Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Uh oh. Another one of my rants

Here’s a Friday Question that became an entire post because it gave me a chance to rant. And you know I LOVE to rant.

Kendall Rivers asks:

You've been doing the TV comedy thing for quite a while. Now in this current oversensitive climate we're in how much hell is it for you as a comedy writer to have more pressure than ever to not offend anyone when writing a joke? These days writing a slight against string could wreak havoc.

I can’t think of a worse time. Ever.   Mostly because things are so confusing. You have people who are offended by the smallest slight and you have a president who makes blatant racist remarks, insults women, belittles soldiers that fight for the country, and mock the handicapped and millions of followers are totally fine with that.

How do you write satire when what’s actually happening in America is so much more bizarre than the Onion or SNL or late night comics could exaggerate for comic effect? And it’s hard to laugh because it’s so tragic.

So that’s one side of it. Focusing more on your  question, there’s the enlightened side whose feelings must not be hurt at all costs.

Some stand up comedians won’t play colleges anymore because the students are too overly sensitive. College kids are supposed to be irreverent, subversive, anarchistic. Up until now they thumbed their nose. Now they shield their ears.

How did this happen?  

Humor should push boundaries. It should shine a light on our absurdities, hypocrisies, and foibles. That doesn’t necessarily mean “mean spirited,” but it also doesn’t mean we must avoid offending everyone at all costs. Yes, some of the humor is pointed at us, but we used to be a society that could handle that. We used to be able to laugh at ourselves. We didn’t need safe rooms.

So TV writers do have it harder these days. Networks won’t let you do anything controversial. The concession is you can now do sophomoric sex jokes. Not a fair trade-off as far as I’m concerned.

Personally, I get my comedy from stand-up specials these days. And the best one I’ve found is the new Dave Chappelle Special on Netflix. It’s so refreshing to see a fearless comic, who is also devastatingly funny and insightful. But warning: He pulls no punches. Spares no sacred cows. Like I said, it helps that he’s brilliant. But as I was watching it I thought: Lenny Bruce would be proud.  He's taken a lot of shit for it (good for him), but I find it interesting that on Rotten Tomatoes critics give him a 27% score but Netflix viewers give him 99% approval.  

Could the tide, ever so slightly be turning?

We need MORE comedy today. And we need to allow the artists who make comedy more freedom to take chances and swing for the fences.  Otherwise, we’re all marooned on GILLIGAN’S ISLAND.


Anonymous said...

I am overall more conservative than liberal (that does not mean a Trump supporter).
I found George Carlin extremely funny, even when he pointed at opinions I agreed with. I thought that Bill Maher's early work was funny - before he became so mean spirited. Even after that, he still sometimes has a point, and is occasionally funny.
I could pick a dozen more that I don't agree with their politics, BUT funny is funny. Also, most of the funniest picked at both sides. Both have plenty to pick at. The problem in general today is that nobody can pick at the chosen classes. You can have a joke that says or implies "All priests are pedophiles" and that is ok. You cannot have a joke that even hints "All Muslim clerics are terrorists". Neither one is true. Both would find their humor in a sliver (or more) of truth.

StoicJim said...

Well...there WAS Ginger.

Mike Barer said...

I agree, sex jokes are easy marks because they trade on shock value.

Michael said...

This also follows the ruckus about the new SNL cast member, and a great NY Times Op-Ed by a woman stand-up comic talking about, essentially, punching up instead of punching down. As I think about it, far too much stand-up comedy--and comedy--is white guys making jokes about non-white guys. I think there's room for great comedy but also sensitivity--as Ken's career has demonstrated.

Matt said...

I've often said that I'd support the first business who, after coming under attack from internet Social Justice Warriors, thumbs their noses at the hysteria and says "so what?", and refuses to issue a boilerplate-down-on-our-knees-begging-your-forgiveness apology crap. I'm so completely beyond sick and tired of this bizarre strangeness that has enveloped our society.

PolyWogg said...

I tend to be of the view that there are almost no topics that are off limits. While not everything is funny, there is humour to be found in anything. I was binge watching last season of Amsterdam, and they have the cancer patients joking about their lives via renamed musicals (Croaklahoma! had me literally laughing out loud!). It was dark, it was funny, and while cancer isn't funny, the writers found humour in the cancer experience.

I think you nailed it with "mean-spirited". Context and intent are as important for comedy as it is for criminal trials. Andrew Dice Clay was "shock" for humour, but not that funny. Richard Pryor talking about cocaine use and setting himself on fire was, literally, raw and amazing, but while he talked about the black experience, he did it with himself as foible. I will likely never find a joke about disabilities funny if told by someone who isn't disabled, but Special has some dark humour in it that rocks, told from the perspective of a gay disabled man.

What I found really interesting was the hullaballoo for SNL in the last week vs. snoozefest for some of the roast comments for Alec Baldwin. Many roasts ignore humour and go for aggressive jokes which are supposedly funny yet are really just insults. None came close to the line from Gilbert Gottfried on Last Comic Standing in example of how to do a roast where he referred to his fellow co-host, Phyllis Diller by saying, "And I have the legendary Phyllis Diller here, what an honour. And I think I speak for all of us when I say, "isn't she dead?"

But I digress...on a more interesting note, did you see the upcoming stunt "reunion" castings where they have stars from old shows coming on their former co-stars new shows (albeit in new roles). So Rhea Perlman, Kirstie Alley, George Wendt and Ratzenberger are all going to be cameos on a show with, umm, Ted Danson's show? It's a weird premise but I'm curious how you would handle a cameo like that as it eats up precious minutes out of 22 for no real plot benefit. Like if the cast of Three Mena and a Baby visited Cheers.


brian t said...

I watched Bill Burr's latest special last week the one recorded at the Royal Albert Hall. I definitely enjoyed it, but did note that it didn't have the edge of some of his previous efforts. I couldn't pinpoint exactly what it was, since he wasn't exactly the Dice Man before, but some of it was predictable e.g. this bit about Stephen Hawking. Bill seems to be happier - he talks about enjoying married life, being a father, getting therapy for his anger issues ... which makes me happy for him as a person, but a little concerned for his job as an edgy comedian. (Where's Denis Leary these days?)

blinky said...

I long for a modern day Lenny Bruce or Mark Twain.

Mike said...

For the people who long for the good old days... those days are gone.

This is an irreversible change that has taken place.

Everyone needs to adapt to it or perish.

The forums to voice your anger are many. So we hear so many people complaining about so many things - every little thing.

All these days the jokes were a one-way street. Say a racist joke and go away and laugh with your friends. Now you get feedback / blow back that instant.

One little video circulated on whatsapp will end a career.

Will it stop?

Can things go back to normal "good old days"? No.

Can you stop these people from their constant criticism. No.

And those who complain about the "college crowd" like Jerry Seinfeld are totally powerless. He can bitch about it to his buddies and in interviews. But he can do zilch about it.

He may be a powerful Hollywood player, but he and his millions are not immune to the criticism from the current generation.

You can still go on unmindful and being nasty like Seth MacFarlane is in his cartoons and his Oscar monologue. But then, his admirers and supporters are very less. He lost his credibility with that gig. That racist, anti Semite ass was put in his place by Hollywood.

Finally, it all boils down to whether you wanna continue and face the ire or just moan and bitch like Jerry or just keep adapting to this new changing World and try to make a living.

Anonymous said...

I have said this before on this blog, but I simply cannot help believing that you are missing a major point about youth culture: you have become part of the establishment. Young people are being subversive, but it’s your generation that they are subverting.

In regards to your claim that you didn’t need safe spaces: 1) that’s because you exist in such a state of privilege that everywhere is a safe space for you and — more specifically to your point regarding content and other rants you have made about trigger warnings — 2) when SAVING PRIVATE RYAN was released, World War II veterans arranged special screenings to attend together and were provided with emotional support hotlines to call afterwards. If you can see a difference between that and a safe space, please tell me what it is.

The primary difference that I can see is that those veterans were mostly men and mostly white and had served in state-sponsored violence rather than being victims of it. Perhaps instead of making vague allusions to the behavior to which you object, you can offer specific examples with context. It makes your argument infinitely stronger.

Finally, in July, you wrote an entire post about the thought that went into one sentence and said:
These kinds of questions go into every joke I write. On the one hand, I don’t try analyze every joke to death, but I’m always going ‘This is what I want the audience to think, have I prepared them properly? Is there a better word or image that would achieve that? Does it require too much effort on the audience’s part? Am I providing too much information?  Might there be other unwanted interpretations that send them in the wrong direction?’
For all the care that you put into the audience’s reaction to a single joke, why do you draw the line at whether it might trigger a post-traumatic response or offend an entire group of people?

Jahn Ghalt said...

I wouldn't be one bit surprised if Chappelle "vetted" his own routine carefully to make sure that he had "serious" material for those that didn't quite get it.

A few times in his recent standup on Netflix he reverted to "serious mode" much the same way that Don Rickles (usually at the end of a routine) would "be nice".

Rock Golf said...

Minor correction on the Netflix stat. 99% refers to YOUR likelihood to enjoy it, based on your previous views and likes. It doesn't mean 99% of Netflix viewers liked it.

Frank Beans said...

The overall problem is that we're in a cultural and political moment that is the culmination of decades--right-wing tribalism, masquerading as conservatism, and special-snowflake division, masquerading as enlightenment. None of this is by accident, particularly on the right-wing side which has ratcheted up the noxious hate steadily, year by year.

We feel stuck in this right now, as if it will only get worse. I don't think it CAN get worse, not after the past four years. Yes, we are overall trapped in a kind of hell of our own making. I want to say there is nowhere to go but up, but this is crisis, and it's going to hurt a lot.

On the bright side, I do believe that comedy and common sense are very much alive, Look at late-night shows for that. I don't think I even have to name the names. Somehow this alienation culture will change. But perhaps some of the former engineers of change and dialogue--colleges and mainstream politics--might have to sit on the sidelines for awhile. It is going to have to come from somewhere else, but I do believe it will happen.

But lord help us in the meantime.

Brian said...

..and I remember one episode of Giligan (briefly) in blackface! So even Gilligan is not a completely "safe space".

PolyWogg hits on a very important point: context. If you cannot watch something in context, many times you are lost. For example, "Our Gang" comedies have their issues regarding race, but the real breakthrough was that the Black and the White kids were playing together. There were some real horrors, such as "The Kid From Borneo" which featured a wild man in jungle regalia who was mistaken for a cannibal, but if you, by and large, view the series IN CONTEXT, it is groundbreaking stuff.

The problem is, do you want to STAY there? Do you want to steer comedy BACK to it? That is what becomes stifling. I'm not a writer, but I appreciate that it is hard to know what will offend, but it is not a new problem. Mark Twain complained that the only thing he could make fun of with no repercussions was a man-eating shark.

I also decry the "you can't call a dame a broad" school of thought which implies that you refuse to change your art when the times change.

Mark Evanier has some thoughts on this on hiis blog:

Brian said...

Free speech is expensive and a creative license sometimes needs renewals.

Robert Brauer said...

Ken, I appreciate your thoughts on this subject, though I would digress from some of your more dire opinions. You mentioned that it is hard to be edgy on network television anymore; while that may be so, there are a million other outlets (cable, streaming, etc.) where writers are able to be as edgy as they want these days. Great work is still being done, and boundaries are still being pushed, even though the paradigm may have shifted.

I have heard Jerry Seinfeld and other comedians (Chris Rock being one) complaining about how they no longer play colleges. I can't help but wonder... have they considered the possibility that college kids just aren't their audience anymore? I know that a comic wants to usually aim for the broadest audience possible, but you simply are not going to be able to please everyone. There are tons of comics who still do fine touring colleges; I'm sure they just provide a product college kids would like to hear.

I hear a lot of people saying that members of minority groups are too sensitive today. Quite frankly, I get the personal feeling that these groups have never been okay with the kinds of jokes garnering controversy at present. They've just finally reached a point where they feel secure enough in society to voice their opinions about it. I cannot see how that could possibly be a bad thing.

Chris said...

It's not that college campuses are too PC, it's that they're more aware of certain nuances in the culture. In a way that a lot of stand-up (good and bad) tends to ignore in favor of the punchline. And that is the subversion. Problem is, it's subverting the norms we've all grown up with. Asexuality? Transgender? Black Lives Matter? Cultural awareness?

These things are in a state of flux and change and I think it behooves us of older generations to hear what's being said.

"You can't make jokes about $SUBJECT anymore! WHAT?!?!" Well people could get away with making transphobic jokes like Dave Chappelle did because the trans community wasn't, well, a community. They weren't part of the larger culture. And now that they are, those jokes don't fly. And comics can either notice this and grow as artists or stick to the tried and true while the culture moves away from them.

And that's not the culture's fault.

Ted said...

When a comedian says things during his or her act, they're jokes. The intention is to make people laugh, sometimes by shocking or disturbing the audience. But whenever the media reports on one of these controversies, the jokes suddenly become "remarks" -- as if they were delivered during a TED Talk rather than a comedy show.

This actually does hark back to Lenny Bruce, who had to listen to his act read back to him in court by droning cops -- who sucked every bit of humor out of it -- as they tried to prove that his language was "obscene."

Mike Bloodworth said...

There's an old saying, "F*** you if you can't take a joke!" That's my basic philosophy.
I may not like every joke a comedian tells. I may even be personally offended by some. But, at no time have I ever said this guy, or girl, should be kicked out of show business for what they said. Yes, I understand that we're living in an age where only an (Censored) can call another (Censored) a (Censored.)
Yet, I'm constantly enraged by (Censored) with their hair triggers. (Censored) also pisses me off with their, "My s**t doesn't stink" attitude. Ken is semi-correct about one thing. There is an unfortunate double standard/duplicity in comedy. But, it goes both ways. e.g. You can compare Trump to Hitler, but don't you dare compare a (Censored) to a movie character. Every group from (Censored) to (Censored) have been turned into perpetual victims.
I blame the schools. They don't teach civics any more. They've replaced that curriculum with "political correctness." So it's no surprise that students have no idea what the Constitution actually says about their rights including free speech.
I think that (Censored) because TRUTH is the real victim. I know some (Censored), (Censored) will vehemently disagree with me.
And if By chance you found this post offensive, F*** You.

P.S. (Censored!)

Peter said...

I knew it was only a matter of time before those who fought against the greatest evil of the 20th century would be denigrated by the "woke" brigade, but even I didn't think that men who risked their lives to prevent a genocidal regime from taking over the world would be contemptuously dismissed as "mostly men and mostly white and had served in state-sponsored violence rather than being victims of it."

Slow clap, Anonymous.

Anonymous said...

In regards to your claim that you didn’t need safe spaces: 1) that’s because you exist in such a state of privilege that everywhere is a safe space for you and — more specifically to your point regarding content and other rants you have made about trigger warnings — 2) when SAVING PRIVATE RYAN was released, World War II veterans arranged special screenings to attend together and were provided with emotional support hotlines to call afterwards. If you can see a difference between that and a safe space, please tell me what it is.

Yes, the difference is that no one was trying to censor Saving Private Ryan. nobody said you couldn't or shouldn't show it.
Big difference.

123v said...

Sigh. Freedom of Speech as it exists in our founding papers pertains to the government controlling what you can say -- and nothing else.

Clara said...

I hate when comedians or writers say "Get a sense of humor. Don't be sensitive."

It's always people's fault. They have no right to question a joke or take offense.

Always clap.
Always laugh at everything I say.

Well..... It's my right to be sensitive or be offended.

If you want me to buy tickets to your show or see your programs, then you better come up with better material.

It may sound rude, but that's what today's generation is saying.

Clara said...

Mike Bloodworth said "There's an old saying, "F*** you if you can't take a joke!""

Well F You, I am not paying to see one of your shows, if your jokes are offensive.

My money, so F off.

Go sell tickets to someone else.

The crowd will dwindle as the society changes and you can hold onto to your old saying as your income.

Not a personal statement Mike, but just the thinking of youngsters today.

Mike said...

Mike Bloodworth says - we're living in an age.........

Don't say we. You old timers and your racist era is over.

WE the 'college crowd' are the current generation. You are on your way out. Don't let the door slam your Trump-supporting ass.

jahn ghalt said...

"anonymous" wrote:

when SAVING PRIVATE RYAN was released, World War II veterans arranged special screenings to attend together and were provided with emotional support hotlines to call afterwards. If you can see a difference between that and a safe space, please tell me what it is.

Thanks for that particular insight, about which I was not aware. I think I can help draw an important distinction.

The veterans were self-actualized when they arranged private hotlines and special screenings. I imagine they also kept these activities private (perhaps you can verify?)

By contrast, safe spaces on-campus are often very public things, occasionally accompanied by public demands to shut down "triggering" speech by guest speakers - sometimes by fellow students - sometimes by professors who exercise academic freedom for the benefit of those not-triggered.

Sometimes, an entire public space is shut down before the speaker even arrives. Worse, there are calls to muzzle, suspend, or outright-fire the professor. A private way to deal with this would be to not attend or (at least) to politely protest.

The primary difference that I can see is that those veterans were mostly men and mostly white and had served in state-sponsored violence rather than being victims of it.

"anonymous" also wrote:

The is a very "interesting" view of war, so narrow as to belie it's essence. Veterans in combat, whether volunteers or drafted, both serve AND are victims of combat - even if they do not admit to victimhood. This is NOT an either-or proposition.

Douglas Trapasso said...

Memo to Anonymous:

"served in state-sponsored violence rather than being victims of it"

Umm . . . ever heard of Pearl Harbor?

spmsmith said...

I dunno, the rules don't seem all that opaque to me. If you're gonna make fun of people, punch up not down. Make fun of people's choices, but not those things where they have no choice but to learn to live with it. And if you do make fun of those things, make damn sure you're living with them too. And you're probably safe if you stay away from people altogether and look at the other absurdities of life. I just don't see where these guidelines are so stifling they will kill a comedy career - unless you're not all that adaptive, I guess.

Chris said...

Couple more things that popped into my head:

"But, at no time have I ever said this guy, or girl, should be kicked out of show business for what they said."

Nobody's said that. Nobody's said that Dave Chappelle or Ricky Gervais or Louis CK need to be evicted from the human race for their jokes. They've been told they're not funny, which is valid. They've been told they're out of step with the culture at large, which is true. And in CK's case, his behavior was singularly appalling and the lack of anything like an actual, sincere apology is a mark against him. But you'll notice that they're all still working. Chappelle probably has another special lined up with Netflix and he could probably retire off the money from this last special. Poor guys. Having to listen to people say "Y'know, we'd really rather not."

In fact, the only comic who has actually been cancelled recently is Bill Cosby. Because he's in jail for actual crimes.

They're not being cancelled. Portions of the audience are making it known that they don't like this style of comedy and will spend their attention and their money elsewhere. Basic free market.

"You need to view it in the context..."

Absolutely, but there's an important question here: who's context? Yours or mine?

Personal example: My legal name is Christopher and I kind of hate it. Nothing big, it's just the name I was always called when I got into trouble and to this day, thirty years on, I have a moment of twitch when I go to a doctor's office and get called back as "Christopher?" Their context: It's my name. My context: It's my name that I only ever heard in a negative connotation. Which context matters more? Which one "wins"? In this case, I make a point of asking that they call me Chris, it's added to my records and we move on. What a snowflake, right?

This is why I can't get people who don't understand transgender people who don't like being called their old names. We all have names and nicknames we'd prefer to never hear again. Some of them we may have been born with. So why do people sneer at this?

Another example: I love Gilbert & Sullivan's Mikado. Love it. It's comic opera, it's an artistic classic... and it's problematic as hell these days. The context of its creation is that it was meant as a genteel satire on British class, wrapped up in the trappings of the fad for "Orientalism" that was sweeping the British upper classes at the time it was written. It's a loving jest, right? The context to an Asian-American in the 21st century is it's yet another art that relies heavily on racist imagery and a complete lack of cultural sensitivity... on top of another century and a half's worth of yellow face, "Long Duck Dong", "Oriental" sidekicks, background geishas, Gwen Stefani and all manner of playground bullying they likely faced when they were growing up. How dare we listen to their discomfort and pain?

Empathy. Is it really THAT hard?

"So it's no surprise that students have no idea what the Constitution actually says about their rights including free speech. "

*sigh* Mike, I'm not offended by your post, I'm just weary of hearing this line of rhetoric every time the subject crops up. Free speech means you can say what you want, Dave Chappelle can say what he wants... and the audience can respond the way they want and Dave can choose how to react. That's not censorship. But if he continues to double down on outmoded comedy that punches down at other minorities in the name of going for the cheapest laugh, he won't be censored... he'll just find himself preaching to the choir at Breitbart more and more often.

And that, my friend, is comedy.

JAS said...

Somewhat related, possible FQ: what do you think about the state of comedy today? In spite of PC culture, do you think today's TV comedies are lamer/funnier/similar to comedies of the past? This writer thinks today's comedies are much funnier than in the past:

MikeN said...

Mike, Seth MacFarlane's Oscar hosting was prescient with the joke about Harvey Weinstein years before the truth came out.

PolyWogg said...

For me, progress comes in the form that people have learned that language matters as much as supposed intent.

Nigger and anti-semitic jokes are racist; retard jokes are despicable; fag jokes are homophobic. But here's the shocker for you who claim everyone is now a snowflake. Those jokes were ALWAYS racist, despicable or homophobic. That hasn't changed. We apparently didn't care or didn't know that the language was as offensive as the hidden intent behind the jokes which was to have fun at someone else's expense who couldn't fight back. There's a word for that...bullying. What HAS changed is that we learned that our previous behaviour was destructive and divisive and caused real harm in some cases. Freedom of speech doesn't mean it wasn't racist as f***.

A bully may pick on a fat kid in high school and may get other kids to laugh at it, it may even "amuse" them, and the bully might claim, "It was only meant as a joke." But it wasn't a joke, it was just bullying. And there is a very simple test. No need to think about punching up or punching down.

Ask yourself:

a) If you're part of the group, are you commenting on your own experience;
b) If you're not part of the group, would that person/group you're mocking EVER find it funny;
c) If you're not part of the group, and they don't find it funny, is it at least a choice they made to be part of that group?

So, picking on democrats or republicans may not be your group (a) or they might not find it funny (b), but at least they chose their situation. Picking on Jewish people when you're not Jewish, in a way that Jewish people would never find funny, and they don't "choose" to be Jewish, is likely going to be offensive. Maybe some people will find it funny, but only at the Jewish person's expense.

And that, my friend, is not comedy, that's just being a bully to get other kids to laugh.


Anonymous said...

I wish someone would please understand that not all older white men are Trump supporters, are anti-female, are anti-ethnic, and are out of touch with the times.

To place all of us in the same category is just as cruel and hurtful as the slurs and injustices you are mentioning. When you say "go away old man" that's just nasty.

I didn't choose to be born when I was born. I voted for Hilary Clinton. I voted for Gay Marriage. I should not even have to give reasons why I should not be lumped under a red hat because of my age, color and gender.

And to make matters worse, try getting a job when you're my age. "Ew, he reminds me of my dad, or my uncle." Sorry I can't hang with you after work with the gang. I've still got a family to support because this world didn't realize baby boomers -- who were the protestors against unfair thinking just like you, NOT the warmongers -- are aging but don't nest eggs. Our workplaces are seeing to that. They want to keep it.

One thing is for sure. You will get old too. I hope you are treating with less hatred for something you never said and never did.

Can't say what my name is because that would send a message to people in the industry that I'm too old.

The most damning prejudice in this country is the one that can hardly ever be proven -- ageism.

Go to it. Tear me to shreds, too. Enjoy!

Brian said...

It's not a rant Ken, it's a good post. A post that makes us think.

And many readers here are confused and have mixed up one thing.

You are talking about jokes, but many here are talking about freedom of speech.

Both are different things.

Writing jokes or doing stand-up comedy to earn money (livelihood) is what is being discussed here, not what you can say and who controls what you say.

Freedom of speech still exists people..... Say whatever you want, abuse as much as you want.

Erich617 said...

I commented earlier about SAVING PRIVATE RYAN intending to use a handle but my comment appeared as anonymous. Apologies for that.

As for verifying, I remember the hotlines being mentioned in the news at the time, and I have found several news pieces from the period confirming that. Here is an in-depth piece from the LA Times:

I recall reading about the screenings more recently in an article that had been published at the time (I know that is confusing, sorry), but I cannot find that article now. Wikipedia says:
The film was so realistic that some combat veterans of D-Day and Vietnam left theaters rather than finish watching the opening scene depicting the Normandy invasion. Their visits to posttraumatic stress disorder counselors rose in number after the film's release, and many counselors advised 'more psychologically vulnerable' veterans to avoid watching it. The Department of Veterans Affairs set up a nationwide hotline for veterans who were affected by the film, and less than two weeks after the film was released it had already received over 170 calls.
However, the two articles cited do not seem to be available online. I believe that one is the one I had seen earlier. So we can at least say that hotlines were available and advertised. Allegedly counselors advised some veterans not to watch it -- what today would be called a trigger warning.

So, in regard to how private this all was, I guess that you can decide. The LA Times piece is called "'Ryan' Ends Vets' Years of Silence" and deals with the long-term effects of repressing trauma.

To contrast that with safe spaces on college campuses, I don't necessarily know that those are especially public. I have worked on a college campus for years and don't know that I've ever come across one. My understanding is that safe spaces are an environment in which people who feel threatened or violated can process their emotions safely and without fear. So I think a certain level of privacy is inherent.

Regardless, I don't know that being public or private is necessarily better or worse in any meaningful way. As for non-platforming and triggering, I am seeing some things become conflated here. To continue using the example of veterans, I see advertisements around fourth of July asking people not to set off fireworks because the sound can trigger veterans' post traumatic stress. That's triggering. Colleges and universities often invite speakers to campus and give them a platform (sometimes literally, sometimes metaphorically). They don't invite everybody in the whole world. They do it selectively, based on the belief that these people will offer something of value to the campus community. On the occasion that they choose somebody whom either the student body or the faculty finds to be so offensive that they do not offer anything of value and risk hurting people, they ask the school not to give them that platform to speak. That's non-platforming.

As several people have pointed out, it has nothing to do with freedom of speech, as people who have their platforms taken away or their shows cancelled can still say whatever they want. They just can't say it on somebody else's TV show/campus/streaming service/etc. It's what ABC did when they fired Roseanne from ROSEANNE. It's what Ken does when he chooses not to publish certain comments on this blog.

Erich617 said...

Regarding the categorization of those who serve in the military as agents of state-sponsored violence, yes, I have heard of Pearl Harbor.

Regarding the more thoughtful point made by jahn galt, that perspective does lack nuance, but I do see it as a distinction and a relevant one here. So, for example, the indigenous people who were systematically slaughtered by the U.S. and state governments in the 19th century, the Japanese who were interned by the U.S. government during World War II, the countless people of color like Eric Garner, Sandra Bland and Philando Castile who died at the hands of police and those who are currently being detained at the U.S. border are solely victims of violence or brutality by officials of federal, state and local governments. Those who serve in the military are certainly subject to violence and brutality, but they also participate in violence on behalf of the government. Some of this may ultimately contribute to the greater good, but my original question was why they appear to be exempt from the criticism leveled at others who do not want to engage with triggering or offensive material or at least want to do so safely. And their association with the military is one of the clearest differences that I could find.

Peter said...


The concept of safe spaces on college campuses is mostly figurative. SJWs want their entire college experience to be a safe space and they do that by deplatforming invited speakers or, as happened recently in Britain, defacing a plaque in memory of soldiers who died in World War I.

As another Anonymous has pointed out, the veterans were not demanding Saving Private Ryan be banned or that Steven Spielberg be vilified on twitter. To try and draw a parallel between unhinged college students who want everyone to think like them and veterans who wanted to watch Saving Private Ryan but with adequate emotional support afterwards is just absurd. There is absolutely no comparison.

Your point about government sanctioned violence amounts to another case of the whataboutery that SJWs love to indulge in as though everything has to be a zero sum argument. Do you think it's perhaps possible to acknowledge that Hitler and his friends were not very nice people and the allies were right to fight them without having to bring in the subject of police brutality and America's bloody history in relation to Native Americans?

People who engage in whataboutery appear to believe they're making profoundly clever points. They're not. It would literally be like Jeffrey Dahmer saying "Yeah but what about John Wayne Gacy and all the people he murdered? You want to talk about my crimes but what about Ted Bundy? Do you know how many women he murdered?"

Karan G said...

Intentions matter. Some people can tell a joke and it’s hilarious. Another person can tell the same joke and it seems a little mean. Is the purpose to vilify the “other?” Does the person enjoy, a bit too much, making fun of, or having a laugh at someone’s expense? The author of the joke, and the demeanor of the comic are all relevant….in my estimation. Does the person say a controversial line with a nuanced little smirk on their face, which makes it seem a bit less mean and more acceptable? (Larry David) Mark Vonnegut said that his father, Kurt (although not known as a comedian) would work for hours crafting the right wording to a joke or a single funny line. The right mix of words make a big difference. Are people getting too sensitive? People have been made fun of since the beginning of time? Are we saying that they’ve been taking it well up until now? There have been a lot of comedians that start out their careers being hilarious, and then seem to become more and more mean and gain a fringe following, but lose a lot of the general population. Are we forgetting Joan River’s making fun of Elizabeth Taylor? I suspect that the obese population weren’t laughing along at the fat jokes, and if they were, why were they? Were they jolly, or did they laugh because everyone else was laughing? If a fat person doesn’t laugh, does that make them overly sensitive? In our society we tend to do things in a “group think” kind of way. Often times, stupid things are acceptable as “the group” (alpha dog types) allows or encourages them, until things start to shift and people fight back. On the whole, I think “younger generations” move the needle forward in society. I tend not to pile on to the smack downs of young people. Honestly, they are getting a lot of things right. There are always people who miss the point and take it to the extreme….they should be ignored and marginalized. I guess there is a fine line between hilarious and mean, and the really skillful writers and performers know how to successfully walk that line. Hats off to Ken and David. Those are my initial thoughts….but admittedly, I know nothing about comedy.

Erich617 said...

Hi Pete,

We seem to be misunderstanding each other. I searched for the incidence of statues in Britain being defaced and couldn't find any information. If you have any, please share.

Otherwise, I tried looking into your statement about safe spaces being figurative. My memory of the origin of the term is that students requested a physical space, a room, be made available during a talk about sexual assault so that those who had experienced sexual assault could process post traumatic stress responses. When I searched for specific information about safe spaces on campus, most of the results were editorials critiquing the concept rather than specific examples. I found this piece by an adjunct professor at Marywood University:

The title is "I’ve never had a student ask for a safe space," and the subheader is "Panic about students and 'safe spaces' is completely misguided." This professor says -- among other things -- "The closest they came to requesting a trigger warning was the time a student wrote a note to explain that a topic from that day’s class — clergy sexual abuse — might be difficult for her to discuss because she had experienced childhood abuse by a minister and was just beginning to come to terms with her memories," and "I had a military veteran make sure I understood why he needed a seat in a far corner, where he could see the door."

Do you have specific examples of "SJWs want[ing] their entire college experience to be a safe space"? That would help my understanding of your point. (I have read "The Coddling of the American Mind" as it was published in The Atlantic and heard interviews with Jonathan Haidt. I disagree with most of his points and examples and can elaborate if you like, but it would not be new to me.)

In regard to your specific questions, yes, I believe that Hitler was not a nice person. As to the ability to discuss the justifications for U.S. involvement in World War II without discussing other incidents in U.S. history, I don't see why it isn't possible. I don't see the relevance, however, because I never expressed a value judgment regarding any of the examples that I mentioned.

Looking forward to your reply!

Aaron said...

I only wanted to comment that as a younger guy I find it hilarious how younger generations continually make the same mistake previous younger generations have made, which is to blame the previous generations for all their ills. No consideration for the kind of world that generation entered or the decisions they might have made based on the information available to them at the time. Just a general "THOSE OLD GUYS FUCKED EVERYTHING UP!"

I for one am thankful for all the good stuff guys my dad's age - and my grandfather's age (both non-white by the way) - did to help move things along in the right direction. They and others of their generation made mistakes but so have members of mine, and those younger. Everyone screws up. But just as it is perfectly valid for Christopher to ask that he be called "Chris" because his real full name makes him uncomfortable, it's valid for me to laugh at him for it...even if that makes me a jerk!

Kevin from VA said...

Ken's "rant" has me thinking of the latest blackface scandel involving the Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. It seems that on at least three occasions going back more than a decade ago he was photographed wearing blackface. He has apologized but it appears that it may not be enough for him to continue as the Prime Minister, as the outrage is growing louder and louder. I do wish that those offended, or pretending to be, of Trudeau, going forward would separate between those who have in the past used blackface to dress as people they admire versus those that wore blackface to demean people of color. I say this as someone who leans to the left.

An example is a couple of different Halloween party's I've attended. One year I had a friend who came as our former President, wearing blackface and a tan suit wearing a button that said "Obama 2012". He was the hit of the party and was treated like a Rock Star. Another year someone came wearing orangeface dressed all in white, stuffed with pillows holding a golf club and lying about his golf score. Guess who he was supposed to be?

The person wearing blackface did so for a President he admired. The other man for a president he didn't. Intent is everything.
That being said, I do fear that the current president will view the three photos of Trudeau, believe he's actualy a person of color, and want to add the Prime Minister to the "Squad" changing the "Gang of Four" to the "Gang of Five".

The Bumble Bee Pendant said...

Kevin and Ken,

"Comedy" was dead certainly during the Obama era.

There was plenty to make fun of with President Obama. Comedians could have a number of things.
But a place like SNL couldn't find anything?

My guess is that they didn't want to do anything that would upset the most powerful person in the world, who they admired.

Well, that means comedy is dead.

Easy to make fun of Trump. Not only is he cartoonish and boorish but he's a heck of a stand up comedian himself.
And they do it non-stop. It's BORING. IT was boring by mid 2017.

But they could never make fun of Obama. The way he spoke so slowly when replying. The mom jeans. The fact that everyone knew he had trouble quitting smoking.
The SNL type folks didn't have to make fun of his ideas but they didn't even try.

Can we think of any characterture of Obama that resonated in 8 years?

And then instead of making fun of Hillary Clinton, they instead paid homage to her in her loss. REALLY?

Comedy was dead.

Mike Bloodworth said...

123v. You are correct. Point taken.

ScarletNumber said...

@Rock Golf

If you look at the Rotten Tomatoes website, you'll see it is 99% there as well.

Kendall Rivers said...

Thanks for the response! I think it's all about balance. Comedy doesn't have to be mean spirited or cutting down someone with ill intent but there's no reason that it shouldn't like you said be irreverent or make fun of human foibles and make us look at our own insecurities and ill behavior and laugh at it. Could you imagine a show like All In The Family airing today? Talk about a disaster lol but some of my favorite shows were irreverent and hilariously poking fun at ourselves like All in the family or Sanford and Son, Married with Children, Golden Girls, In Living Color, Everybody Hates Chris, Everybody Loves Raymond, Barney Miller, Soap, Malcolm in The Middle etc. I feel like if these aired today part of what made them so iconic would be watered down and lose their bite.

Astroboy said...

Gotta admit as a Dave Chappelle fan I found this last Netflix special a disappointment. I just didn't feel the jokes were there, the whole show felt unpolished and too many jokes just seemed to be there for their shock value and nothing more. I just didn't feel his heart was in it. The Netflix comedy specials I go back to often are the two by Katherine Ryan, I never tire of them, I'm especially impressed with how good the writing is, and how fast she is when it comes to any improvised lines.

McAlvie said...

Late to the party, but I do wonder if the "safe space" thing has been blown out of proportion. Of course I'm not on a college campus, but I know some young people and I don't think they are over sensitive, or at least no more than anyone ever is at that age. And if they are taking it to the extreme, again that's not so different from any other generation. If their extreme is sensitivity, that's not such a bad thing, and they'll mellow out just like we did, and find a balance somewhere in the middle.

Jerry Seinfeld needs to move on from college campuses anyway. He's a few generations removed from that audience and no more relevant to them than Bob Hope would be. Doesn't mean he's not still funny, just that humor does change. Speaking of Hope, did you know that he was considered subversive? I wasn't aware either until visiting the Library of Congress this past summer and going through the Hope exhibit. In hind sight, I realize that he was very topical and riled up some people then, even if I was too young to realize it.

I think knowing that kind of puts the topic into perspective.

Kendall Rivers said...

@Astroboy who in the world is Katherine Ryan? Never seen or heard of her in my life .

Kendall Rivers said...

@Ken It's been several months since this post but I was curious what you think since about Dave Chappelle winning the Mark Twain Prize for this iconic and polarizing special? I feel like that does say a lot about how most people aren't as oversensitive and frail as the loud extreme ones are. Also could prove Trey Parker correct about the critics who hated it in public actually loved it and were saying otherwise to save face.