Sunday, April 09, 2017

"Ebony and Ivory" over the closing credits

Two in a row

"So was Mr. Rickles a bigot or a mensch? The truth, probably, is that he was both."
...It seems as if the liberal program of attempting to shame and berate people into being more open-minded and tolerant may have backfired. Listening to interviews with Donald Trump’s supporters during his once-implausible rise, I was struck by how many of them mentioned that they admire that “he’s not politically correct.” This was often a not-unbreakable code for saying he was a refreshingly unapologetic bigot. But it’s still worth noticing that apparently telling people they’re not allowed to say certain things or feel certain ways, that their opinions aren’t just incorrect but morally wrong, does not, after all, make them better people; it makes them hate your guts.

“You’re black, I’m white,” Mr. Rickles said to an audience member. “It’s the breaks.” This line is a direct ancestor of a Louis C. K. bit: “I’m not saying white people are better — I’m saying that being white is clearly better.” The comic duo Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele, who have rhetorical dispensation to be funny about such things by virtue of being biracial, like to palpate the touchiest spots in the American racial psyche — playing two upscale yuppies trying out out-black each other at a soul food restaurant by ordering items like cellar doors and human feet, or slaves on the auction block getting increasingly touchy and peeved as they keep not selling. Laughter is a saner, more restorative response to the world’s injustice than self-righteous scolding.

Mr. Rickles’s show that night was weirdly schizoid, alternating between snapping epithets and waxing sentimental about how he loves to make people laugh, his deep love for his mother and Frank Sinatra. The official line was that Mr. Rickles’s pit-bull hostility was a stage persona; his real-life personality was legendarily warm and generous. Of course his insults would never have been funny if he’d actually meant them — his persona is a parody. (Contrast that with alt-right iconoclasts like Milo Yiannopoulos, who confuse authentic bigotry and cruelty with humor.) But all that anger, even if it’s an act, must come from somewhere.

So was Mr. Rickles a bigot or a mensch? The truth, probably, is that he was both. We all are, albeit most of us not in such cartoonishly binary form. Maybe trying to stifle and disown the former makes the latter more brittle and false, more of an act. And maybe it’s venting the former persona onstage, as it were, set off from real life by the quotation marks of humor, that allows us to be more genuinely decent.
It was inevitable that someone would come to play the role Key and Peele are playing.
Can a film be too inflammatory for its own good, or are there times, and places, when only fire will suffice? In an interview with the Times, Peele, whose mother is white, admitted that the movie was originally intended “to combat the lie that America had become post-racial,” and the result is like an all-out attack on a rainbow. Short of making us listen to “Ebony and Ivory” over the closing credits, “Get Out” could hardly be more provocative. There’s a scene with a head-stamping, a scene with an exposed brain, and a truly creepy scene with a bowl of Froot Loops. And yet, despite all that, what makes this horror film horrific is the response that it gives to the well-meaning and problem-solving question “Can’t we just learn to live together?” To which the movie answers, loud and clear, “No.”
"Short of making us listen to 'Ebony and Ivory' over the closing credits"
Black comedy for white people isn't new. Black comedy for white people, directed at white people, is.


Leiter contra Rickles
Not "freedom of speech," but "freedom of [specific kinds of] expression" 
Philosopher Robert Simpson (Monash) comments.
(Thanks to Jerry Dworkin for the pointer.)
I've mocked Leiter for his defense of hate speech laws, and I've mocked others for obliviousness to racism -Christakis et al. never have defended speech they themselves found offensive- but I never caught the obvious point that Leiter is the one academic pundit I know of who both opposes freedom of speech and mocks the fragility that follows from his preference.

Another older link from Leiter.
A year ago I received an invitation from the head of Counseling Services at a major university to join faculty and administrators for discussions about how to deal with the decline in resilience among students. At the first meeting, we learned that emergency calls to Counseling had more than doubled over the past five years. Students are increasingly seeking help for, and apparently having emotional crises over, problems of everyday life. Recent examples mentioned included a student who felt traumatized because her roommate had called her a “bitch” and two students who had sought counseling because they had seen a mouse in their off-campus apartment. The latter two also called the police, who kindly arrived and set a mousetrap for them.
The last paragraph on Rickles again
So was Mr. Rickles a bigot or a mensch? The truth, probably, is that he was both. We all are, albeit most of us not in such cartoonishly binary form. Maybe trying to stifle and disown the former makes the latter more brittle and false, more of an act. And maybe it’s venting the former persona onstage, as it were, set off from real life by the quotation marks of humor, that allows us to be more genuinely decent.
My old description and defense of "expressive" speech as honesty, not just as the best policy for speakers but also strengthening the resilience of an audience, requirements for the burdens of self-government. It's important not to be protected from knowledge of the world.

We live in bubbles that only others can burst. Arguments otherwise by comparison, are brittle and false.

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