Wednesday, February 17, 2010

You Will Never Stop The Lulz

Sez Mary Elizabeth Williams:

George Carlin, who knew a thing or two about linguistics, once memorably declared that there are "no bad words." There are "bad thoughts, bad intentions," he explained. "And words." Ah, would that it were that simple.

It is that simple.

Were we to draw up a new list of verboten phrases du jour, surely right near the top would be "retard."

Happily, no.

While I generally try to err on the side of sensitivity (and often fall impressively flat), I also don't get my own knickers in a twist when I hear an occasional "retard" among friends.

Good, you're not completely into Ampersand territory, then -- which means you're not completely fucking retarded.

Silverman and "Family Guy," in contrast, built their material on the apparent hilarity of the mentally challenged -- or in a cheap send-up of "political correctness," if that's how they prefer to view it. But the material smacks of artless cruelty. That's why it's offensive, because it's the same comedically lazy, "Look at me! I'm so transgressive! Can you handle it?" routine they've both been hiding behind since the freakin' '90s.

It's easy to be offensive. It's easy to make people uncomfortable. And it's petty and mean to get laughs at the expense of people who actually are laughed at and teased all the time, and then pass it off as edgy social commentary.

It is, in general, easy to be offensive and make people feel uncomfortable; however, it's hard to be funny at the same time: Witness what passes for humor on "Identity Politics" blogs, whether Stalinist or wingnut. Both FG and Silverman manage to be funny; it's called having talent. All good comedy is ultimately transgressive; all great comedians are assholes in their own way, but they are clever assholes. Moreover, "mean" (insult comic) assholes, who mildly transgress against the general in order to severely wound the deserving particular, are usually freakin' righteous -- and that's really what people like Ms. Williams can't abide.

The belief that one can be nice and be funny is just as delusional as the belief in the virgin birth.