Monday, April 27, 2015

Social Justice Bullies

My son and I were discussing a professor at his experimental liberal arts alma mater. She taught a feminist comedy course. She admitted she was open to any humor, but then she denied that rape could ever be funny. For her and her students, she insisted no humor could be found in that action.

Then my son and I joined my wife, and his classmates and me, to watch an Amy Schumer episode that my wife, who'd seen her onstage recently with her female friends, liked. It has gotten a lot of attention for the "last f-able day" actresses (hey, I like that word) commemorate their transition in one skit. But the one preceding it, parodying Friday Night Lights, is funnier: "Football Town Nights."

Even that po-faced and cynically PC-"outrage" clickbait-generating site Salon liked this skit. So that may be progress. The point is, my family and my son's friends from said college, male and female, gathered to watch what their professor judged as the one topic that was forbidden to any comic's repertoire. Not to belabor the point, but Schumer's specialty is the queasy and unspoken, made sexual. She confronts her mostly female audiences with this honesty--and she finds laughs in it.

Aristotolis Orginos the past April 8th at Medium speaks for the generation closer to my sons and their classmates. I am not sure how many of them find laughs in Amy Schumer, but they have been schooled, at least at colleges were Orginos or my sons went, in meticulously parsing any utterance according to strictures which call out any supposed or real, conscious or accidental, "privilege"-claim.

He examines claims of a campus "rape culture," he analyzes the factoid promoted that insists 1:5 women will be sexually assaulted during their university studies, and he reminds us of Orwell's Newspeak as promoted by the media (even if he leaves out Salon). He concludes: "Those who need to hear this message will probably respond that I am 1. too privileged to understand 2. tone-policing the oppressed (and that I shouldn’t tell the oppressed how to treat their oppressors) and 3. really just a closet racist/sexist in a liberal’s clothing." After four years at NYU, he's heard it all before. But, he moves forward to call on his audience to be less timid in speaking up about another type of abuse.

"The version of millennial social justice advocacy that I have spoken about — one that uses Identity Politics to balkanize groups of people, engenders hatred between groups, willingly lies to push agendas, manipulates language to provide immunity from criticism, and that publicly shames anyone who remotely speaks some sort of dissent from the overarching narrative of the orthodoxy — is not admirable." This form of ad hominem attack, Orginos emphasizes, spreads intellectual dishonesty.

He wraps it up by comparing "separate but equal" to the Left's call for "safe spaces." "But the fact of the matter is — anyone unwilling to engage in productive, open, mutually critical conversations with people they disagree with under the moral protection of liberalism and social justice are not liberals, are not social justice advocates, and are not social justice warriors; they are social justice bullies."

Greg Lukianoff on April 16th at the Huffington Post criticizes Garry Trudeau. Doonesbury's creator, speaking of privilege, carries a lot himself. Descended from the Dutch founders of New York, prep-school and Yale '70, he emerged from this background to satirize the conservatives, as not one of them, the voice of the hippies as they moved like him into the Me Decade and beyond. Trudeau's comic always struck me, like much of Jon Stewart's on Comedy Central, or shows like MASH, as smug. (However, to its credit, Inside Amy Schumer is also on that network. Just as Fox Network can be edgy too!) Even if Stewart is but a year younger than me, most who champion this orthodoxy that Orginos challenges seem either quite a bit older--as with Trudeau and his hippies, or as with the millennials, quite a bit younger than me.  I guess Schumer's right in the middle, more than a decade older than my sons, two decades younger than me. Although I'm five weeks separated in birth from Obama, I ally with another voice, closer still. Ricky Gervais and I share the same birth date/year.

Gervais also takes on those who claim to act one way and secretly get away with being another. This two-faced nature enlivens his own characters, but it reminds me too of those in power from my generation, if Obama counts, and those from Trudeau's, such as the Clintons. A frequent dissenter to these political powers (and their court jesters Trudeau once, Stewart now) is the conservative columnist at the New York Times, Ross Douthat. His April 17th column, "Checking Charlie Hebdo's Privilege," cites Trudeau's defense of Islam against those who dared to mock it. For they were “punching downward ... attacking a powerless, disenfranchised minority.” This was both a moral and an aesthetic failing, because “ridiculing the non-privileged is almost never funny — it’s just mean.

Misattributed to Voltaire, "To learn who rules over you, simply find out who you are not allowed to criticize" still seems good advice. (Even if a variant of this as documented there comes from a source that I doubt few who cite this phrase on the Net would, thus informed, and chastened, affirm.) What Christopher Hitchens predicted when the "Danish cartoons" incited violence has come to pass: any one speaking out against Islamism, as Ayaan Hirsi Ali has from first-hand experience, is ostracized.

Demonstrating this reaction, and blaming the victim who blamed others' victimization, six writers declined to attend a recent PEN award for Charlie Hebdo. After quoting various dissenters among the prominent authors, a NYT piece concluded with a particularly credible source. “If PEN as a free speech organization can’t defend and celebrate people who have been murdered for drawing pictures, then frankly the organization is not worth the name,” [Salman] Rushdie said. “What I would say to both Peter [Carey] and Michael [Ondaatje] and the others is, I hope nobody ever comes after them.”

How "powerless" or "disenfranchised" can a significant portion, say 12%? of Muslims, be? That totals hundreds of millions out of 1.2 billion worldwide, plus non-Muslim sympathizers. If they're a "minority," so are Catholics like Douthat, a declining billion out of seven billion, by the way. As no religion worldwide comprises a solid majority in this tallying, what's to claim? Douthat continues: "Trudeau is hardly the first writer to accuse the Hebdo cartoonists of “punching down.” For: "That phrase, and the critique it implies of 'Je Suis Charlie' solidarity, has circulated on the Western left ever since the massacre. And understandably, because it reflects a moral theory popular among our intelligentsia, one that The Atlantic’s David Frum, in a response to Trudeau, distilled as follows: In any given conflict, first 'identify the bearer of privilege,' then 'hold the privilege-bearer responsible.'”

This circles back not only to Origis, but to Schumer. She deflates the force of the rape joke by her parody, as it's repeated in such doggedly stupid terms by such simpletons it loses its hurt. Similar perhaps to how the n-word has deflected racism by those allowed to use it or reclaim it from within their community, or the use of "queer" from within that community (or "Jesuit" for that matter way back!) the subversion and deployment of coded humor by its victims made standard-bearers changes the way the larger community--even if they aren't supposed to be in on the joke or twist--responds. 

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