Vulgar is Hip
The world has been regaled this past week with stunning examples of the depths to which public discourse has descended. Is this the expression of deeply held political convictions? Or might there be a different sort of agenda at work?
Samantha Bee said on her May 30 show that Ivanka Trump is a c***t. She utilized the recently popularized marketing tool of publishing grossly offensive insults directed at politically unpopular public figures, thereby garnering huge hits on YouTube without having to create or use any intellectual skills—or make any effort whatsoever. The new normal: monetizing vulgarity.
Then there is Keith Olbermann, with his hugely popular tweets describing the president of the United States as a “f******g f*****g, f*****g Nazi, Nazi.” Repercussions? There were none.
Roseanne tried this new marketing tool to promote her new show, but she made a big error; her offensive language was racist. Worse, her target was a member of the Obama White House; worse yet, it was Obama’s muse, Valerie Jarrett, who is strictly off limits in progressive circles.
Roseanne’s quick apology was ineffective: the toothpaste was already out of the tube. Disney CEO Robert Iger, the same CEO who condones Olbermann’s Nazi epithet, responded immediately with unambiguous moral certitude. Roseanne was fired, her show canceled. Iger tweeted, “there was only one thing to do here, and that was the right thing.” No doubt Roseanne will need years to rehabilitate herself.
At the 2018 White House Correspondents Dinner, comedian Michelle Wolf’s assault on Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders—sitting on the same dais, no less—demonstrated that vulgar assaults need not be long distance.
Even the prohibition on racist humor can be waived for an appropriate target, including Huckabee Sanders: Wolf joked about her being an “Uncle Tom for white women.” Similarly, there was no public outcry when comedian Travis Coles described Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Ben Carson and the actress, aspiring politician, and commentator Stacey Dash—both black—as racist robots created by white supremacist neo-cons. The implication? African-Americans with a non-progressive, conservative ideology must be robots. What else could explain their “deviant” belief system?
That the applied standards fluctuate is self-evident and has been the subject of recent comment. Depending on whose ox is being gored, the bar is lowered or raised. Referred to colloquially as a “double standard,” it is actually a bell curve, where the characteristics of the speaker (political ideology, race, religion, sexual orientation, and so on) and the utterances (scatological, demeaning, racial) form part of an algorithm.
Based on the result, the speaker will be scored and the result placed on the bell graph. Those falling on the correct side may have to endure a mild rebuke and issue a pro forma apology. Those on the other end will suffer career-terminating personnel decisions and professional ostracization. Even the most humiliating of self-degrading apologies will fall on deaf ears—or worse, be ridiculed.
The diminishing standards deemed acceptable in comedy are astonishing. Lenny Bruce, the 1950s-60s comedian famous for his use of off-color language, would blush at the gross, scatological language used routinely by comedians, male and female alike.
Comedy reflects a society’s culture, and maturity. The regression in this country to material on the level of infantile pee-pee/caca jokes speaks volumes to the devolution from sophisticated and abstract thought. This is a frightening development. Gone is witty repartee, replaced now by exchanges of scatological insults. Might this regression reflect a downward spiral in the quality of education? A poorly educated population, one incapable of critical thought, is easier to manipulate and control by a progressive elite.
Colleges and universities have witnessed a drastic change. They once provided forums for truly diverse and avant-garde comedians, authors, poets, and philosophers, and for the exchange of contrasting views and ideas in vigorous debate.
Most of the academic community considers appropriate using terms such as c***t and f*****g Nazi for unpopular grown-ups—1st Amendment Protected Speech, they would claim. But these same young adults (and most of their professors) are so thin-skinned and sensitive that even being in the vicinity of an idea that does not conform to their world view sends them scurrying to a “safe space” to recover and soothe their damaged psyches.
Of course, they may first have rioted in order to prevent the likes of conservatives like Ann Coulter or Ben Shapiro from exercising their right to speak, and have prevented fellow students from exercising their rights to learn and hear from speakers with contrasting philosophies.
The replacement of humor by invective, and of debate by more invective, when added to the capricious application of arbitrary standards, provides little optimism for the future of the public comity.
Marc Ruskin, a 27-year veteran of the FBI, is a regular contributor and the author of “The Pretender: My Life Undercover for the FBI.” He served on the legislative staff of U.S. Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan and as an assistant district attorney in Brooklyn, N.Y.