The debate drags on. Slowly, painfully on.
I'm a feminist. I have a biting, dirty sense of humor, and I do happen to believe in the existence of funny rape jokes. The truth is, gallows humor is my favorite coping mechanism.
I love Molly Knefel's point, which is fairly stated at the bottom of the article. In one fell swoop she imagines a world where comedians, our cultural muses, behave compassionately towards women. It's a lovely thought.
"I don’t mean to single out Patton Oswalt. He’s one of the first comedians I ever listened to religiously, and I think he is an incredible thinker. He’s just one guy, just like Sam Morril is just one guy, who is not responsible for the culture we live in. But look at the impact that one guy’s words had after a tragedy — look at how widely shared and widely praised they were. Imagine if Oswalt had sat down to pen something so beautiful, so thoughtful and so compassionate while the nation was discussing rape, free speech and humor. Imagine if he had shown the level of respect for that violence as he did for Aurora and Boston. Perhaps it would not have been shared so widely, but it certainly would have comforted a great deal of people fighting to have their voices heard. Oswalt has a gift."
The conversation seems to have gone off the rails. Battling slugs like Daniel Tosh is just proof that we've picked the wrong battleground. I believe fighting comedians is energy ill spent, even if most of the arguments thrown at them remain valid. What they say is true. I don't think it's necessarily their job to police their material. Rising comedians need freedom to experiment and to fail, because nobody is born with the comedic chops of Chris Rock, not even Chris Rock. But hey, you want to say whatever you want onstage? Fine. Be tough enough to take the criticism. That's free speech, too. Don't go around complaining that the mean people hurt your little feelings. Also, be smart enough for the argument. That's your job.
But come on, comedy. Don't pretend that you don't have a gender problem. You have a problem. You've lionized Patrice O'Neal, a man who literally believed that women were, at their very nature, debased. Degraded. It's hard to hear comedy that is so mean down to the core. I was saddened more than offended to hear his rants. (To get at what I mean, I recommend listening to his Marc Maron interview that was taped within a year of his death.)
Take any other minority and place their name in his statements. "I generally don't like what women are . . . they're bringing men down."
I generally don't like what Jews are. They're bringing gentiles down.
I generally don't like what gays are. They're bringing straight folk down.
So, okay. Patrice certainly did not represent the whole of comedy. But you would be hard-pressed to find a critic amongst his peers. No one in this industry made of free speech champions had the nerve to call him out?
Actually, there may be a few that I simply haven't heard of. It's a big community. I'll be looking forward to hearing of those caveats.
Lindy West's article on the comedy of white male privilege provides us with some rather weak statements of defense from female comedians. None of this proves anything, because the very nature of the gender divide dictates that most women do not, in reality, identify with each other. Yes, there is rhetoric. There are bold statements made, but we do not stick together, and until that starts happening, it will always be open season on us. We need to walk the walk before we start dictating to others how to behave.
(In part, that means not constantly declaring war on the next female media sensation. Even if you just don't like her. Even if you think she's a bitch. Even if you don't like her face because it does that weird thing. Don't declare war on Anne Hathaway, Taylor Swift, Kim Kardashian, Kristen Stewart, Ke$ha, Lena Dunham, Zooey Deschanel, Lady GaGa, Rihanna, Amanda Bynes, Britney Spears, or Lindsey Lohan. And don't cloak your criticism as concern. Nobody's buying it. You see where I'm going with this? There's an entire blog committed to getting you to argue about this petty crap, while simultaneously claiming to be a feminist mainstay. It's successful, because they get you coming and going: once to argue that Anne Hathaway really is just a try-hard bitch, and then a second time when we are all meant to publicly ponder the hypocrisy of women like Sarah Palin or Jan Brewer; why can't they get along with other women? Hint: it's all part and parcel of the same affliction. When you contribute to these conversations you contribute to something larger and less wholesome than generic office gossip, because it's not private. This has unintentionally become the very calling card of third wave feminism.)
So it's no surprise that female comedians either don't notice, or pretend not to notice, the misogyny inherent in their field. Nobody wants to be a troublemaker. Nobody wants to be the cold bitch that can't take a joke. But as a fan, it's impossible to ignore. Daniel Tosh is just an equal opportunity shit heel, but Bill Burr has made a career about talking about California divorce law because, you know, lazy women just want to take your money.
Ari Shaffir's YMIW interview was less obvious but no less unsettling when he described his palpable hatred of monogamy, immediately preceded by a apathetic announcement that he gave his 18 year-old casual sex partner chlamydia. (You can certainly be a devoted feminist and pass along a communicable disease, but in this instance tone is everything.)
You also have the rare men like Joe Rogan and Doug Stanhope, for example. Their talent outstrips their mouth. Stanhope in particular is such a master at standup that you forgive him almost anything, but it muddies the water. How come Stanhope can say this but I can't? You can't because you're not him. Watching him is like watching a surgeon cut open a body that gets bloodier the further in he gets until he's elbow deep and covered in viscera. "Bitches be trippin" is not the comedic equivalent of that.
My point is, we notice. It's hard not to notice. Misogyny is casual and acceptable within standup in a way that other prejudices are not. Knefel's short article is a reminder that, yes, the conversation can be nuanced and respectful. It doesn't have to boil down to two opposing moral imperatives. Free speech comes with responsibilities. Freedom is not just freedom from (tyranny, slavery, etc). All of that is counterbalanced with obligation, particularly when your expressed freedom runs up against someone else's boundaries.