That Mel Brooks…what a racist!
If you want a template for the argument that comedy and jokes should not tread outside the thick, forbidding red lines of political correctness, you cannot do better than the Washington Post op-ed titled “Don’t believe her defenders. Amy Schumer’s jokes are racist.” Two professors, Stacey Patton and David J. Leonard, made the argument that Schumer’s humor is racist, and did so in as forceful terms possible. For example, they write:
Racial jokes allow white America to claim that race no longer matters, even as there’s talk whizzing in every direction about how blacks and Latinos are outbreeding whites, are criminals and welfare queens, are “stealing jobs” and victimizing whites through affirmative action policies and denying them the right to use the n-word. Comedy allows these comforting ideas to be shared with a built-in defense mechanism that protects white innocence.
America’s soil of racism is fed by jokes and incendiary speeches, by stereotypical images and symbols like the Confederate flag. Just as Rush Limbaugh, Donald Trump and other members of the Republican Party regularly disparage people of color and claim they are simply telling the truth, Schumer can use comedy as a protective shroud to deny the harm and hurt caused by her jokes. A joke is considered benign especially when told by a supposed white liberal feminist. We can distance ourselves from the anger, from the harm, from the ideology, and from the hatred of the “extreme,” but also find comfort in the same anger, ideology and hatred that is “just a joke.”
The abuse heaped on Schumer, a young, clever, rising comedian that I only recently became aware of because of her hilarious—filthy, but hilarious—parody of “Twelve Angry Men,” is breathtaking. She is called the equivalent of Donald Trump (who himself is misrepresented as a racist who believes all Mexicans—he said some illegal Mexican migrants—were criminals and rapists); she is declared complicit in the Charleston shootings and the creation of Dylann Roof, encouraging gun purchases generally, and “a worldview that justifies a broken immigration system, mass incarceration, divestment from inner city communities, that rationalizes inequality and buttresses persistent segregation and violence.”
This is why Mel Brooks says that “Blazing Saddles” couldn’t be made today. His brilliant seventies Western spoof, which many, including Brooks, believe is the funniest film ever made (I’d pick “Animal House,” but he’s not far from wrong) was immediately recognized as a devastating attack on racism, despite its frequent use of the word “nigger” and its employment of almost every black stereotype for maximum comedy effect. Schumer is no Mel Brooks, but her audiences aren’t stupid either. They understand that she, like Brooks, is spoofing both the stereotypes and the people who believe them, as well as properly zinging the individuals who craete the stereotypes by their own conduct. There is nothing racist about that at all, unless one has embraced the current, floating, broad and infinitely flexible definition of “racist,” which is whatever a progressive or African American critic thinks will be most harmful to his or her target at the time.
The reason “Blazing Saddles” was understood to be satiric and beneficial to the cause of racial understanding forty years ago, and Schumer’s far less harsh humor is being attacked now is simple: race relations are worse today, thanks to people like Drs. Patton and Leonard, who I would have banned at the box office if they ever tried to buy a ticket to a comedy I was directing, and civil rights establishment that has decided that hyping eternal victimhood is the way to power and wealth. People like this are incapable of humor, because they have to analyze whether they should laugh before they do laugh. To them, Popeye and the Road Runner encourage violence, Eddie Murphy’s Gumby impression furthers racial stereotypes, and Woody Allen’s movies are anti-Semitic. I’m sure they find Mel’s “Hitler on Ice” completely bewildering.
The Post apparently invited the two clueless political-correctness obsessed academics to write this drivel. Asking them to write about comedy is like inviting Mike Huckabee to analyze the rhetoric of Dan Savage (and vice-versa). In other words, it was a set-up.
Debra Kessler explored the origins of this strange essay on the comedy website The Interobang.
I spoke with The Washington Post‘s Outlook Deputy Editor Mike Madden …. “This is not the opinion of The Washington Post,” Madden told me, “this is the opinion of a couple of contributors to The Washington Post.” Of course both articles are editorials and newspapers print conflicting editorials all the time. But even op-ed pieces are edited and selected and subject to internal guidelines and even op-ed pieces enjoy the weight of The Washington Post banner– one which has a history of protecting journalistic expression feverishly.
Kessler also talked to Stacey Patton, who told her that the Post solicited the piece, and had to persuade her to write it. Apparently they couldn’t persuade her to write it fairly, responsibly, or competently, however:
Dr. Patton said a few things that surprised me. For starters, she said she’s not a specialist on comedy or humor. While she does enjoy comedy (she likes George Carlin, Richard Pryor, Martin Lawrence, the Queens of Comedy, and Bill Maher among others), she told me that watching comedy isn’t something she gets to do often. In fact, before the ‘Schumer issue’ came up, she had never seen Amy Schumer perform stand up, and she had never seen Schumer’s Comedy Central television show. Even more surprising, she said she didn’t watch any of Amy’s performances or shows while writing the article, not even as background for the piece. Her judgement was based on what she read, presumably in The Guardian, which had just published an article accusing Schumer of “having a blind spot for race.”
The Interrobang: Have you ever watched Amy’s television show… in preparation for the article?
Stacey Patton: Nope. Not at all.
The Interrobang: Her stand up set[s]? have you ever watched any of them?
Stacey Patton: Nope. None of them.
Wow. Continue reading