Sometimes we need to be offended
Trevor Noah isn’t funny.
Since he took over for Jon Stewart at “The Daily Show,” I have long since stopped watching.
Stewart was hostile to my political philosophy and seemed to almost exclusively make fun of people on my side of the ideological fence, but the guy was funny, and entertaining, and I don’t mind jokes being made at my expense. I try not to take myself too seriously.
When Stewart left and Noah took over, I occasionally gave him a shot, but I never found him particularly funny. So I stopped watching. So did a lot of people.
But his job at “The Daily Show” wasn’t threatened until an old joke he told about Australian Aborigine women resurfaced recently, and the internet’s outrage machine went into overdrive.
To give you the very abridged version, Noah told a joke in 2013 that used the notion that Aborigine women aren’t very attractive as its punchline.
The joke was found by an Australian photographer who expressed her horror at the idea that Noah would make such a joke.
Twitter, as it always does, then ran with it and a cacophony of outrage followed, with calls for boycotts and expressions of pain and hurt at the damage caused by his very offensive joke.
Noah immediately swooped into do damage control, and did what absolutely everyone of note does in this type of situation. He flogged himself publicly, throwing himself at the mercy of the mob, agreeing with them that he was indeed a horrible person, and that he’s learned to never do anything like that again.
“After visiting Australia’s Bunjilaka museum and learning about aboriginal history firsthand I vowed never to make a joke like that again. And I haven’t. I’ll make sure the clip from 2013 is not promoted in any way.”
I will admit, with as vitriolic as the left has been in enforcing political correctness against conservative America, a small part of me smiled as I saw them devour their own in people like Noah.
But it is a fleeting — and very wrong — satisfaction that I quickly get over. This behavior is ridiculous.
And it isn’t just about Noah.
James Gunn was just fired as the director of “Guardians of the Galaxy 3,” after it was revealed that he had, in his past, made some offensive jokes about sensitive and serious topics, like pedophilia and molestation.
Gunn was a provocateur who had an affinity for black comedy, which intentionally makes light of subjects that are considered dark, taboo, painful or serious, as a means of exploring some of these issues, using humor to disarm the audience.
He, of course, took the same path as Noah and metaphorically opened his own wrists to the public, apologizing and offering no defense.
Then we have actor and director Mark Duplass — a liberal through and through — who recently tweeted a follow recommendation on Twitter. “Fellow liberals,” he began, “If you are interested at all in ‘crossing the aisle’ you should consider following [Ben Shapiro]. I don’t agree with him on much but he’s a genuine person who once helped me for no other reason than to be nice. He doesn’t bend the truth. His intentions are good.”
The hate mob sprung into action, finding Duplass’ suggestion to liberals that they “might want to read this guy’s stuff occasionally,” to be a capital offense.
In response, he too made the calculation that appeasing the mob was his ticket to being left alone. He tweeted a long statement assuring the world at large that no, he is not a monster and that he apologizes profusely for his sins.
This is insanity.
The First Amendment, as we know, prevents government restriction of speech. But the spirit of the First Amendment is about a lot more than that, and we as a society have abandoned that spirit.
To me, the First Amendment necessitates a general belief in, and respect for, the free expression of ideas. In other words, we generally shouldn’t be attempting to silence each other, and bully each other into silence. It might be legal to do this, and it might not run afoul of constitutional protections, but it is still a massive mistake.
Speech, especially comedy, needs to dare to risk being offensive, and have the freedom to push our boundaries.
If we abandon that principle, I fear that we are conditioning ourselves to fear being controversial, which means that new ideas, new perspectives and difficult truths will disappear.
A healthy society doesn’t run from provocative speech. It embraces it.
Matthew Gagnon of Yarmouth is the chief executive officer of the Maine Heritage Policy Center, a free market policy think tank based in Portland. A Hampden native, he previously served as a senior strategist for the Republican Governors Association in Washington, D.C.