Life is a tragedy when seen in close-up, but a comedy in long-shot.
So, I was watching an old episode of Family Guy last night (a favorite of mine) and in this particular episode Seth McFarland, creative genius behind the show, makes fun of BOTH Lou Gehrig’s disease and the sad but true tale of “My Left Foot“. Please recall that this is the same genius who has gone so far as to make fun of fetuses left in the dumpster on Prom night (no doubt inspired by a sad, but true tale in the news)…this is evidence of just how far this comedian will go.
I actually find this funny in a kind of “laugh and weep at the same time” thing. If you don’t, that’s fine. But I do and MANY Americans do too. Perhaps we feel so helpless in the face of such tragedy that we choose to laugh instead of cry. Maybe it’ something deeper, that we see a society that raises children to be so selfish, so self-centered that they don’t value their own children or take any responsibility for them. Or worse yet, we see a society so hell bent on the maintenance of abstinence and Christianist purity of the unmarried teen that we can only laugh/cry in despair when we see a teenager so determined to hide the shame of the birth, so afraid to communicate with her potentially judgmental parents, so unsupported by the father who was just as engaged in f*cking/creating the life as she was, that she feels the need to disconnect herself from the child, it’s incovenient birth and the shame she feels. So disconnected that ultimately she wrapped this poor baby up in plastic and placed it in a dumpster and then proceeded with her Prom plans that evening.
Why do I mention such a horrible thing? Because I want to illustrate how I as an individual view humor and hyperbole in our culture. While I can heartily laugh at “Fetus Dumpster Baby”, I can also be offended by a comment on Twitter the other day about rape. This is not hypocrisy. I am discussing my sense of humor, often so dark it could blot out the sun, because it has bearing on my reaction to the comment of a political blogger/journalist.
The other day, Glenn Greenwald, a political pundit (I won’t credit him as JUST a blogger any more because he appears frequently on TV and other media) and online blogger for Salon decided to double down on a metaphor involving rape and President Obama on Twitter in response to a very cogent and lawyerly challenge by Imani Gandy regarding the NDAA and indefinite detention. ABL argued that the President’s veto could not overcome the Congressional majority vote so he created a signing statement declaring that indefinite detention of American Citizens was NOT acceptable and would not be tolerated by this administration. ABL’s argument was that it was the most he could do, given the obstruction by Congress.
Greenwald, on the other had, decided to ignore the signing statement and condemn Pres. Obama for signing the law (note: a law he could NOT VETO or limit in any way OTHER THAN in a signing statement). On Twitter when ABL (aka, Imani Gandy) challenged him with the signing statement, Greenwald did not immediately respond. However, someone going by the Twitter account name of @emptywheel said, “ABL, Obama could rape a nun live on NBC and you’d say we weren’t seeing what we were seeing”….
It is, essentially, an ad hominem attack on ABL to distract from the important point that Greenwald (of whom @emptywheel is a fan) is trying so assiduously to avoid. That point is that unless President Obama decided to become a dictator there was NOTHING he could do EXCEPT for issue a “signing statement”. One would have hoped that this would be the end of it….but no, Greenwald decided to not only repeat @emptywheel’s assertion but also reinforce it.
Greenwald said in response to @emptywheel, “No – she’d say it was justified & noble- that he only did it to teach us about the evils of rape.” He doubled down on the ad hominem attack, claiming that ABL would excuse President Obama of any action no matter how demonstrably evil it was. It is an “ad hominem” attack because Greenwald considers any Liberal who supports Pres. Obama as a sycophant, an “obamabot”–and there is a pattern of behavior, statements from the last few years to support this conclusion.
Later still, a blogger that I deeply respect, John Cole of Balloon Juice.com, defended Greenwald reinforcing the “rape” metaphor saying it was hyperbole only and that people, particularly politicians and bloggers, do it all the time. I posted a reply on his website (most likely not read by John Cole) about his opinion and it is directly related to this post. My reply was that what is okay hyperbole for some people to say, is not okay for others to say (and that apologies were needed all around because each actor in that discussion had stepped over a line). Which brings me back to my point: What is hyperbolic AND okay in the U.S. and what is not.
Now you may be asking yourself why on God’s Great Green Earth would I connect Family Guy with Greenwald’s supposedly “hyperbolic comments? Here’s why….in the U.S. we have a tradition of comedians, actors and other public celebrities making political statements. However, the comedian is a breed apart. In the U.S. a comedian (for the most part)* can say whatever he/she wants and so long as the audience laughs it is okay. We give a TON of leeway to comedians and I think that is all to the good. Otherwise we wouldn’t have satire (e.g., The Daily Show, The Onion, The Colbert Report, etc).
The difference here is that Greenwald, or any other person in the U.S., doesn’t get the leeway given to a comedian. If they want such a thing , then become a c0median but don’t, whatever you do, become a political pundit and blogger. Greenwald, you’re no comedian and you didn’t mean what you said in jest…and because you were serious (and have repeatedly confirmed your seriousness on the issue), you do not deserve the license given to comedians.
If Louis CK wants to talk about rape in such a way, I’ll laugh because comedy about the things that make us want to cry is his job. Greenwald is supposed to be a serious person who means what he says. This IS what makes what he said to ABL so wrong and so offensive IMHO.
If you don’t understand my point, go ahead and “pull an ostrich” until the next GOP candidate wins the White House. Then see where our precious liberties are. But even then I will laugh/cry at statements made by comedians and condemn the same statements from the mouths of pundits like Greenwald, and rightly so.
*Note, there have been some things in the news lately about comedians saying things as jokes that piss people off and many people were quick to condemn them. HOWEVER, most of the time, compared to just about every other nation on the planet….we let our comedians get away with quite a lot for the sake of comedy.