The question of whether and when it’s appropriate to be flip about serious matters became an issue – two and a half years ago – when two columnists from Jezebel were guests at a New York City “event.” Somewhat late to the game, I just watched the clips last night:
To use a dated term, what they said wasn’t “p.c.” Especially Tracie’s remark that she arranged to have someone rape her, and “had a magazine pay for it,” and Moe’s comment that she was raped by the third guy she had sex with but didn’t want to turn him in to the police and “fucking go through shit” because “it was a load of trouble and I had better things to do, like drinking more.”
Now, I don’t know how to unpack everything Tracy and Moe said in the clip, but my reaction on watching it, on an emotional level, was that I found both of them quite likeable. And while rape doesn’t usually make for good stand-up material, it is salutary, once in a while, for someone to blurt out the unspeakable. It’s salutary because it’s an antidote to the highly restrictive, uncreative, leaden mindset that results from thinking of too many things as being unspeakable, unthinkable, or unacceptable. Consider Hugo Schwyzer’s criticism of Dan Savage:
From a feminist standpoint, there’s a lot that’s problematic about what Dan says. Positioning the caller as a “victim too” comes dangerously close to a false equivalence; hell, it is a false equivalence. Men’s pain at being judged “guilty until proven innocent” is hardly comparable to being raped, and it’s unacceptable to even hint that it is. [Bold Hugo’s.]
We could all sit around debating what is and isn’t “comparable to being raped,” but I have a nagging suspicion that such a conversation wouldn’t be terribly productive. And it doesn’t further thoughtful discussion when Hugo, or other feminists, define for all of us what is and isn’t acceptable to say, or even hint at. Of course, there are troglodytes out there who may need to be spoken to in the language of absolutes, but the rest of us deserve a more sophisticated and nuanced discussion. And yes, albeit on rare occasions, a more nuanced understanding can begin when someone blurts out something that’s usually unspeakable. In vino veritas? Not necessarily. The “nugget of wisdom” blurted out might not be true, and might actually be terribly misguided, but can have value nonetheless in opening the mind to different perspectives, different ways of thinking and feeling.
Things that should rarely be joked about can still be joked about on rare occasions. I once read that, a generation ago, there were some Israelis who would on occasion refer to holocaust survivors as “soap.”
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… Yet, as the crisis deepened in 1936, Churchill diverted himself from this essential work—to the horror of his colleagues—in order to involve himself in keeping a pro-Nazi playboy on the throne. He threw away his political capital in handfuls by turning up at the House of Commons—almost certainly heavily intoxicated, according to Manchester—and making an incoherent speech in defense of “loyalty” to a man who did not understand the concept. In one speech—not cited by Manchester—he spluttered that Edward VIII would “shine in history as the bravest and best-loved of all sovereigns who have worn the island crown.” (You can see there how empty and bombastic Churchill’s style can sound when he’s barking up the wrong tree; never forget that he once described himself as the lone voice warning the British people against the twin menaces of Hitler and Gandhi!)