn! He IS a homophone!

        I love that one typo undermines my entire comment. That’s all people are going to remember, now. ^_^

  8. Lizz Christed♔ June 12, 2011 at 3:49 am #

    I’m surprised to discover that I’m more mad about this than you are. There is some serious disconnect in people that they are expressing in movies when the most disturbing thing happens and someone says, “It’s just a movie.” that is the same thing that is expressed when people who in the name of “comedy” say the most disturbing things and people say “it’s a joke.”

    To those who much have been given, much is expected of them. TM is on one of the hottest television shows and he has the ear of so many. This is a guy with big influence. If we don’t care what people with influence are saying, we are essentially throwing up our hands & saying, ‘We don’t need a say in what kind of society we are Living in.’

    What is or is not comedy is relative. I find a sinister element in the fact that more & more of what is being labeled as comedy is increasingly violent. When did we make an agreement that someone being hurt or killed is funny?? (That breaking taboos is ‘funny’. That being shocking is ‘funny’).

    Before Tracy’s stupidity, the recent taboo of choice was about hurting/killing babies. This is another new low.

    I rejoice every time someone expresses that there is something wrong with this picture. The disconnect isn’t a total epidemic, that there are still some people drawing a line in the sand.

    • Paul Jarry June 13, 2011 at 9:28 am #

      One thing people don’t get is that by erecting speech taboos you give the taboos power and therefore make breaking them funny.

      I don’t really understand your point about movies. You’re talking about the effect of the content on the viewer? society?

      I doubt anyone (reasonable) would have a problem with you giving your opinion on things you find objectionable.

      But: do you not think someone can be against violence but joke about violence? Do most (regular) people think about violence? Do most (regular) people feel violent? Certainly most fear violence? Even if they’re android-like certainly they are aware of violence (perhaps they’ve taken a history class). If any of these are true why NOT joke about violence? Does joking about violence cause violence? I suspect that would be the primary objection.

  9. Paul Jarry June 13, 2011 at 10:13 am #

    I just want to say more generally: why does everyone assume:

    1. They know it wasn’t funny.
    2. They understand the tone.
    3. They know Tracy Morgan’s personal beliefs.

    Also, when did everyone become comedy experts and art critics? Not to mention sociologists and human scientists.

    Everyone should google, “chris rock on oj simpson murder,” especially since Chris Rock has chosen self-protection over comedy.

    And just to ward off some other misconceptions: comedy/humor doesn’t have to be “funny ha ha.” A “comedian” is a performance artist, not a trained monkey and audience trolling is satire. Comedy can be black comedy or anti-comedy, meta-comedy or “epic” (brechtian) comedy. Comedy can be political, and that politics may be political correctness. It may be human nature, it may be humans themselves. Etc. and so forth.

    Also, comedy is “living.” Something not funny “in the moment” may become funny later as it “evolves”. “Tracy Morgan homophobic rant” is now a meme. This meme is “affected” by our reaction to it/engagement with it. And so forth. (In fact, Michael Ian Black has already since tweeted about killing his kids.)

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