I Know You Are, but What Am I?

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Over the last couple of days, I’ve seen the use of the term “politically correct” numerous times in regards to the recent hosting of the Oscars. The phrase is both pejorative and overused in the sense that it is being applied against the most common of courtesies these days. I have rarely watched the Oscars, because I find them as interesting as a middle school end-of-season sports banquet. If you’re related to the recipients, I’m sure it’s delightful.

I love humor and on occasion, well done raunchy humor. But that’s subjective. What I find hilarious, someone else might find appalling. I understand that and don’t feel compelled to shout down everyone who expresses offense. I have enough common sense to understand why someone would find something offensive.

People start shrieking about 1st Amendment rights and political correctness and don’t even know what those things actually mean. First of all, it is a misconception to think that the 1st Amendment protects citizens against the consequences of their words beyond not being arrested by the government (except in cases which incite or threaten violence).

The government cannot abridge your right to free speech. But I can. I can turn you off, stop buying your products, shun those that would associate with you, respond with critical commentary. Bravo for your rights. And bravo for mine. So viewers, stop whining because I don’t think your favorite comedian is funny. Unless he’s paying some of your bills or showing you his breasts, why do you feel the need to defend him? Stop living vicariously and go develop your own sense of humor.

Learning to be respectful and courteous has a bit of a curve to it. I’ve been guilty countless times of saying offensive things. I was raised to use words like “retarded” and “midget” and “lard ass”.  As an adult, I’ve met enough kinds of people in my life to know how hurtful words can be. As an adult, I can learn to be kinder and more respectful of others’ life experiences. It turns out, I still find a lot of things funny and enjoyable that don’t suck the wind out of another person’s sails.

I think boobs are funny, but not in the way, apparently, that America does. I find it bizarre in a National Geographic sort of way – that people obsess about fleshy growths that are essentially udders. It’s weird. We’re weird. But then, I also think it’s strange that we all walk around looking like Cyborgs with our Bluetooths. Weird and a little creepy. Throw on some Google Goggles and we’re downright freaks.

There is plenty to laugh at and make fun of in the human world. Should it be the groups that have already been tromped on and kicked around and oppressed? Should it be tired booby humor and worn out stereotypes? Creatively speaking, I would beg of entertainers that it not be, but that is out of my control. What is in my control is my remote, my money, my time and my interest. It may not impact the quality of the entertainment, since there are droves of people who love shock and awe humor, but it will impact the quality of my time and life.

Just because I don’t think someone is funny, it doesn’t mean I’m a humorless git. It just means I don’t think someone is funny. If you want to take it personally, please do. As I said, there’s plenty to laugh at and make fun of in the human world. Let’s start with this compulsion to idolize and defend complete strangers. And then we can move on to the hobby of watching things just to feed a sense of outrage. Entertainment by any other name…

Administrative Note: The Green Study “Worst Job I’ve Ever Had” Contest is coming to life with some very funny/ horrific entries! You have until Sunday, March 3rd 2013, 12:00 pm (US Standard Central Time) to get your entry submitted.

44 Comments on “I Know You Are, but What Am I?

  1. I get this. In the UK we tend to have a very dark sense of humour at times; I think it’s a side effect of being a reasonably reserved nation – to be honest the whole ‘stiff upper lip thing’ isn’t too far off. So we find a way to laugh at the troubles we all suffer from, before bottling everything up makes the entire country explode in a Coca Cola-like foamy catastrophe. People from other countries sometimes don’t get our humour, and think it can be very offensive – in the same way we don’t always understand comedy from other countries (this of course is a generalisation. There are many, many exceptions – I am merely talking from my experience meeting people from other countries.) In all honesty there is a very fine line between black comedy and just being plain distasteful. One particular comedian whom I think is often guilty of the latter is Frankie Boyle. Many of my friends think he’s hilarious. I think he regularly goes way too far. But we are all entitled to an opinion…one man’s poison is another man’s laughing fit and all that.

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    • I’m fairly addicted to and adept at getting British humor, especially since everyone on my mother’s side is indeed, a Brit. I was raised on dark, droll humor.

      On the other hand, there’s a lot of American comedians who are simply outstanding – making universal commentary on the human condition, quirky perspectives and occasionally they’re quite vulgar. It is entirely subjective. There’s a boobies and boogers undercurrent to our entertainment today that I just find boring, though. I don’t know if it’s my age, gender or temperament (I suspect a combination).

      I can tell 5 minutes in whether or not something is my proverbial cup of tea and generally just move on. I don’t keep watching just to see how mad I can get. Fortunately, there’s a whole smorgasbord of humor from which to choose.

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      • Thought this was great… Hmm, I come from a long line of Brits (on my Mom’s side), too, and often attribute my quirky sense of humor to my lineage. 🙂 My humor may not be completely mainstream, but, like you, Michelle, I do find humor in some great American comedians.
        Great post!

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        • Thanks! I love American standup comedy. I grew up with Richard Pryor, George Carlin, Steve Martin and Carol Burnett. These days, especially with a child, I tend to enjoy self-deprecating humor with less crudeness or physical comedy. I suppose, like anything else, your tastes change as your life does.

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  3. Thanks for saying it – I’ve thought for a long time that the term “politically correct” was used merely when someone wanted to mask a desire to be rude, or cruel, or hateful – while also getting to control the language other people were using. It’s a nasty phrase.

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    • I was reading up on the history of the term, which ties in very well with your post today. When I hear the same constant terminology being used in talking points from either side, I get curious as to the etymology. That led me to reading up on the social psychology term of “framing”. I completely agree with your position on nonsensical words being forced into political lexicon.

      The most frequent users of the term “politically correct” seem to be those secretly embarrassed and seeking to excuse their own behavior. It’s a classic tactic – going on the offensive against those who protest your insults, instead of apologizing and being more thoughtful going forward.

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  4. I think too many people worry about things that might offend others, or are too busy “being offended” without trying to understand why something actually offends them.

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    • I think being considerate of others’ feelings is a good approach, as long as you are thoughtful, not fearful about it. And there is a sense that mock moral outrage has taken the place of critical and considered response. The idea of being respectful of others gets gutted when everyone is pantomiming being offensive (shock humor for money) and being offended (outrage for media attention).

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  5. I think it’s crazy that we ask a guy who makes crude jokes to host an event and then get offended by the jokes he tells – I also don’t get this communal “offense taking” – I am bright enough to know for myself whether or not a joke offends me personally and if it doesn’t I have no right to be offended for someone else.

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    • I think it’s crazy to watch self-congratulatory industry events in the first place, but I know a lot of people love those awards shows. I find the creepily scripted presentation (especially the jokes) just painful to watch.

      In terms of communal offense taking, I get what you are saying, but so much of it seems like the media seeking out people to make statements about being offended, in order to generate a media storm which feeds on itself. And if people are truly upset, why did they watch it in the first place?

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  6. Of course there has always been crude humor, slapstick and “low-brow” humor, but I wonder if the balance has shifted over time. I do think much of our entertainment has become less sophisticated, and our conceptual vocabulary seems to have decreased. I wonder how successful some of the great comedies of 60 years ago would be today (It Happened One Night, His Girl Friday, the Thin Man movies, etc.).

    I’m almost impossible to offend through humor, although there is plenty I find lame or just very, very, very old. Not a fan of most slapstick (I never found the Three Stooges very interesting, for example). I like smart humor that requires paying attention and thinking and knowing a thing or two.

    One thing I wonder amid all the concern (both hyperbolic and legitimate) about name-calling. What ever happened to the “sticks and stones” ethic? When did we start seeing the sounds coming out of other peoples’ mouths as damaging? People say stupid stuff all the time. When did we start paying to much attention to stupid people?

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    • Unfortunately, as you pointed out, I think there is a shift towards easy, cheap humor that requires less knowledge, less of everything to “get”. I used to love Dennis Miller in his pre-NBC football commentary days. His monologue would bring in these arcane references that on occasion, I’d have to look up to understand. Humor that teaches, enlightens or simply teaches us to laugh at ourselves is so valuable and hard to find in the mainstream.

      I am not a huge fan of slapstick, but I grew up with Monty Python, The Goodies and Benny Hill. Sometimes humor simply holds sentimental value, even when years later, it seems rather silly.

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      • The Python and I go way back as well, but for all their slapstick and silliness, there is some real intelligence behind their work! With you on Miller, too. Now he just annoys me for being a right-wing looney (exactly as Bill Maher annoys me for being a left-wing looney, so I guess there’s some balance).

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        • Python’s work includes so much great social and historical commentary. I agree with you regarding Maher as well. If partisan politics is all that informs their humor, it becomes extremely predictable and pedantic, regardless of which “wing” they’re flapping.

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        • There’s a fairly new (and really great) programming language, called Python. And it is, indeed, named after the British comedy troupe.

          Programmers frequently use what are called meta-syntactic variables. The canonical ones are “foo” and “bar” (yes, named after foobar, and I know you know what FUBAR is).

          In Python, “Pythonistas” use “spam” and “eggs” as the canonical meta-syntactic variables. 😀

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  7. I, too, have that dry Brit sense of humor while my partner tends towards the slapsticky stuff. And I didn’t watch the Oscars (or any other ‘award’ shows) because it’s so much easier to just read about it the next day. I think the ‘media’ likes stirring up the pot – it gets them ratings. What happened to real news?

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    • You’re right about reading up on celebrity news. That’s actually what inspired this post. I didn’t watch the show, but there was so much “after-chatter”, I had to go to YouTube to see what the fuss was all about. It was surprisingly bland and robotic – I think the media is playing us. We get so distracted that we don’t notice they’re no longer staffed with actual, on-the-ground reporters who do research and verify actual news. Sadly, I think it’s working.

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  8. AWESOME post! My favorite comedian ever was the late and very great George Carlin. The man was a walking dictionary and his semantic prowess allowed him to play fast and loose before some critics could even think quickly enough to be offended. His detractors focused only on his use of obscenities while he redefined obscene for his generation. I remember seeing him in concert and having him warn the audience ” there’s no off button in live performances, so buckle up.” We are in charge of the information we allow in so if you don’t like something, find your remote and shut up. Honey Boo Boo is still on the air because she has an audience.
    Great writing! Thanks.

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    • Thanks for the kind words! Complaining about entertainment is akin to shaking one’s fist at the wind. There’s always an audience for the peculiar, the crude and the mundane. I have a weird sense of pride about knowing Carlin’s seven dirty words by heart.

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  9. I’ve been under a rock lately, which is just as well. Glad I missed the hub-bub. I think the important thing, which you alluded to, is to be aware of other people’s sensibilities. That means being willing to be educated and understanding of someone else’s experience. I don’t expect that kind of humility and openness from Hollywood – why would I? So if I’m watching the Oscars, I should expect some clueless, stupid, scripted humor that is intended to offend.
    I just like to look at George Clooney and Johnny Depp from time to time. There’s always the mute button.

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    • I was going to respond back about how the Hollywood stereotype of liberal elitism seems routinely proven wrong, but I got distracted by the mute button thought and who I’d like to use it for – not a Depp/Clooney fan, but to each, his or her own (I have a tendency towards B-list or character actors!). Thanks so much for reading and commenting – I know you’re very busy!

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        • I like my men very cerebral and/or funny – Bradley Whitfield, Mike Birbiglia, Gary Sinise (pre-CSI), Jon Stewart. Apparently, from my list, height is not an issue.

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        • OK – Jon Stewart. We are in agreement there. I won’t unfollow you. : -)
          Bradley Whitfield, I’m OK with, plus he has a social conscience – don’t even know who the others are. I’m so out of it. (I don’t watch TV — REALLY out of it!)

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        • Gary Sinise was a serious actor before being co-opted by CSI New York (television). Mike Birbiglia is a comedian and writer, although he recently hit the independent film screen as well with “Sleepwalk with Me”.

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    • The guy has serious acting chops (Of Mice and Men, Steppenwolf Theater in Chicago for years). Mainstream TV shows take a lot of awesome actors and turn them into caricatures. It’s the need for weekly dramatic scripts that does it, I think. I don’t watch much TV anymore, but I burnt out pretty quickly on the CSIs.

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      • I can relate. The CSI have always been a bit on the lurid side, and I do sometimes wonder why I keep watching. Habit? Weird misplaced loyalty? [shrug] Maybe they just haven’t quite passed the threshold of annoying me. (I’ll be honest: in the beginning a lot of the draw was Helgenberger and Kanakaredes, but they’ve both moved on.)

        I do appreciate seeing good acting on the TV machine, though. Contrary to the old expression, there is such a thing as good TV. It’s just rare and hard to find.

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  10. I have no idea what happened at the Oscars or of the fuss after but I thoroughly enjoyed your writing on it.
    You had me in stitches with your boob comment 😀 I am with you on that one!

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    • Thanks – I didn’t watch the Oscars, but there was so much media fuss afterwards, that I had to catch some YouTube glimpses and read some articles. It all seemed pretty silly and people were working up a good head of steam about it.

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      • I get so frustrated with all the ‘dumbing down’ of entertainment and news that I seldom follow what is going on. This of course means I am pretty ignorant when people around me are discussing current topics which is not a good thing.

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  11. Great post. I agree completely — why should we decide what we think based on Lindsay Lohan’s choices? Shudder …

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      • I was born old. I can remember thinking — I like this actor/actress — why do I care what causes they support.

        Nowadays, I just don’t know who they are!

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