The last thing I want to do here is add my voice to the chorus of grumpy goofballs grumbling that people need to stop being so sensitive. There's nothing shameful about getting offended, and standing up for yourself after it happens is a lot harder than it seems, and folks should get hella props when they do it. So here you go, folks. Props. How many? Hella.
Buuuuut it's also gotten weird recently. Like, as getting offended becomes more and more popular and lucrative, there's become a bit of a disconnect between why we get offended and what we do about it. Am I saying that being offended has "sold out?" And that it was way better before getting popular ruined it? Am I being a social justice hipster? Uh, kinda -- but I wouldn't put it that way, exactly. Instead, I'd just point out that ...
#5. We Seek It Out
A few weeks ago, BuzzFeed found and published a bunch of old jokes written by The Daily Show's new host, Trevor Noah. The Internet was freaked out to learn that this now-successful comedian had written a bunch of bad jokes four years ago. There was a medium-sized kerfuffle -- people called Noah sexist and Antisemitic, and speculated that he would be immediately fired. All over jokes like this:
Wait wait wait, those aren't the right ones -- that's just a stupid dick joke and a jab at Israel, not rampant misogyny and Antisemitism. Sorry, I think the real problem was this joke:
My problem with that story is that it's virtually impossible to find a comedian who has never written or told a joke that was taken in a way other than how he or she intended. You can dig through my tweets and find something that'll upset you, and a lot of jokes that just plain suck, if that's how you feel like spending your afternoon, you unfathomably sad creature. Hell, it's impossible to find any artist anywhere who hasn't accidentally imbued one of their creations with subtext or implications that are weird, disturbing, or out of step with their actual beliefs. Scratch that -- you don't even have to be a creative person. Has anyone reading this never accidentally hurt someone's feelings? The fact is, every comedian has experimented with a "fat chick" joke, just like every musician has experimented with free-form jazz -- yes, they should be ashamed, but we have to forgive them and move on for the good of humanity.
Now, I'm not saying that offensive jokes are okay or that we shouldn't call them out -- they're not okay and they should be called out when we hear them. Because that's how comedians learn and that's how society stays healthy. Chris Rock and Louis CK have written great bits about racism -- do you think they never misworded those jokes, or delivered them the wrong way and offended people, or wrote versions that came off other than the way they intended? And yet, pop comedy is better off because those bits exist, right? I think this guy put it best: We all need to call out shitty jokes, and then give the comedian room to recover and try something new, because we're not Roman emperors dishing out sentences here. We're all just people trying to find laughs in a world that's frustratingly short of them.
Just to be as clear as possible, I'm not saying that you're wrong if you're offended by those jokes. There's no "wrong" or "right" thing to be offended by, because it's an involuntary human reaction and feelings, man, are hard to get a grip on. I'm saying that those jokes are old, and clearly experimental, so why fire him over it?
Of course, I don't even know how many of you actually care about Noah's jokes, because ...
#4. We Have No Way Of Telling How Many People Are Actually Offended
Forget Trevor Noah -- I'm going to take one step back in time and talk about "Shirtgate." Remember "Shirtgate?" Depending on your disposition, you probably think that was either "that time a member of the scientific community sullied one of their most glamorous recent accomplishments by wearing a stupid, sexist shirt," or "that time an innocent scientist wore a fun shirt and Internet feminists lost their shit about it."
In reality, you're both wrong, because the truth is that it was just "that time the media made a big fucking deal out of nothing, because it was a slow news day." It turns out that the level of outrage on the Internet is far, far smaller than any of us think, because of how the Internet works and the fact that our brains have not evolved to deal with it.
See, the amount of outrage over any given "thing" is always going to be hilariously inflated. Ten thousand people getting angry about Shirtgate is all it takes to flood Twitter and your Facebook page with enough righteous rants to drown out all but the most dedicated puppy memes. But at the same time, 10,000 people is fucking nothing. That is an infinitesimally small number, but since our brains are still used to dealing with communities with a population of roughly 150, that seems like more than enough people to crush our tribe, burn our hovels, and carry off our livestock. So naturally we pay attention, because winter is coming and Jebediah needs his protein.
So while it's great that everyone has a voice, it's almost impossible to get a sense of perspective. Were we really mad about the shirt, or was it just a good mashup for stories? "I can't believe those feminazis can't understand what this guy actually did" versus "I can't believe casual misogyny had to sully this great moment." Were people really mad about Trevor Noah, or were we just killing time between Avengers trailers and the Game of Thrones season premiere? I genuinely have no idea, and neither do any of you, because we can't. Which is why it's such a shame ...
#3. We Get Censor-y
When a Michigan college scheduled a screening of American Sniper and an offended student started a petition to cancel it, the college acquiesced and replaced the movie with a screening of Paddington. Eventually, they compromised and decided to show both movies at the same time (hopefully in different rooms), but as Badass Digest pointed out, this is pretty damn funny.
See, I read Mein Kampf in college. I also read The Communist Manifesto, the Bible, and Twilight. Because part of my education was learning to think fast and hard enough to be able to read a book without being helplessly forced to mold my entire life around any philosophy it passively mentioned, which is why I'm not writing this as a Neo-Nazi Communist Christian Mormon virgin right now. Even though that sounds like a pretty freaking funny character.
It seems like we do this a lot these days (remember #CancelColbert? Why wasn't it #ColbertPleaseApologize or #ColbertWhatGivesBroThatWasWeak?). And maybe this is my failing, because I'm pretty dumb sometimes, but I always thought that cultural criticism of popular art was about making it more inclusive, not driving the stuff we don't like out. When we complain about too many white male action heroes, for example, it's because we want more female and minority action heroes, not because we want to break Channing Tatum's kneecaps or something. We want every little kid to have a movie hero they can look up to that looks like them, because that shit is awesome and everyone deserves it.
Instead of canceling the screening, maybe watch the movie and write an article for your student newspaper about how weird it is that a movie about a sniper was released on Martin Luther King's birthday. Maybe just try to be funnier, smarter, and truer than the people in Hollywood, who think that no one wants to see interracial couples or that all black people are secretly zombies. It's not hard, because those people are really, really crazy.
But there's a flipside to that coin, because another problem is ...