February 26, 2012

James Taranto is "surprised to see @annalthouse sort of defending" Charles Blow.

Taranto's tweeting. Citing 2 of my blog posts — "Mr. Blow may attempt to delete that Tweet..." and "Our reflexive response to 'Everybody Draw Mohammad Day'... was sympathetic/But Althouse prompted us to reconsider"he wonders whether I think we "should mock religion or not."

Let's get a few things straight:

1. I was not defending Blow's infamous "Stick that in your magic underwear" tweet. My post quotes Jim Geraghty making the usual double-standard criticism about which religions are mockable, then asks — asks! — if you'd like to see the counter-argument, that religion should be vigorously mocked, and links to Crack Emcee. I'm just setting up discussion there, not drawing my own lines about what I think people should be saying about religion.

2. My "Everybody Draw Mohammad Day" post is demanding that people look at a double-standard problem, using the hypothetical "Everybody Burn the Flag Day." You need to think about what you're doing when you decide to leverage your protest on deep reverence that other people feel.

3. I've never stated a general rule about mockery and religion. I don't have one. Comedy is a great and dangerous force. Most people aren't too good at using it. It can communicate good fun or extreme contempt. You can be a complete asshole with comedy — which you have a right to be, but if you go too far in that direction, you'd better be good! You're probably not as funny as you think you are, but if you want to go to extremes, you're stupid if you don't know there's a risk. Now, the riskiest stuff is also the funniest stuff. Ask Lenny Bruce. No, you can't. He died. Remember when Michael Richards tried to do that Lenny Bruce thing? His career died.

4. Instead of a pathetic and necessarily futile hope for rules for humor, let's think deeply about what humor is. Here's a classic starting point:
In Freud's view, jokes...  happened when the conscious allowed the expression of thoughts that society usually suppressed or forbade. The superego allowed the ego to generate humor. A benevolent superego allowed a light and comforting type of humor, while a harsh superego created a biting and sarcastic type of humor. A very harsh superego suppressed humor altogether.... Freud followed Herbert Spencer's ideas of energy being conserved, bottled up, and then released like so much steam venting to avoid an explosion.
5. Underpants.

47 comments:

Meade said...

6. Blow

Meade said...

7. Maybe a little Charles...

Moose said...

You have to admit that sometimes you're a little too ironic for your own good.
Professorial cool I would attribute it to.

Hagar said...

What is this fuss about again?

AprilApple said...

The collective left get so angry at anyone who dare criticize Obama, they come out with obsessive movies that re-enact Sarah Palin's life.
Superego leftism is a religion and it should be mocked.

madAsHell said...

Wow!

Taranto refers to you as Althouse, as if everyone should be acquainted with the brand.

Ya know, if that teaching gig doesn't work out....

Kit said...

Moose, I'd somewhat agree - for me, at least, sometimes a little too clever by half. At those times, I just shrug and move along.

Big Mike said...

5. Underpants

Oka-a-a-y. Here's the famous "underwear" song by Barry Louis Polisar as sung by the Radioactive Chicken Heads.

Before his song was picked as the theme song for Juno Barry Louis Polisar would stage comedic concerts for kids in and around Washington, DC, featuring his own songs. My kids attended at least one that I recall back in the 1980's. Polisar has posted a few of his songs to YouTube, but this is the only version of The Underwear Song I could find. The official claim was that this song got him banned from doing concerts in elementary schools in Montgomery County, Maryland, but I think it was his song about "Tommy" who refuses to get out of bed and go to school because the teachers all hate him and the kids all laugh at him and mock him. The final verse goes something like

"You have to go to school, she said."

"She hoped he'd be convince-able."

"You have to go to school, she said,"

"Because you are the principal."

edutcher said...

I remember somebody asking people like Bob Hope and Milton Berle to define comedy and they said it really couldn't be done.

One gets the impression people like Charles Blow disagree and the twat was his attempt to implement his definition.

Writ Small said...

So many rules to politically incorrect humor.

The traditional one has been whether the target of the attacks are considered a weak group in society. If so, tread carefully. If not, fire away.

Rich, white males are fair game. Don't go near poor minorities.

Christianity has traditionally been a safe target because of its historical power position. As that influence has shifted dramatically to the secular, mocking Christians is in poorer and poorer taste.

The reverse is true with gays. When gays had little cultural and political influence years ago, jokes against them had a clear assholish quality. As they have gained dramatically in acceptability and influence, gentle mockery has less of an edge.

The issue is where your head is and where the audience's is with respect to the societal power of the groups in question.

Ann had a freakout over Romney's equating a magnet for gay marriage to Las Vegas. Days later, she was mocking Christian’s view of Satan with abandon. If you think Christians are powerful and gays are besieged, this makes perfect sense. If you think Christianity is under attack and gays are ascendant, Ann seems hypocritical.

Craig said...

Is that why jokes about Brittany Spears aren't funny?

Fen said...

The lesson is that Christians should learn to respond to blasphemy with violence.

ricpic said...

When the United States had a mild super-ego, no more than 60 years ago, there was all kinds of mild ethnic humor, humor that actually expressed affection. No more. Now that the harsh perfect super-ego folks are in charge that stuff's outlawed. Let's hear it for the Left! It's scrubbed us clean.

Quayle said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Quayle said...

Blow may be an insensitive bore and a hypocrite, but all in all his 'mistake' was rather harmless.

It helps to keep

things

in perspective.

Quaestor said...

Ann wrote:
Remember when Michael Richards tried to do that Lenny Bruce thing? His career died.

Yes I do, but I don't think that killed his career. As a stand-up Richard's career was stillborn. He has talent as a comic actor, but that kind of talent doesn't usually translate to the club scene. The Richards corpus is firmly in the physical comedy realm pioneered by Keaton, Chaplin, et al.

As a stand up Harold Lloyd would have stunk too.

Speaking of unfunny jokes, if Richards was really aiming at being the the Lenny Bruce of his generation then his career was well and truly dead before he uttered a word before an audience. That's like a newly christened cruise ship aiming to be the Titanic of its generation.

Lenny Bruce is the Henry Miller of stand-up. Henry Miller, as you may know, is one of those literary figures who enjoy a mythic status among those who haven't read the writings. All my life from early teen years I heard the name Lenny Bruce spoken in awe. Bruce, the pioneer of humor with a social conscience! Bruce, the greatest comic ever, a humorist who would have gained fame and fortune in his lifetime had not The Man torpedoed his career from the sidelines! ... baloney.

A few years ago I came across a couple of Lenny Bruce LPs at my local public library -- one was a studio produced recording, the other was a very poor quality posthumous anthology assembled from dozens of club appearances over several years. Since I didn't own a turntable I checked out an AV carrel and gave him a listen, taking a few notes.

The most prominent word in my notes is tendentious, sometimes modified by stupefyingly. Bruce was NOT funny. He was not even mildly droll. To be in a Lenny Bruce audience would have been like being buttonholed at a party by a relentlessly voluble drunk. He evidently thought highly of his own drivel because his delivery halts and staggers due to his through-the-nose giggle-snorts, like he was telling dirty jokes in the boys' room at P.S. 32.

I think Lenny Bruce got reincarnated as a woman. Sandra Bernhard is firmly in the Bruce tradition, i.e. NOT funny. Admittedly she's funny looking but not "funny" funny. If you laughed at The Elephant Man you'll roar at Sandra Bernhard.

Darleen said...

When the United States had a mild super-ego, no more than 60 years ago, there was all kinds of mild ethnic humor, humor that actually expressed affection.

Don Rickles

(and I saw him live in the 70's in Vegas ... it took the stuff he did on tv - Carson show, etc - and notched it to 11)

Quaestor said...

The most revealing tell of the Left is their eagerness to make sport of Christians... No, that's not quite true. Let me revise... The most revealing tell of the Left is their eagerness to make sport of white middle class Christians. Black Christians are OUT OF BOUNDS, as are Muslims of any stripe.

Yes, those social liberals are a courageous lot.

Just to clarify, I'm not a Christian. I don't share their faith, but I don't poke fun at them... except the Baptists. Baptists are asking for it.

wyo sis said...

"Look around and try to see who's wearing theirs too tight!"
I'm guessing Blow and Emcee could use some relief.

Carnifex said...

Any large group of people claiming to know "the Truth", is deserving of mocking and ridicule. Their reactions to that mocking and ridicule is a far better indicator of where on the truth meter their truth lies.

Failing this test miserably are too many leftist. Too many Muslims. All large bureaucracies.

rhhardin said...

Some have first for wits, then poets passed,
Turned critics next, and proved plain fools at last

- Pope criticizes Blow.

Roger J. said...

I liked the question about what is comedy--strange the old comedy could get lots of laughs never using profanity. And for comedians? Jack Benny had it cold with a wonderful sense of self effacement and mostly a great sense of timing. Did see Jerry Seinfeld at the Orpheum in Memphis and he went thru an hour and a half presentation never using a vulgarity. Oh well--chalk it up to an old man who liked Jack Benny and Bob Hope (although Bob was a master of double entendres)

rhhardin said...

The point of insulting a religion is to say that your cooperation with their plan can't be counted on.

Poking fun at a religion on the contrary is a way of accommodating it.

chickenlittle said...

Althouse has her own sacred cows and political litmus tests. Anyone who has followed her blog recognizes this.

Ann Althouse said...

"Althouse has her own sacred cows and political litmus tests. Anyone who has followed her blog recognizes this."

Let's see you take some risk by stating what these things are. Be specific, so what you say can be falsifiable. Otherwise your comment is drivel.

Evan said...

The Freudian scheme is pseudo-science, of course. The parallel axes of complete-partial-no suppression of taboo thought mapped beside humorless-sarcastic-benevolent superegos don't even make sense; intuitively, sarcastic humor vents more risque or 'dangerous' thoughts than do 'sunny' or 'light' jokes. Don't denigrate sarcasm (irony turned to humor)! In the right hands, it's high art.

William said...

The ages of man. I enjoy more of O'Reilly's jokes than I do of Stewart or Colbert's. I don't know if O'Reilly's jokes are any funnier, but such is my sensiblity at this time of my life.....I think Althouse has an excellent sense of humor. I give her and Limbaugh super extra bonus points for making fun of liberals and their pieties. Liberals can be quite ridiculous, but their funny ears and red bulbous noses pass unnoticed....Maher, Stewart, Letterman: they're all professional comedians and know their trade. I don't question their competence but their monologues have more applause lines than laugh lines. They don't seem to get the joke about the deep flaw lines that run through liberalism. There are funnier things in American life and politics than Sarah Palin's verbal tics and Gov. Christie's waistline, but you'd never know it from their routines. Here's one example. Gov. Corzine was hospitalized for a serious accident caused by his speeding. When he was discharged from the hospital, he was clocked doing 90mph going back to the Governor's mansion. That should have made him the laughing stock of America, but the moment passed with very little notice.

LordSomber said...

Enough Freud. What about Jung's Trickster archetype?

traditionalguy said...

Using Funny names for others and mild ridicule of others is now being equated to to being a lynch mob that needs to be arrested.

They don't even mean it, but they use it to get away with a Moral High Ground capture. It seems to be tying yourself to a victim, and thus getting all of the social favors that flows to victims.

And what was wrong with the "Chink in the armor" witticism last week, again? Oh, yeah Asian heritage is a victim status. Who knew.

Writ Small said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Writ Small said...

Using Funny names for others and mild ridicule of others is now being equated to to being a lynch mob that needs to be arrested.

...

It seems to be tying yourself to a victim, and thus getting all of the social favors that flows to victims.



Deliberate irony?

The Crack Emcee said...

wyo sis,

I'm guessing Blow and Emcee could use some relief.

Oh, so now you're JFK with an intern,...

rcocean said...

"The most prominent word in my notes is tendentious, sometimes modified by stupefyingly. Bruce was NOT funny."

I had precisely the same reaction after doing the same thing. Checked some old Lenny Bruce stuff out of the library - after watching the movie with Dustin Hoffman.

Dick Gregory had some 60s stuff that was funny. Pryor was a comedy genius. Bruce - not funny.

rcocean said...

BTW, every time I read Freud I want an executive summary. Pithy and concise he wasn't.

Revenant said...

The "everybody draw Mohammed" thing was in response to the *violence* directed against people who do.

It wasn't in response to them taking offense. If opponents of flag-burning had a habit of rioting and killing flag-burners (and other innocent folk), I'd be all in favor of "everybody burn the flag day".

Christy said...

I've always thought I had a deep respect for faith of any stripe. It's The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown was heart breaking. Lately, though, I'm increasingly finding humor is some systems of belief. Is it an age thing?

Back when I first read the bit about 1st graders always laughing at the word "underwear," I tried it with relatives at the dinner table. All up to about 4th grade howled with laughter.

I read long ago a piece about the surprisingly short TV career of many early comics. The writer attributed it to Borscht belt humor, popular and available in New York, where most early viewers lived, not working in other parts of the country. I always figured Lenny Bruce was that way for me.

Alex said...

I do get the whiff of gay hatred from a # of posters here, I won't name them.

wyo sis said...

Nothing about JFK or an intern on the link.
Is your underwear too tight?

rcocean said...

To be honest I've always been less than impressed by the white male comics of the mid 50s and early 60s.

Jerry Lewis, Carl Reiner, Sid Ceasar, Alan King, Joey Bishop, Buddy Hackett, Shecky Green, Steve Allen - all not very funny as Stand up comedians. Reiner was good BEHIND the camera, Ceasar was OK at being a comic actor, but otherwise...

Like Phil Silvers, Winters, Newhart and Rickles from that crowd. That's about it.

The Crack Emcee said...

wyo sis,

Nothing about JFK or an intern on the link.
Is your underwear too tight?


If I have to spell it out for you, you're too slow to get it. I gotta ask this, though:

First it was my need for "release," and now it's the fit of my underwear.

You looking to come over or something?

Ann Althouse said...

"The "everybody draw Mohammed" thing was in response to the *violence* directed against people who do. It wasn't in response to them taking offense. If opponents of flag-burning had a habit of rioting and killing flag-burners (and other innocent folk), I'd be all in favor of "everybody burn the flag day"."

Reexamine your use of the word "them."

Unknown said...

ha!

The Crack Emcee said...

It Took 'Em A While To Figure Out Physical Slavery, Too,...

wyo sis said...

Crack
No. It seems I have to spell it out for you.
I was writing what I thought was a mildly amusing satirical comment about the song Ann cited, called "Underwear is Everywhere." One line says "Look around and try to see who's wearing theirs too tight!"
You seem have your panties in a twist all the time, so I mentioned you.
I am aware of the Kennedy thing, I just failed to see how it related to what I was writing about so I looked at the link to see if you had made some extremely clever connection to underwear and relief in the Kennedy sense.

wyo sis said...

You hadn't.

The Crack Emcee said...

wyo sis,

I am aware of the Kennedy thing,...

Just as I said. But, despite your comment sounding like Kennedy, you're not aware of sexual exploitation - the topic of the post, which you didn't get because you're stuck in your expectations. Your expectations don't interest me. Your comments don't either.

We've never spoken before.

Let's keep it that way,...

wyo sis said...

Crack
What Ann said---
"You can be a complete asshole with comedy — which you have a right to be, but if you go too far in that direction, you'd better be good! You're probably not as funny as you think you are, but if you want to go to extremes, you're stupid if you don't know there's a risk."