Thursday, June 1, 2017

Uncivil Discourse 2: Kathy Griffin and the “New Normal” of Obscenity

Kathy Griffin, desperate attention-seeker.
(Photo: Getty Images.)
I absolutely cannot stand Scotch whiskey. People tell me that Scotch is an “acquired taste.” To which I always respond with some bewilderment, “Why would anyone want to acquire a taste for it?” Why would anyone, having found something vile and disgusting, deliberately take in more and more of it until it becomes their go-to consumable? This is just one of many questions we should ask ourselves while we’re all in a flutter over the picture of “comedian” Kathy Griffin holding up a bloodied mock-up of Donald Trump’s head.

The Massacre in Arizona

Before we go further, I’d like to cast your memories back to January 2011, to the mass shooting in Tucson in which six people died and thirteen others were wounded. As I wrote at the time, “The smoke from Jared Lee Loughner’s weapon had hardly a chance to dissipate when liberal hate-mongers in the MSM started to accuse Sarah Palin and the Tea Party as accessories before the fact to mass murder. The grounds? One of the victims, Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, is a Democrat ‘targeted’ by the Tea Party for unseating in her next re-election bid.” And among the accusers was Kathy Griffin.

Palin had posted an online map that had Giffords’ and other Democrat incumbents’ pictures with cross-hairs drawn on them. Had Loughner never fired his weapon, no one would ever have thought it unusual; it would have been like the Sunday-morning mailman in Chesterton’s Father Brown mystery. False cause fallacy, folks; nothing to see here. The accusation was baseless and stupid, and the conservative chatterati tore the most visible offenders, Keith Olbermann and Paul Krugman, to tiny little shreds. Even some liberals participated in the beatdown.

Other conservatives, however, went the tu quoque route, serving up some violent talk from liberal thought leaders from then-Pres. Barack Obama to also-unfunny comedian Sandra Bernhardt and queen emeritus of pop Madonna. At the time, Michelle Malkin had been collecting such examples for ten years; she posted them with the admonition, “... [Don’t] let the media whitewash the sins of the hypocritical Left in their naked attempt to suppress the law-abiding, constitutionally-protected, peaceful, vigorous political speech of the Right.” Peaceful and vigorous, I assume, includes the various lynchings and burnings of Obama, as well as rocker Ted Nugent’s later invitation to the president to “suck on my machine gun.”

“Licorice-Flavored Jell-O”

Now the shoe is on the other foot. However, the left is having some trouble admitting that it fits. Chelsea Clinton and Anderson Cooper immediately condemned the photo in no uncertain terms. Debra Messing valiantly tried for the tu quoque: “It wasn’t right when [people] hung lynched Obama effigies, just as what Kathy Griffin did isn’t right now.” And when alt-right troll Mike Cernovich tweeted, “CNN has yet to issue a statement about Satanic-ISIS death threats made by its employee Kathy Griffin,” the Church of Satan replied, “Please do not include us in this.” Man, you really have to screw up when Satan wants no part of your mess.

Others, however, don’t seem to get the fuss. For instance, @VeeVee, responding to Clinton, said, “… to call it wrong is condemning it [duh?]. Total disagreement. It’s not my style, but it’s not wrong.” Ho-hummed Yahoo’s Ken Tucker, “Now, instead of inflicting further hours of Griffin imagery upon us, let’s hope that Fox — the only news channel that has turned this into a lead-story, time-eating crusade — will start ignoring this non-event, okay?” One Dr. Drew fretted about the “mob response”(!) he thought was worse. And @PopehatWitchHunt (seriously?) compared the matter to “licorice flavored jello” [sic]: “I understand being repulsed by it but I don’t get being incensed by it.”

The ultimate I-don’t-see-the-problem-here came from GQ’s Drew Magary:

Do I even need to point out that Trump once suggested that “Second Amendment people” take action against Hillary Clinton, or the countless times President Obama was burned/hung/slashed in effigy by his naysayers? Of course not. Griffin is guilty of being tasteless [we’ll get to this in a bit], but her biggest crime was shoveling an extra heaping of coal into the Right Wing Bullshit Furnace, allowing everyone from Paul Ryan on down to the sweatiest men’s rights activists to focus national conversation with atom-level precision on THIS transgression while Trump sets the rest of the world on fire. We’ll hear about the hypocrisy of the “so-called tolerant left” for at least the next 48 hours, and I’m already shaking my head over it.

Somewhere between the beginning of his spittle-flecked nutty and the paragraph quoted, Magary managed to trim down the expected shelf life of this issue from the death of the universe to merely forty-eight hours. It’s somehow Trump’s fault, with his ability to “make himself the MacGyver of chickenshit,” that we’ll not get over this for … a couple of days. And because we’re shocked and offended by this, it means we can’t be equally shocked and offended by Trump’s consideration of withdrawing the US from the Paris climate agreement. Only one issue can matter at any time. Quit drinking the Haterade, Magary; it’s making you incoherent.

Beyond the Pale is Further Away

What is the problem, really? Is the problem that Griffith crossed a line that should never be crossed? Or is the problem that the line has been pushed so far out Griffith had to “behead” a sitting president in order to cross it? Griffith’s idiocy wasn’t “tasteless” so much as we haven’t acquired a taste for it … yet. If she had waited a couple of years to do it, the backlash might not have killed her career; eventually, the stunt may even be considered “groundbreaking”. So let me repeat the question I started with: Why would anyone deliberately consume something vile and disgusting until they come to prefer it?

A friend of mine called Griffith’s bad joke “unprecedented”. But the fact is, there’s a whole series of precedents for it. We didn’t get to this point, from Jack Benny and Gentlemen Prefer Blondes to South Park and The Vagina Monologues, in twenty-four hours. Rather, the boundary between the acceptable and the intolerable has been pushed back by little steps. We got here in much the same manner that people learn to prefer Scotch — by consuming violence and obscenity as “humor” in ever-increasing doses, by refusing to exercise any kind of social control over all the jackasses who have simulated violence against our elected leaders for the sake of entertainment.

Malkin is correct to point out that the left has a long history of violent hate-talk directed toward right-wing politicians. But Magary, for all his hyperventilating incoherence, also has a point: the red tribe, especially the alt-right, has contributed its share of anti-left violent hate talk. And to say “Well, they started it!” is a child’s strategy to evade taking ownership of our share of the problem. Logicians consider the tu quoque a material fallacy of relevance; however, I know of one Wise Person who considered it a highly relevant argument:

“Do not judge, so that you may not be judged. For with the judgment you make you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get. Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? Or how can you say to your neighbor, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ while the log is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor’s eye.” (Matthew 7:1-5)

We Deserve Donald Trump

Liberals and conservatives alike — real conservatives, not the yowling ball of viciousness known as the “alt-right” — are quite properly embarrassed by the self-aggrandizing idiot we must call our President. By comparison, George W. Bush can be considered competent; commentators have even begun to think better of Richard Nixon’s administration in the light of “Dolt 45”. In a sane, decent democracy, Trump would never have been elected dogcatcher, let alone Chief Executive.

However, as French diplomat and philosopher Joseph de Maistre once wrote, “Every nation gets the government it deserves.” Donald Trump is our President because we have more or less deliberately created for ourselves a culture in which self-absorption, dishonesty, crudity, philistinism, and even some degree of amorality have been normalized. Donald Trump is who We the People of the United States are now, and both red and blue tribal leaders have had hands in making us this way. Once you convince yourself that morality is merely a matter of taste, you forget how to distinguish between the merely tasteless and the intrinsically evil.

Kathy Griffin has held up a mirror to the soul of our culture and shown it to be diseased, bloody, and rotting. But until we take ownership of that fact — until we recognize ourselves in the mirror — healing will never come. Our culture will continue to rot until our society and government can no longer survive it.