Saturday, June 2, 2018

BTRTN: To Bee, or Not To Bee


Once again, Mr. Shakespeare, that is the question. Steve provides perspective on a week in which the Barr was lowered.

Heading out to the big cocktail party tonight? Don’t go to the club until you have thought through your position on the issue du jour. People may not want to talk in polite company about their views on Trump or Clinton, but when the issue is the outrageous language of two female comedians who are poised at the extremes of our polarized society, you better not be the one who shows up at the raw bar whispering “Huh? Who said what?”

Here’s the quick background. On Monday, Roseanne Barr hurled a projectile vomit of a tweet that would have been considered hideously racist in 1953, characterizing Obama senior advisor Valerie Jarrett as the offspring of a Muslim terrorist and an ape. Yes, Barr did actual tweet that an African-American was somehow less than a human being. Barr's wildly successful new television series was cancelled by ABC faster than you can say “Roseanne Barr is dumber than a box of hammers.” Barr then attempted to diminish her culpability for her despicable comment by claiming that she had issued the tweet while under the influence of Ambien. To their considerable credit, Sanofi, the makers of the sleep medication, publicly noted that “"While all pharmaceutical treatments have side effects, racism is not a known side effect of any Sanofi medication.” Ka-boom! Countless lefties weighed in, applauding ABC for the immediate decision, which bore considerable financial repercussions.

Flash forward a mere 48 hours to Wednesday night’s airing of Full Frontal with Samantha Bee. The show’s host, one of the most aggressive anti-Trump voices in the army of left-leaning late night comedians, delivered a diatribe against Ivanka Trump, savaging the President’s daughter for tweeting a photograph of her young child and herself at the moment that Trump’s immigration policies are requiring border agents to separate parents from their infants and young children. Bee lashed out at Ivanka for not using her influence with her father to end the heinous policy. Signing off the segment, Bee delivered the C:  “Do something about your dad’s immigration practices, you feckless c - - t!”

Two women, both perceived to be crossing a clear line in a vitriolic damnation of a political enemy. One, however, it must be noted, is intelligent enough to know how to use the word “feckless.”

Thus, timing and circumstance launched yet another shit for shat in the Grand Twenty-First Century Culture Civil War in the United States of America. There’s the conservative media lead: if the Hollywood entertainment complex fires Roseanne Barr for her egregious words, but does not similarly fire Samantha Bee for hers, is this not proof that the media powers-that-be have a profound liberal bias? At more significant levels, the juxtaposition of the two female comedians once again ignites the two most raw issues roiling our society in the age of Trump: (1) the steady resurgence of bigotry and racial hatred, and (2), the explosive power of the pervasive misogyny and sexually predatory behavior by men in positions of power. And, at the very heart of the matter is the debate that you better be ready to field at the cocktail party at the club: can the comments of these two comedians even be equivalized at all? Is Samantha Bee’s comment on the same scale and degree as Roseanne Barr’s? Where do you stand?

To Bee, or not to Bee. That is the question.

Did Samantha Bee cross a line? In my own tacitly Roman Catholic and heavily Kennedy Democrat (Robert, thanks for asking) upbringing, there were any number of words that one never said, but nobody was going to clobber me with a two-by-four or glue my mouth shut if I said “goddammit” or even “shit.” People would get mighty pissed off if they heard someone talking about a female dog, and back then, the word “f—k” was not the benign adjective that is spread around so casually now that I occasionally hear it deftly slipped between syllables in a particularly lengthy word. F-bombs are now so pervasive that it’s just plain ri-fucking-diculous

But there were two words in particular that one never said. Never. One begins with a “n,” and the other with a “c.” Both words have a crude, vulgar, and hateful history of degradation, subjugation, and cruelty. These words are so powerful that simply to say either one out loud would seem to be transformed into one of the bigoted and hateful oppressors who made these words so poisonous in the first place.

One of these words has actually gone through a startling and somewhat unsettling morphing in the past few decades. Use of the “n” word has evolved since my youth into a form of empowerment among portions of the African American community. African-Americans began using the "n"-word as a way of simultaneously reminding the society of its lingering and often well-masked bigotry, while simultaneously attempting to pre-empt ownership of the word for the very purpose of draining it of its toxic venom through casual use. But the rules were clear: this was something that only African-Americans could do. 

To my knowledge, there’s been no broad-based attempt to embrace the “c” word for such purpose. It appears to have remained a universally repugnant epithet, although I did hear one leftist political commentator advance this rationale as one of an array of arguments proffered in the past 48 hours in defense of Sam Bee’s use of this word. Indeed, many voices have advanced an unqualified defense of Bee.

I am not so sure.

Let’s start with the issue of the comparison of the two cases: Roseanne Barr accusing an African-American of being a mutant creature than is less than a human being is exponentially worse on the  Richter Scale of fire-able offenses than anything Sam Bee said. It is one of the worst examples of racism I can remember since… well, now that I think about it, it actually wasn’t all that long ago that Donald Trump called African countries “shitholes.” The fact that Roseanne Barr tried to disown responsibility by blaming a sleep medication is a further comment on the character of the two women. Sam Bee took immediate and full responsibility for her action in a sweeping and unqualified apology.

More than anything, one has to be puzzled by the logic of Samantha Bee’s assault. For an intelligent left-wing feminist to call another woman by a term that is historically degrading to all women would seem to indicate that her only intent was pure shock value. Perhaps she took a gamble that only by crossing this line could she draw enough attention to the horrific immigration policy she intended to shine a light on. By some measure, she has succeeded… probably more people are aware of this terrible Trump White House policy than were as of Wednesday night at 7:00 pm EST. 

But anyone who makes that argument would have to concede that the coverage of the immigration story has been incidental relative to the swirling controversy about Bee herself. And most would also acknowledge that using the “c” word to describe the President’s daughter handed Trump, Sarah Sanders, and Fox News a gift that will keep on giving in the form of endlessly looped video clips.

Should Samantha Bee be fired? Or allowed to continue with her broadcast now that she has performed penance in the form of a sincere apology?

Once again, we must challenge the premise. Effective managers know that there are a range of options between the extremes of termination and inaction. TBS could have reprimanded Bee by taking her show off the air for a month. Perhaps better: what if they asked Bee to devote one of her shows to the topic of how words can be used as AR 15s, torpedoes, improvised roadside devices, and scalpels? That might have been a more constructive outcome than watching liberals and conservatives nurse their wounds and retreat to their corners, ever more angry and polarized. 

But to have anyone call a woman – no matter how loathsome that woman is – the “c” word, and to have no formal redress beyond an apology appears to me to be a concession that this vile word is now fair game for anyone. 

Who wants that world for our children? 

In the end, if we justify calling Donald Trump’s daughter the “c” word because Trump himself has debased our national dialog to the  point where we feel we can only be heard if we are as crude, cruel, and evil as Trump is, then he has actually finally won. Then we have become what he is, and then he really does deserve to be President of the United States. 

In her rousing speech endorsing Hillary Clinton at the 2016 Democratic Convention, Michelle Obama famously said, “When they go low, we go high.” 

Sam, I am a huge fan of yours. I appreciate that you had the  guts to make a total and unconditional apology. Get back to work and to doing a great job. 

To Bee, or not to Bee? That’s easy. Sam, we need you to keep being Bee.  Keep slinging your arrows against a sea of troubles. Let Roseanne, Trump, and those who emulate them continue to lower the Barr.

But for the sake of our country, we must be the ones who forever seek Michelle Obama's high road.


4 comments:

  1. Not a great argument, saying because one comment is less wrong than another, the lesser crime should get a pass. (For cryin' out loud, you called it the "c-word"! Also, you left out Barr's apology--and justification, possible drug abuse [pun intended]. Bee apologized with no justification--it was done on purpose.) Both candles should be blown out. And for Ambien to dismiss its problematic side effects with a straw man makes the quotation's source suspect as well.

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  2. Thanks for writing, but I must admit your comment puzzles me. Far from advocating that Sam Bee should get a pass, we took the position that Bee should NOT have gotten a free pass, and we even suggested several specific actions that TBS could have taken. However, we do believe that not all transgressions are equal and we certainly do not believe that the same punishment should be meted out for different offenses. That is why our society has a different penalty for murder than for going 40 MPH in a school zone. Our position was that Barr's transgression was far more heinous that Bee's, and that the punishment should be proportional. Barr should have been fired, and Bee should have had some form of punishment, but definitely short of firing. You are correct: Bee made no attempt to "justify" her statement. I personally view that as more admirable that Barr's effort to "justify" hers. Thanks for reading and commenting.

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  3. I am surprised that you view the c-word and the n-word as apparently equally reprehensible and unacceptable words. In my experience the former is merely a more vulgar term with the same connotations as B**ch and can be applied to an individual without implying something inherently negative about the entire gender, whereas the latter is a term that only arises from a worldview that assumes all African-Americans are the same and somehow subhuman.

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  4. Thanks for commenting. For the record, our essay never made any statement that these two heinous words were "equal," and making a value judgment between the two was never the point. We put them together in a class of words that had such history of degradation, subjugation, and cruelty that they should never be spoken. However, I must challenge your logic on one point: if a portion of the female anatomy -- which, by definition, all women possess -- is being used in slang to convey negativity and degrade a single individual, then I would submit that both the individual and the entire gender are being violated. In that usage, it is indeed being used to say something inherently negative about the entire gender. Thanks for reading and commenting.

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