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AdLib On June - 6 - 2017

maher griffin

Last week Kathy Griffin threatened the lives of millions of Americans with bad comedy. In order to be outrageous and desperately pursue media attention…she posed in a photo holding a phony, bloody, decapitated head resembling Donald Trump. Though she’s been fired from an annual New Year’s  CNN gig and promotional work for Squatty Potty, America remains held hostage by this act of bad comedy.

Coming on the heels of this, last Friday, race relations all across America were brought to a boil by Bill Maher’s racially offensive improvisational joke on his show. In response to Nebraska Senator Ben Sasse commenting that Maher should visit his state to work in the fields, Maher responded, “Work in the fields? Senator, I’m a house n****r. No, it’s a joke!” The riots and racial clashes brought on by this stupid and insensitive “joke” by Maher continue to set the nation aflame.

Or so one might of thought from the firestorms in the MSM and social media ignited by the tasteless, offensive actions of these comedians.

Meanwhile in Portland, following the murder of two men on a train by a white supremacist who was assaulting women of color, a weekend rally of alt-right haters and racists became violent, nooses have been left at a variety of locations in Washington DC as have fraudulent posters claiming to be from ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) that demand citizens turn in anyone they suspect of being undocumented. And so much more actual hatred and racism is festering under the shadow of Trump. But at least we’re addressing the terrible threat that comedians pose to our nation.

When comedians cross the line in an awful way, they are always publicly attacked, as happened in both of these instances. They pay a price. That’s free speech working in both directions, the right of somebody to express something that others find offensive and people’s right to publicly condemn that person for doing so. That is what America and the 1st Amendment represents, we don’t arrest or stone people who have bad senses of humor (which is why Carrot Top is still alive and free today….wherever he is).

Let’s begin with Kathy Griffin. Without knowing exactly what was in her head, a few reasonable guesses could be made. First of all, it does not seem that her intent was to incite people to storm the White House…make that Mar a Lago…with scythes or guillotines to behead Trump. She did not represent an actual threat to Trump, just to the world of comedy. What she did was not funny. We didn’t like it when the Right Wing portrayed President Obama as being lynched in photos and effigies and principled people don’t rationalize why a wrong is okay if someone on their side does it. Presidents are sometimes horrible but it’s not respectful of the presidents we do like or our democracy to ever applaud portrayals of assassination or violence towards presidents.

In this era of Trump, those who want media attention recognize that if you do something outrageous, especially if it’s offensive, it can break through the chatter and get you the media attention you want (or become president). A number of people in show business are a bit mercenary about getting publicity. They will say and do the most extreme things to get it (sex tapes are so old school now). So it isn’t a stretch to imagine that in the pursuit of publicity and with strong feelings against Trump as so many have today, Griffin came up with this bad idea she thought was clever.

Griffin displayed terrible judgement in her pursuit of both slapping at Trump and clamoring for the publicity spotlight. However, she isn’t a terrorist, an enemy of the state or a hate monger. She is a comedian who wanted to get attention and she got it. Unfortunately for her, it was very negative and cost her some gigs. Just as she had the freedom to express something many found disgusting, those who no longer wanted to be associated with her because of that incident sticking to her, had the freedom to do that as well.

Maher is a different situation mainly because of the improvisational nature and context of his offensive statement. On one hand, Maher seems to identify being occasionally anti-progressive with retaining his status as a non-conformist, independent and rebel. He seems to look for opportunities to be contrary at times to Progressives, even sometimes dissing them and his audience as part of the package. On the other hand, he loves ranting against Muslims, was a practicing misogynist when he hung out at the Playboy Mansion using his celebrity to “get hot chicks” and has used his show to give a platform to some of the most awful people including hate monger Milo Yiannopoulos.

Again, not knowing Maher’s thoughts, he may think that as a mostly Progressive politically comedian, he can follow in the steps of comedians like Lenny Bruce and George Carlin in using offensive words to make a point, Bruce memorably using the “n” word repeatedly in a standup bit attacking the power of the word. Times are different today though and the “n” word has been taken back by the black community, some of whom are comfortable using it casually and others who stand against anyone using it. In any case, it’s hurtful to hear it coming from white people even if it’s not intended as an attack…it is in itself an attack.

What Maher said was an improvisation, comedians jump out on that risky springboard all the time, sometimes it’s brilliant, sometimes it doesn’t work out so well, that’s the risk of improvisation. Had Maher written that joke and performed it, more outrage could be understandable but improvised jokes are a split second impulse, not really subject to time for vetting or aborting because they could be mistakes.

Secondly and most importantly, is context. Maher said this in response to Sasse’s bizarre comment that Maher should come to Nebraska to work in the fields. It seemed like it may have been a casual insult, perhaps aimed at Maher, maybe aimed at urban liberals in general, whether it was intended to be joking about slavery or dissing urban Americans for having non-corn harvesting jobs. Maher’s response was clearly to push back at the slavery-esque tone of Sasse’s words using a slavery reference.

Maher did not seem to be aiming his words at insulting African Americans but at ridiculing Sasse for his invitation that sounded a bit like slavery. But Maher didn’t understand that just using the term IS and insult and degradation of African Americans. He seemed to think that as a Progressive who has advocated for decades for Progressive values including against racism (though one could argue his anti-Muslim stand is a selective exception to opposing bigotry), he had a pass to use the “n” word as a black comedian could have at that moment. Imagine Chris Rock sitting there instead of Maher, had he been invited to come to Nebraska to work in the fields and said the same thing Maher said, it would have likely been seen as clever and edgy.

Maher thought he was exempt from what is an accepted prohibition in American society, white people used (and some still use) the “n” word to denigrate and oppress African Americans so it’s not acceptable to use it period, even in trying to reference history which was what Maher was doing. White people don’t have the same perspective as black people on this word, they may not fully understand how just the use of the word by a white person impacts them, that it can feel like an assault just to hear it. I have no doubt that Maher didn’t intend that but his hubris allowed him to think that because he is on the same side, he can use that term in a joke to ridicule a right wing Republican who made a comment that may have been alluding to slavery.

So should Bill Maher be taken off the air at HBO because of this? This is what some in the black community are advocating and ironically, many in the Right Wing community who are angry about Bill O’Reilly and Roger Ailes being kicked off of Fox News for their sexism and racism are joining them to get revenge against the Left. At the same time, there is push back from some Progressives who are saying that they will cancel their subscription to HBO if Maher is taken off the network.

As with Griffin, this is about freedom of expression. Those offended by Maher have every right to ask for his removal from HBO, those who don’t see it as an intentionally racist act and accept Maher’s apology have every right to insist Maher should stay and HBO has the right to do what they think best.

Whether Left or Right, it seems that the real determining factor on condemning people for their expression should always be intent. I don’t know how comfortable free speech advocates are with a zero tolerance for specific words no matter the situation, intent or genuine regret expressed after the fact. Should everyone, no matter the specific details surrounding the offensive use of a word, always be ostracized by society? Does that sound like America?

On the other hand, should people be able to get away with horribly offensive expressions under the umbrella of claiming they were said in the pursuit of being humorous? And remain in a position in the media to continue doing so?

Ultimately, these are things that Americans decide in each case and as with actual civil cases, if Americans make their decisions like a jury, considering the facts of a situation first before passing judgement, perhaps the fairest decisions and precedents can be made.

Written by AdLib

My motto is, "It is better to have blogged and lost hours of your day, than never to have blogged at all."

5 Responses so far.

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  1. gyp46 says:

    Through truly comedic actions, the mouthpieces for Trump give and give on a daily basis. ‘TRUMP IS NOT A LIAR’ now that has to be the biggest laugh getter of the week. Fact check sites report over 600 either outright lies or partial lies since Jan 20th, now that’s true comedy. Neither action of Maher or Griffin rises to that level of comedy.

  2. kesmarn says:

    FOX “News” has gotten away with lying to the American public for many years now on the grounds that their hate-mongering programs were “entertainment” and not news at all.

    Somehow I suspect that people on the right who are “shocked — shocked, they tell you” at what Griffin and Maher have done have never once sent a letter to the FCC complaining about the lack of fairness and balance at FOX.

    Which is not to say that I applaud either one of them. Apparently Griffin was tired of having a “career” — even one that involved shilling for a Potty company — and decided to end it all. There’s no other way to account for her bad judgment in posing with the Trump decapitation prop.

    And I think Maher rashly and wrong assumed that he had enough cred as a hip honorary Black person to joke on behalf of the whole community. Wrong, Bill. Black people have been the (only) ones to have suffered and died enough to be able to decide when/where/how that word is going to be used and by whom.

    A friend of mine is of Polish heritage and many years ago someone in her workplace thought it would be funny to tell one of the then-popular “pollock jokes.” (They always implied that Poles were mentally/morally/culturally deficient.) She didn’t react with outrage or try to have the person fired. She just said: “I wish you’d tell that joke again. Only this time, every time the word “pollock” appears in the joke, I want you to substitute the word ‘Republican.'” Silence. Now I will say that she herself jokingly uses the word “pollock.” But the difference is that she’s earned the right. That’s what Maher hasn’t apparently figured out yet.

    Like so many on the Planet, I tend to be a strong believer in the 1st Amendment. When it comes to comedians, I think it shouldn’t be the law that steps in to remove them from the public eye. This is one case in which the “free market” (especially in the case of Griffin) will use its invisible hand to do it for us.

    • AdLib says:

      Kes, right with you on this. Offensive jokes can be just as hurtful as offensive statements and the real problem is what you illustrated, that when one singles out another group to be ridiculed, they lack empathy to imagine, “What if someone said the same about a group I belong to, how would I feel?

      And yes, there should never be laws that protect people from getting their feelings hurt (as long as it isn’t bullying or psychological abuse), that’s why we have freedom of speech. If a law was passed that restricted people from offending other people, we would be North Korea.

      Neither Griffin or Maher or evil or criminals, they did far less than Fox News does in the first 10 minutes of Fox and Friends every day to offend people.

      What should be remembered too is that the public not only likes to see celebrities knocked down, they like to see them get back up in many cases too (OJ Simpson aside).

  3. jjgravitas says:

    Whiney baby Trump needs to grow something resembling a spine, as does the rest of the GOP. The antics of Maher & Griffin are positively tame compared to the crap thrown at Obama during the 8 years of his presidency. I knew who Trump was, which is why I voted against him. The American appetite for stupid makes me sick.

    • AdLib says:

      jj, agreed, that’s of course part of what I’m also pointing at here, Trump and Repubs gasping and clutching their pearls over comedians messing up…while he is destroying our government, democracy and actual lives.

      The latest polls out show Trump nosediving to 34% approval rating so I think it’s looking more likely that the minority of Americans who fell for his crap are becoming smaller by the day.

      Yes, too many Americans are too stupid and easily manipulated but Lincoln was right about not being able to fool all the people all the time. Just as we’re seeing in the UK tonight, Trump and the Repubs are going to be brought down in the next elections.

      That should really give them something to clutch their pearls over!


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