Patton Oswalt is one of the finest comics of his generation, and if he's to be judged by his comedy, his writing, and his Twitter account, he is very much an idealist. That's not to imply a kind of hippie naivete, but instead an earnest concern for equality and a clear hatred toward entitlement. That also means he's still the kind of person who cares enough to get pissed off by lazy talk and careless accusations.
Remember last summer when there was that Asiana Airlines crash? Well, local TV station KTVU apparently took its facts from an Internet joke when it reported that the pilots of the plane were named Sum Ting Wong and Ho Lee Fuk. Get it? Yes, someone made an Asian name joke, and an organization calling themselves journalists was stupid enough to report it as true. Oswalt then tooled on the station with this tweet:
You get what's going on here, right? The joke is that this station is still so stupid that they were again taken in by another pathetic stupid Asian name joke. Oswalt's joke is NOT "Hey look, another silly-sounding Asian joke name!" I think most people realize that. One reporter at Salon, however, did not, and wrote that Oswalt was making an "Asian name joke, in response to a racist KTVU report." By the way, I like how being stupid enough to print a bad Asian joke as fact is now "racist" instead of "incredibly stupid." But more importantly, as just expressed, that is not what Oswalt was doing. And although Salon claims they got the joke, they didn't.
Where's the Lack of Faith?
Here, for reasons that are not clear to me, the lack of faith is in Patton Oswalt. I have no idea what this Salon writer has seen in Oswalt's act or past that would lead him to only think of the worst possible interpretation for Oswalt's joke, but I suppose it might have been for the sin of speaking compassionately about the Boston Marathon tragedy, while not taking what another Salon reporter believed was the appropriate side of the Daniel Tosh "rape joke" debate. (A can of worms we won't address here, and which Oswalt has already written on. Me too.) But quite simply, to ascribe darkness to that tweet, you have to misjudge the man. And do you know how you know they're wrong? Because Patton Oswalt got really pissed off. He rolled up his sleeves and fought with Salon. Hilariously.
This was not the "doth protest too much" kind of fight. This is the fighting born of a deep hurt. Of course it is. Satirists, more than anyone, care about equity. To be accused of being the very thing you're fighting against is a cruel fate. Adding insult to injury, when Stephen Colbert's Ching Chong foolishness came up, Salon (correctly) defended Colbert against the flawed racist claims. The double standard had a noticeable effect on Oswalt:
This is an anger that speaks to me because I will always admire someone who believes in something enough to fight. Yes, Oswalt is fighting for his reputation against careless talk, but he's doing something more. He's fighting for satire itself. As any satirist knows, there are easier ways to make people laugh. You can slip on a banana or get a purple puppet named Peanut to tell sassy truths. Satirists take a harder path. They risk being called homophobic when condemning homophobia. They get called racist while slamming racist policies. They get accused of supporting politics they find offensive. The satirist chooses a form of comedy that makes him the target, and he does it to make a point, because satire is the comedy of making points.
That decision shows a tremendous amount of faith -- faith in yourself to be strong enough to take the abuse of the misinformed, and faith in an audience to be smart enough to see the irony and be influenced. The worst thing you can do to a satirist is greet that show of faith with cynicism -- to doubt their intentions or put them in the company of the people they are taking to task. Because despite beliefs to the contrary, satirists often are not jaded. They believe in you. They believe change is possible. They have faith, and that faith should be met halfway.
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