Full disclosure here. I wrote this piece for my email list. This isn’t the exact piece but rather a deeper exploration on the topic. I usually don’t put these on my website. But I feel pretty strongly about the way Outrage Culture tries to drive change and I wanted to put this out on my website. I rarely write pieces like this, but I would regularly like to. But at the moment, with my web series, podcast, touring, and managing a personal life it gets a little hard to write more thoughtful pieces. But if you’d like to help with that you can become a Patron of these projects and help me create more content like this.
I hope this doesn’t come as a shock to most of you, but I don’t think Outrage Culture is as productive in driving change as it believes itself to be. I’ve had issues with Outrage Culture for quite some time now. And most of it revolves around the way this culture deals with issues. Particularly issues surrounding race, gender and censoring personal speech. And I feel like as a comedian I should address this since right now we’re deep in the trenches of this debate after Roseanne Barr’s racist tweet that got her show taken off the air. We will get to that.
But first, I’ve had some issues with this culture as a younger comedian. Years ago, I used to do this bit about how I didn’t like the word ‘Faggot’. Rather than write this out, here’s the clip of it for the purposes of the story.
I’d do this bit when I was talking about Gay Rights in America. At an open mic in Pittsburgh years ago, I did that bit, and felt pretty good about the response of the crowd. After my set I stepped into the bar to get a drink (I could actually afford one that night). As I did this woman called me over and said “I usually like a lot of your stuff, but that last bit you did was too much don’t you think?”
I was puzzled. “What was too much about it?” I asked.
“Well it just seems to be hateful. You say that word a lot and it’s not very necessary.”
As a younger comedian, I was a lot snarkier than I am now. I don’t find much use for snark these days. So I responded “And what word would that be?” Knowing full well what she was talking about.
“You know what word. I find it offensive and you come off very homophobic.”
“I still don’t know what word you are referring to and if I was to guess you’re more offended at the use of A word and missed the point of the bit entirely.”
“Well your whole bit is offensive I don’t think you should do it anymore. It’s too much.”
At this point, there wasn’t going to much of a discourse. If a comedian offended you, telling them to stop doing a bit isn’t going to get them to do much of anything except get defensive and snark back at you. Which ruins comedy for the commentator and the comedian’s evening causing them to drink more. That almost happened there, but I just said, “I think you should pay more attention what people are actually saying instead of getting upset at buzzwords all the time.” I walked away and went back to the showroom.
I’ve seen this lady around here and there and the buzzwords have always been an issue. But the reason why they are an issue can’t be addressed unless we say the word and discuss what the problem is. I wrote that bit because I was called ‘Faggot’ for talking about my life and political issue and not being man enough. “What a fag!” or “That was faggy” or “Quit bein’ a fag and write some jokes!” It’s not a word that has any appeal. Here’s a story about the time that a comedian used that word as means to berate and also possible have me killed.
It’s like the N-Word, with the Hard ‘R’. Something about 2 G’s in a rows and ending on hard consonant sound makes an unappealing word. Sharp. No soft edges. No comfort in the way it sounds.
My mother used to tell me that if you lean into the jokes about yourself the bullies can’t hurt you. The same works with punches if you’re wondering. Lean into the punches to decrease their velocity on to your face. It’s just physics.
So that bit is me leaning into it. Disarming that word. Could I have been better about it? Sure. I address these things with a bit more tact nowadays rather than hammering people with truth. Adding some rounded corners to it so it doesn’t have cause as much harm.
One the best working comedians in the nation is Stewart Huff. I have the honor of calling a friend and I got to go on a 17 date tour with him. When we did our show in Knoxville, Stewart had a piece about this issue. That line that tripped people up and caused an argument was “You can’t just tell people they can’t say ‘Faggot’ it’s important to educate them as to why they shouldn’t say it!”
I agree with that. Educate ourselves on where some of these so-called offensive words and terms come from and why they are offensive. Languages evolve with our culture. Is there a way to redefine that word to take away it’s sting and hatred so bigots can’t use it anymore. Probably. We gave these words meaning and we can change it as we change. Just like those that wanted to harm people with the use of the word did.
Faggot was a bundle of sticks. The N-Word was used against Indian people by the British before Americans used it against Black people. Redneck stands as is. It’s a person that is ignorant to the changing world around them because of their inability to tan properly.
This is why words are so powerful. They evoke emotions. They can also change to build a group up rather than tear them down. They can help us evolve.
Shame is not education. Outrage is not education. There’s no redemption and no way to grow and become better. There’s only the irrational streams of bigotry to counter bigotry. Rather than go into that here’s a video I did about Shame & Call-Out culture.
So let’s talk about Roseanne Barr. First of all, I watched the show. All 10 episodes of it. It’s not a bad show. In fact some of the issues they cover on it are handled really well. It’s a show where they show differing opinions co-existing in the same space! The idea that Darlene, the middle daughter has to what she needs to take care of her kids and be a writer. The idea of Dan, the blue collar Dad, pushing sacrifice for the sake of safety and family. The opioid epidemic. And they even tackle Islamaphobia pretty well.
So the issue with Roseanne’s tweet is it uses an old racist idea that black people are related to monkeys. Which was used to show that they were less than human to perpetuate and justify hate towards them. I’ve still heard that used today to ensure that black people, Indians, Latinos and more don’t get the same rights as white people.
The problem here is Roseanne’s said awful shit about muslims, Palestine, Obama, Glenn Greenwald for years now and even blocked Democracy Now on twitter! She’s from the era of comedians that punched down because picking on minorities was in vogue. It’s part of way stereotypes validated defining a whole group of people on one or two traits.
So she felt justified in saying racist shit a bunch on twitter. Where was ABC on that? They still gave her a show. They say it’s because she was giving voice to a group of people that isn’t normally seen on television. Poor, Conservative, Blue Collar families. And that’s important. Those people are out there and they are part of the same fight as all of us. But if the issue REALLY was her racism she wouldn’t have gotten her show back in the first place.
So why now? Why this tweet? I don’t know if I have answer. I also don’t know if cancelling her show is going to quell the divide and fervor of racism in this country. If anything it’s going to embolden the real racist conservatives in this country. It’ll validate the use of the ape stereotypes and Islamaphobia. It’s also not going to stop Roseanne from being racist. It will get to go hide and take a her racism into hiding. Which doesn’t get rid of racism, but rather delays it.
The reality is Roseanne Barr isn’t Roseanne Connor, the character on the show. They’re loosely connected. But if you look at Roseanne Barr’s twitter and the way Roseanne Connor stands up for her Muslim neighbor they don’t match up. That’s because Roseanne isn’t writing the show. There’s a whole staff that put forward these situations that show how people can grow with experience, education and talking to each other. This staff is now out of a job for the moment.
But there are talks of a spinoff coming. The show would surround Darlene who lives in the Connor household, so the question how would we address the lack of her mother in their own home? You could do a “one year later type thing” and move on from there. The perspective of a single mother, tough, and trying to be a creative person while taking care of her family would be an interesting perspective.
You could also recast Roseanne Connor’s character. They did it with Becky on the show back in the original run. The Matrix did it. Dumbeldore was different actors. Sure that was because of a death, but in the eyes society, Roseanne’s dead anyway right?
Intent is also important. I think Roseanne’s intent was to punch down, demean and take this African American woman in a high position down. But there are others that are going to use crass language for the sake of using crass language and the intent isn’t to hurt anyone or take a minority group down a peg or two. Neither is it hate. It’s to be crass. I don’t think it’s the best course of action, but our reaction, but the outrage is something I disagree with more.
Crass will always exist. As long as there are nails there will be hammers. But if we take away all nails to render the hammer useless means we don’t have shelter. Let’s not lump the hammer with a gun. A tool that can only cause harm.
What happens is we put the crass on blast, so to speak. And now we equate crass with true racism. Which makes crass language to be a bigger problem than it actually is and devalues the gravity of true racist language and actions. Outrage Culture then tries to DESTROY this person over one transgression, publicly and loudly.
Question the motives of the one in outrage here. Outrage might be used to gain social capital or deflect from their own, bigger transgressions or attempt to gain social currency without actually doing anything to be source of social good.
The counter to thhis is The Far Right and regular conservatives firing back. Fire Bill Maher. And to be honest. I wouldn’t care all that much. And I doubt most liberals and progressives would either. Maher doesn’t stand for the people. He’s made so much money that he’s too out of touch. He’s the embodiment of the liberal elite.
But now there are also calls for firing Samantha Bee from her show. I also don’t much care for Samantha Bee. I feel like she’s the voice of the angry that calls Trump things like “Cheeto in Chief” and so on. Samantha Bee called Ivanka Trump a cunt for not talking her father (the president, just in case anyone forgot) down from pushing forward a detrimental immigration policy. To be fair his immigration policy is worse than Nixon’s, but then again so was Obama’s.
But since then Samantha Bee has apologized on Twitter and as far as I know TBS has not cancelled the show. Sam Bee’s intent was to use insults to jar Ivanka Trump to drive change. But it didn’t work. Partly because it was crass being blown out of proportion and partly as backlash to the Roseanne debacle.
Also, calling Ivanka Trump a cunt is not the equivalent of calling black monkeys, a racial slur that is meant to make black folks less than human. The word ‘cunt’ is a term of endearment in England. America turned it into an insult towards women. But the stereotype of the ape to demean black people is universal. Here’s a Stand Up bit I did a few years to bringing up that topic.
This is the can of worms that ABC opened. Outrage from one side takes a show off the air but outrage from the opposite doesn’t do anything but yield an apology? But I doubt this Right Leaning Outrage is going to get Bee to stop using roast jokes about President Trump to get him to change his mind.
This situation has just split us up even more. The folks that followed Roseanne because she supported Trump in any way are going to double down on their racism, xenophobia and Islamaphobia. And the left will continue it’s “can you believe it?” behavior with more outrage and call-outs and the cycle will continue.
Also, yes we can believe it. All we have to do is open a REAL history for like 10 minutes.
The reality is that we’re all in the same fight and in order to move forward and have equality for each and every one of us we’re all going to lean into this the battle.
Outrage is nothing more than anger. Anger is not a solution. It is a fuel that can be used to drive change, but it is not change itself. When my computer acts up and stops working like it’s supposed to, I get mad. Outraged at the fact that a $2500 device is not functioning as it should, but it doesn’t solve the problem. The computer isn’t working no matter how much I yell at it, tell everyone in the Starbucks that it’s being a piece of shit or tell people to stop using all laptops to teach it a lesson.
There is a solution, and none of the above are it. It takes time, patience and a little bit thought to assess the problem and come up with a solution to fix it.
Really the testament of whether or not Outrage Culture actually wants to drive change and progress will come from what we do with these folks after they’ve been cast out. If Roseanne is true sorry for what she did and decides to come back to television or at the least Twitter, will be she accepted back into the fray?
This doesn’t mean we have to clean her slate. She’s not an etch-a-sketch. This tweet will always be a part of her history. But if she can redeem herself and stop being a punch down and out comedian and try to be better, and we allow her the opportunity before writing her off completely after this transgression, then we can start progressing a little more. If not we continue to create our own monsters and we can expect more of this in the future.
Outrage doesn’t get people change their behavior. It gets them to double down on it. Just as that woman told me not to do the bit anymore didn’t get me to stop doing the bit. It’s now on an album of mine. One word doesn’t define us. Outrage Culture makes it so we are defined by one word or action. Just like the comedians of Roseanne’s era used one stereotype to define various minorities.
Our language is expansive. We should learn how to use these words to build up rather than tear down. Evolve language and evolve our minds and evolve our culture.
Or we can all just stop talking all together. That’s an extreme option we have available too.