Thursday, February 18, 2016

Sensing my ship

I read a great little piece today on comedy and censorship.  It can summed up as a call for comedians and entertainers to stop being lazy with their comedy and spend their time punching up against the powerful instead of down against the weak when making jokes.  I support that idea, especially because it makes it clear that it is entirely possible to make jokes about difficult topics like race or gender or rape without those jokes being terrible.  You just have to approach such topics carefully, and make sure that you aren't beating up the victims a second time.  Comedy can and should push boundaries, but it shouldn't actively make the world worse by reinforcing the nasty bits.

The responses to it were fairly predictable, largely consisting of people complaining that censorship is awful and social justice warriors ruin people's careers and campuses are full of people who can't take a joke.  I find all of these sorts of complaints empty and ridiculous.  Nobody is calling for a ban on 'women are totally emotional, amirite fellahs?' humour.  You can make those jokes, and the government definitely shouldn't stop you.  However, you will find a large number of people who will call your jokes stupid, cruel, and sad.  You are not owed laughter, no one is required to glorify your attempts at humour, and a career telling jokes requires you to entertain people... if they hate you, you have failed and you ought to find a new career, or get better at your current one.

Criticism is not censorship.

Write that down.

Criticism is not censorship.

People saying that you suck and refusing to give you money for your performance is not an undue hardship, nor does it make you a downtrodden minority.  Comedians that refuse to do college and university shows because the audiences boo them are not people who desperately need our help and protection.

I am forever irked by the idea that comedians need 'the freedom to tell whatever jokes they want' as if that is a thing anyone is trying to remove.  You have that freedom.  We all do!  (And if anyone wants to remove that freedom they are a fool.)  You don't have the freedom to force your audience to laugh with you, and you definitely don't have the freedom to force people to praise your work or hire you to work again if your work is bad.  Unfortunately what the people who call for such freedom really want is the freedom to ignore the real problems that their jokes highlight.  They want the freedom to hurt people without consequence, to be venerated regardless of what they do.  That isn't a freedom any reasonable society grants, and it is one that nobody will admit that they want, so they frame it as a freedom of speech thing rather than an entitlement thing.

But it is an entitlement thing.  We all have the freedom to speak our minds in this regard, and to pretend we do not is absurd.  What we don't have is the right to force others to pretend our shit don't stink.

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