Word Vomit Wednesday - Comedic Complicity

Welcome to Word Vomit Wednesday! A series of blog posts about a specific topic from current events that I, and sometimes the rest of the Internet, ruminate obsessively about. All thoughts/opinions/experiences are my own; I don’t claim anything that I write to represent anyone other than myself.

I’m starting off this series, probably appropriately, with Tina Fey. (I’m pretty sure my use of the phrase “word vomit” began shortly after watching Mean Girls). Recently, Tina did a bit on SNL’s Weekend Update commenting on the events in Charlottesville, VA, which has garnered quite a bit of criticism. Before I get into what was said I want to point out that constructive criticism, especially for things/people we love and enjoy, is important. No one is perfect and we’re going to get things wrong. When it comes to art, in all its forms; music, comedy, film, videogames, fine arts, etc., we are being presented with a microcosm of what is happening in a larger context. We are also dealing with a particular perspective, which is immediately directing that particular microcosm. And what that all means is that, no matter what the intentions of the creator are, the things that are still fucked up (privilege, implicit biases) are going to show up and by being put out there for the public, those sentiments will then be reinforced.

Despite all the bullshit happening, that has actually been going on for way too long, a majority of us are working toward breaking down white, hetero-patriarchal institutions, ideals, and behaviors within society. In order to keep doing that and progressing forward we need to be able to call out problematic sentiments and be listened to rather than policed by people who hold more privilege and don’t understand how a joke can be damaging. Now, without further ado, let’s get into it.

Problem #1: Weaponizing the bodies of drag queens.

Drag queens are fierce as fuck, but that does not mean they should in any way expect to be the front line of defense. Portraying them as if they need to be feared only marginalizes their communities more. Which leads me to…

Problem #2: Weaponizing/creating fear around black men’s bodies.

Again, perpetuating fear of black men only makes black men more vulnerable. We already see how some cops, people that are supposed to have their shit together and protect everyone, lose their goddamn minds over seeing a black child in a hoodie. How is it that people are still equating black men with being inherently violent? Let’s cut that shit out. As enjoyable as it is to imagine people beating the shit out of Nazis, we really don’t have to sacrifice black men to do it. These fucking snowflakes give themselves strokes just by thinking about Fearless Girl.

Problem #3: Sally Hemings.

It took me three times of watching the clip to finally catch this part of her bit, mostly because all I heard was muffled noises from having so much cake in her mouth when she said it. And if it weren’t for the POC in my news feed talking about it I would not have gone back a second and third time to try and figure out what she had said. When it did come through for me, I just felt really confused and uncomfortable. I’m still confused and uncomfortable. This is just me, and I feel like I’m lacking some education as to how that joke was 100% connected to everything else she was saying, but to refer to a woman who was enslaved and consistently raped by one of the most powerful and influential men in our history as a throwaway joke at the end felt really off.

What I did think she did well, but which also upset many people, was the whole “let’s sit back and eat cake” thing. For me, this felt appropriately aimed at white women on the right and left alike. The ones who don’t want to get involved and just want everyone to be kind. The ones who think it’s enough to say they’re not racist or anti-Semitic but don’t do anything to back up those claims. The ones who think it’s enough to spend money at Jewish-owned this and POC-owned that, as if their spare change is going to do anything when those storefronts are attacked by mobs and those families forced into camps, or hiding, or murdered publicly. The ones who felt like it was in their best interest to elect a white supremacist, sexual predator and con man to be the 45th president of The United States.

White women have a reputation for phoning it in. The allusion/comparison to Marie Antoinette seems scarily accurate. Pointing to many white women’s delusions of what is happening and how it affects people and pointing out their inability to see any need to act even when their own heads are on the chopping block. White women are at once, beneficiaries of white supremacy and oppressed by the sexist and misogynistic attitudes underlying it. Seeing all that on display in a comedic context is understandably upsetting.  Mostly because it’s hard to know if the audience it was aimed at satirizing (complacent white women) was able to even recognize it. And it’s terrifying for those of us whose existence in this world is revolutionary in and of itself. Slavery, the Holocaust, the Civil Right’s Movement are all in recent memory. Those of us born with these legacies know that all of these things happened because our white neighbors either turned their heads or were participating in the physical violence.

Furthermore, and I can’t believe I have to lay this out but here it goes: If something someone says or does brings up feelings (positive or negative) it’s totally valid to say, “Fuck, this made me feel (fill in the blank).” The thing that’s not ok to do, is to retort with, “It’s a just a joke, that’s what satire is supposed to do.” If this is you, I have some words: you’re missing the point and you’re being an asshole. Jokes can still be funny when they’re not at the expense of marginalized people. I saw a lot of POC get policed about their feelings about these jokes. I saw a lot of Jews get policed about their feelings about these jokes. WHITE PEOPLE, YOU NEED TO SHUT UP. When marginalized people express concern about something, that’s your cue to take it seriously, put aside what you THINK you know, and listen. It’s an opportunity to see another perspective, and learn some empathy. I’m not saying you’re not allowed to have your own opinions, but fuck, could you please just stop hijacking conversations and making them about you? You don’t know everything and policing the thoughts and feelings of marginalized groups who do have more experience in these arenas is white supremacy in action. It’s called a micro aggression. Get used to hearing that term. You do them. A LOT.

On another note, I would like to point out how much harsher the treatment of women is in any field. In comedy, right now it’s Tina Fey while a few months ago it was Kathy Griffin. There are plenty of men out there who say heinous shit and are not called out on it at all or, if they are, they’re given a slap on the wrist or a career boost. The double standards need to go. If we’re going to put such an intense microscope on a brilliant comedian like Tina Fey, let’s be just as critical with everyone else.

 

Katie Louchheim likes cake, but likes the end of white supremacy even more.