March 13, 2012

The thing is, those Louis CK tweets about Sarah Palin are funny.

They just are. And I don't think that because I hate Sarah Palin (I don't -- though I never really wanted her to be the president.) On the other hand, Bill Maher gets a laugh from his Palin jokes, I believe, mainly because his audience does hate her, and gets a thrill out of almost anything said against her. Rush Limbaugh's slut thing was not funny in the slightest, to me: just a kind of dumb way of making a semi-coherent banal point about subsidies.

But if Limbaugh or Bill Maher had said Louis CK's tweets on their shows? Funny. Seriously. I don't know why, precisely. Part of it is shock value, because "cunt" is still, somehow, a genuinely taboo word in most quarters: you get a lot of mileage, comedy-wise, out of breaking these rules and causing that kind of discomfort. That's why comedians do it, the funny ones, I mean, because it works. That's why people do it in ordinary conversation, too, when they're just goofing around with their friends. When something's forbidden, especially when it's forbidden in a puffed up, hypocritical, pseudo-high-minded way by puffed up, hypocritical, pseudo-high-minded people, it's funny to get in their face and say it anyway. ("Slut" isn't shocking at all; the anti-Rush people are totally faking it with that, it seems to me.)

But the tweets also take it one step further. It's not just the presence of the "bad words," but the fact that they are used so absurdly and, perhaps, childishly that makes them so funny. They demonstrate the absurdity of social taboos and the absurdity of language and our own absurdity for being unable to resist laughing at them. The comedy happens in your head when you're forced to say to yourself, wow, I can't believe I'm laughing at that.

By the apparent standard we've arrived at in this cultural moment, saying "slut" on the radio is so bad that members of one cultural reference group (the "liberals" -- ha!) will demand you be silenced. The other reference group says, you guys do it, too, only worse, so you should be the ones who get silenced but silenced even more. And by this standard, Louis CK is worse, because "cunt" is supposedly worse. The right wing has the stronger case, on those terms. But I think the whole thing is bogus. They're all faking it. They'd make each other's arguments identically if the circumstances happened to be reversed.

If you want to live in a country with free speech, you just have to deal with the fact that people are going to say stuff you don't like. It's insane that it is even necessary to point out that this has to work both ways, or it works not at all. And yeah, I know, "people may have a right to free speech and all but they don't have a right to the airwaves, advertising, etc., etc." Keep telling yourself that if it makes you feel better. It still amounts to policing language: and don't be surprised if the language police come breaking down your door and shooting your dog somewhere down the road. So yes, people are also free to boycott each other all they want. But it's the dumbest idea from a bunch of smart people that I've heard in quite awhile.

Posted by Dr. Frank at March 13, 2012 03:32 PM

I think "slut" may have taken on the empowerment role of "the n word" (which I'm still not allowed to even type as an illustration). Somehow equal sexual freedom has become the ultimate good among the vanguard. Freedom, in the broad sense that even private judgments about others impede the free expression of slutism and so must be barred, or at least public expressions of disapprobation toward sluttiness must be barred.

When the vanguard organizes their "slut walks" they are not merely saying that there is nothing wrong with being a slut, which would be bad enough. They are saying that in the absence of the "artificial" constraints of patriarchy all women would express their sluttiness in the sane way. The job of a vanguard, freed as they are from false consciousness is to lead and organize the army of sluts into the golden age. Hence, slut takes on this broader significance among the cultural marxists. It is precisely the word they hope Limbaugh will use, so that they can point to a counter-revolutionary enemy who stands in the way of true freedom. Letting it go was not an option, this is literally the revolution's only strategy.

Posted by: josh at March 13, 2012 05:33 PM

i think rush's use of the word slut is much less offensive than his having no idea how birth control works.

Posted by: aaron at March 13, 2012 09:10 PM

I agree with everything said here. Louis C.K. is much, much funnier than either Bill Maher or, obviously, Rush, because he sort of revels in the absurdity of a lot of the vile stuff he says. So when people get "offended" by him saying "cunt," they're missing the point that his own fallibility and bewilderment is hard-wired into the comedy itself.

That said, I find Louis C.K.'s curse-y jokes to be the weakest of his material. (Rob Delaney is someone who seems to have heightened that "curse and make people laugh at the absurdity of language/human behavior" thing to an art form.) I really respect Larry David's rule, which is to strike curse words from his stuff where at all possible, as they always go for the easiest sort of reaction, (though of course he curses liberally, also.) But aside from the relative quality of curse-y jokes, comedy acts that employ "edgy" language for its own sake end up being a lot less funny over time. Comics, like Delaney and Louis C.K., who are able to incorporate that level of absurdity you were talking about into those jokes, making them more about the childish impulses behind the cursing rather than the cursing itself, age a lot better than, say, a comic like Andrew Dice Clay.

Posted by: Nate Pensky at March 14, 2012 01:50 AM

The "boycott the advertiser's" thing is just dumb. On both sides. Advertisers who get caught up in it are even dumber. Think about it. I buy an ad on Rush Limbaugh's show because I want to reach that audience. Are these the same people watching Ed Schultz?

... OK, I just thought on that a bit. I guess the answer is yes. I'm pretty sure the only people watching MSNBC are conservatives looking to get pissed off, and vice-versa Rush (with the exception of my father-in-law). So I guess my point is moot.

But I also think Palin's a soft target, if Louis CK wanted to really shock people he should pick on Shirley Temple or Princess Diana or someone like that. I think that Shirley Temple cunt's been getting away with shit for years.

Posted by: Lost My Cookies at March 16, 2012 02:54 PM

A soft target, yes, but, as your last line shows (I laughed out loud, literally: people in the room asked what was so funny, and I couldn't tell them) that's not an essential part of the comedy. I think there's an overlap with Louis CK's bit and Bill Maher's routine, as far as audience reaction goes. Bill Maher says the name Sarah Palin and his audience of political and cultural hyper-partisans laugh as a way of affirming the worldview that includes "we hate Sarah Palin" as a primary item in the profession of faith, without regard to whether what he says about her is funny or not.

Louis CK's audience includes such people. However the absurdity of his over-the-top "bad language" isn't a straightforward affirmation of the mob's prejudice and aesthetic self-regard. In fact, I'd argue, it challenges it.

Posted by: Dr. Frank at March 17, 2012 04:47 PM

I can see your point. At the risk of over analyzing all this (who am I kidding, I am totally over analyzing all this), I still think his choice of target was weak. Take that Fish link that was all over, the one you posted today. I think it illustrates the whole mess really well. Reading in that context, I got the impression that people were justifying what Lois said and not the joke he was making, which I guess was your point to begin with... and mine, actually. Was Louis CK making a joke of the people who would defend someone calling Palin a cunt or making the joke for those people?

See, I would have used Polar Bears. Because even though Polar Bears have a slightly political tinge to them, most people don't really have strong feelings about Polar Bears. So let's say I tweeted about what a bunch of assholes Polar Bears are. People would be mildly amused, I think. Polar bears are sweet and cute and furry, and like most white things they drink Diet Coke. Very few people would agree with me, they would think I was odd and maybe giggle.

However, some people would get upset with me. Why would I ever call those sweet, sweet animals a bunch of assholes? I'd get all sorts of complaints, and eventually someone would go and find a Polar Bear just to ask him what he thought of my tweet calling his kind a bunch of assholes. (Polar Bears don't do Twitter) The thing is, I happen to know that most Polar Bears really ARE assholes, and when this guy shoves his iPad in front of the biggest Polar Bear around to show him MY offensive tweet, the Polar Bear will pretty much just eat his face. I think that would be pretty funny.

Posted by: Lost My Cookies at March 19, 2012 04:57 PM