<em>“You have every right to be offended. Just don’t cry when no one cares.”</em>
— Ricky Gervais
Two events held two weeks apart. One was in Hollywood in front of a worldwide audience. The other, on the mean streets of Philadelphia. Both were a testament to the assault currently being waged on those who dare impugn on the most sacred and noble of American icons: Caitlyn Jenner.
On New Year’s Day, the annual Mummers Parade was held in Philly…my hometown. I am a Mummer. I did not march in this year’s parade. I did, however, watch it on a live stream through the wonderful conduit known as the Internet.
I could spend this whole column trying to explain what exactly the Mummers Parade is and still not give my readers a true sense of what this weird cult of mine does every January 1st. It is a most peculiar hobby. There are different types of Mummers. One type of Mummer, the Comics, are traditionally burly men who wear a silk gown and a wig whilst strutting around…usually in a state of biologically freakish inebriation.
The Comics put together a short skit to perform. Most of the time, these skits lambaste political or pop culture stories from the previous year. This is an important part of Mummery. The word “Mummer” is believed by many to be derived from Momus, who in Greek Mythology was cast off from Mount Olympus because of his biting satire and ridicule of the gods.
The Mummers skits are usually crude, uncouth and scathing in their rebuke of famous people. This year, one skit earned national attention and the scorn of people who watch things on television just so they can Tweet about how awful they are. That skit targeted Caitlyn Jenner.
On to this Sunday. The Golden Globe Awards ceremony was held in Hollywood. The event was hosted by Ricky Gervais. For those unfamiliar with his style of humor, I believe there is one word in the English language that appropriately defines his schtick: caustic.
In his opening monologue, Gervais reminded the audience that the Globes were notoriously rigged. He admonished the movie stars in attendance for this shameful pandering to the small group of largely unknown voters who make up the Globes’ voting electorate. And then he did something that earned him #worsethanhitler status. He made a joke about Caitlyn Jenner.
Twitter went spastic! Is anyone offended that I use the term spastic? How dare a stand up comedian with a long history of brutally harsh jibes insult the greatest American who ever lived! He needs to apologize and face summary punishment for telling a joke. Doesn’t he know that comedy can be damaging? Jokes hurt, Ricky!
The only thing better than Gervais’s monologue at the Globes was his response to those who branded him a transphobic (is that a word now?) bigot. He used Twitter to tell his bellyaching critics that he would not apologize. He called them names. He thanked them for providing him with the attention every stand up comedian needs to be successful. He posted a photo of himself on Twitter with a condescending smile, wearing angel wings and extending his middle finger.
It is so ironic that an Englishman who gloats about his atheism should be the vehicle to remind us all that, in America, we should never attempt to curtail speech or thought.
This column is not about Caitlyn Jenner. She is just a member of a money-grubbing clan that has perfected the art of gathering attention from the illiterate, ignorant masses. She has used her purportedly-sincere desire to be a woman to become a reality television behemoth. It is the easily duped who hold this former Olympic athlete as some kind of barrier-breaking pioneer in the transgendered community.
Those who exalt and prematurely beatify Jenner commit a gross injustice to the many transgendered people who have struggled to be at peace with their identity and to find acceptance in society. Caitlyn Jenner is only in it for the money. Pick a better hero.
This column is about humor. This column is about the dangerously sustaining belief by misguided Americans that somehow their feelings should take precedence over the fundamentally American right for all of us to say what we want, watch we want and laugh at whatever we find funny.
When did Americans become so frail and thin-skinned that it was decided that humor had to be complimentary? At its core, humor nearly always needs a victim. It is funny when a fat guy slips and falls on ice—just ask my kids! It was worth spitting out milk through our nose when a popularly held stereotype is used as a witticism. Human beings are funny. Human frailties and foibles are worthy of uncontrolled sniggering.
Not in today’s world. Nope. No joke, funny or flat, can go without some form of admonishment. There are only two groups of people that social media lynch mobs will allow to be the target of ridicule: Republicans and adherents of religion. Or, as they are better known, white guys.
That’s it! Any other group that is the punch line of a quip is now given the rather ominous title of a “protected group”. In modern American society, no criticism—jocular, political or philosophical—can be hurled at a protected group. From the depths of Hell, George Orwell stares at us with the gaze of unfortunate satisfaction. The Thought Police are alive and well; and, they will not allow an important, solemn occasion like the Golden Globe Awards to be desecrated by a comedian who tells a joke about an irrelevant public figure!
Who was it that decided that humor must always be clean? Who put together the Committee of Twitter Moralists that now determine what is acceptable speech in America? When did the U.S Congress pass the law that said I must feel guilt and shame if I laughed at a joke aimed at a “protected group”, aka, not white guys?
Do you know who has been the funniest “clean” stand-up comedian in my lifetime? Bill Cosby. How’d that turn out?
Consider, if you will, the film “Blazing Saddles”. Released in 1974 this film, written and directed by Mel Brooks, is a parody of Old West films. Brooks uses harsh stereotypes to make fun of the racism that existed both in films and 19th Century America. It is a vulgar, scorchingly unyielding comedic classic. And if Mel Brooks tried to make that film in 2016, he would be ostracized and bullied into permanent exile.
That is called regression. For four decades, the Hays Code dictated what was morally appropriate for Americans to view in films. This code died off in the 1960’s. Mel Brooks and other filmmaking comedians benefited from its just death.
Now, we have a group of Millennials who proclaim victimhood of various sorts to ensure that artistic freedom is curtailed in the name of political correctness. Islamic terrorists could blow up a dozen sold out football stadiums and they still would only be 2nd on the list of things that imperil America. Those who would silence free speech are, and always will be, first.
I am thankful for both Ricky Gervais and the Mummers. Even if a single joke or skit they did failed to make me laugh and deeply offended my senses, as an American I need to defend the rights of those who crack jokes. We all do. If we fail to do this, our complacency helps embolden the tyranny of thought.
Allow me to finish this column with a tweet that Ricky Gervais published while I was composing this column. It is in the form of two people in a dialogue.
A. “I’m offended by what you said.”
B. “I’m offended that you told me that.”
A. “I don’t care. I can say what I want.”
B. “There you go.”