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The Letterman Problem

June 18th, 2009 by Myrhaf · 11 Comments · Culture

David Letterman has come under intense attack from the right over bad jokes he made about Governor Sarah Palin and her daughters. He mentioned Sarah Palin’s “slutty flight attendant look,” which made me laugh because it’s true. Then he made a joke about Alex Rodriguez knocking up Palin’s daughter. To me this is more a comment on Rodriguez’s philandering than on Palin’s daughter.

Letterman has apologized, more or less. He gave the old “misunderstanding” apology. I’m sorry you’re not smart enough to understand what I meant.

I don’t mind if people condemn the jokes as in poor taste, but I don’t support an organized effort to fire David Letterman. The campaign bothers me, and I’ll tell you why. (I have not seen anyone else write about the following. This is the kind of original thinking that keeps you reading the New Clarion.)

As I see it, the right is using the left’s PC thought police tactics against the left. The right is doing to feminists what feminists usually do to the right. In doing so, the right implicitly accepts the premises of feminism and political correctness. They might win this battle, but in the long run they lose the war by accepting the premises of the New Left’s egalitarian isms.

How do conservatives tolerate Rush Limbaugh’s attacks on “feminazis” after this? He makes unfair jokes about women. He says feminism is about empowering ugly women. Isn’t this as bad as calling someone a slutty flight attendant? Satire by its nature exaggerates to make a comic point.

In the long run, this makes it harder for the right to oppose “hate crimes” and other violations of free speech. If the left proposed a “Letterman Law” making it illegal to demean women, how does the right fight this law? How many on the right are disarmed because of their activity against Letterman?

I understand that there is a distinction between citizens voluntarily banding together to boycott or effect some change and the government passing a law against speech. In our statist culture, however, that distinction is easily lost among a lot of people. To the statist mentality, if something is bad, then there oughtta be a law against it. Leftists use PC precisely because they want the state to violate our freedom of speech. You see speech codes in universities, which serve as the vanguard of the left. You see laws against speech in Canada and Europe. If the right is going to use leftist tactics to shut people up, they need to be careful to remind people they support free speech and that the government should stay out. Or maybe, in the spirit of free speech, they should go the extra mile not to shut people up.

All I’m hearing instead is how bad Letterman is.

Another practical consideration: if you attack a broadcaster for saying bad things, as Rush Limbaugh’s opponents should know by now, all you end up doing is giving him publicity. The best way to deal with a comedian whose joke you dislike is not to watch him and make sure none of your money goes to his products.

I’m not defending Letterman, at least not much. His comments do bother me in one respect: he would never in a thousand years liken Michelle Obama to a slutty flight attendant, nor would he make a joke about her daughters getting pregnant. If a writer submitted such a joke, an alarm bell would go off in Letterman’s head. You can’t say that about Michelle Obama! But his conscience doesn’t work that way about Republicans because he lives in the liberal northwest and works in even more liberal show business, where joking about the right is considered perfectly moral — in fact, it is a sign of superior character and judgment. It’s a quick way of showing that you’re cool.

11 Comments so far ↓

  • Daniel Woelfel

    Don’t forget Palin’s purely emotional response. She certainly wasn’t going to let what the jokes were actually about get in the way of her righteous indignation. Is she really daft enough to not realize that Letterman was poking fun at her pregnant-out-of-wedlock daughter? I doubt it, but it’s much easier to surreptitiously accuse Letterman of pedophilia and overtly accuse him of making jokes about raping 14-year-olds if you ignore the facts.

    I thought Letterman’s original apology was much more apt than the second. At least in the first, he didn’t let Palin get away with her ridiculous accusations.

  • rob sama

    No, NOBODY has said anything along those lines before…

  • Kyle Haight

    I’d said something similar to my wife, in private, but that doesn’t really count. The observation that the right is deploying classical left-wing thought-police tactics against a left-wing target is spot-on.

    The campaign illustrates another problem with conservatives — their increasingly emotionalist and concrete-bound mentality. The Obama administration is busy rolling out massive attacks on freedom on multiple fronts, and these people are carping about tacky late-night television programming. Attacks on freedom are abstract, theoretical; they don’t have the same psychological reality to these people that an attack on a specific, concrete person does. This phenomenon — greater intensity of response on issues centered on specific people rather than abstract ideas — can also be seen in the right’s response to the Elian Gonzalez and Terri Schiavo cases.

  • Joseph Kellard

    The religionists have been playing this game for some time now. Any “criticism” of religion — whether it’s rational criticism (such as that offered by Objectivists) or irrational actions (such as putting a Crucifix in a jar of urine and calling it art) — is called “anti-Christian” or “anti-Catholic,” or whatever the sect may be. Don’t offer a rational criticism of altruism or Original Sin, and don’t link the teachings of Catholic Church with the sexual depravity of certain priests, or else your bound to be lumped in with those “Piss Christ” nihilists.

  • Rory David Hodgson

    One further thing that makes me uneasy about this whole thing:
    Here in the UK, an entertainer by the name of Johnathon Ross was recently suspended from work for bad behaviour on a radio show.
    Now, I should point out that it was a much more finely cut moral issue: he and another presenter left messages on the answerphone of a man they were going to interview -Andrew Sachs- culminating with: “He [the other presenter – Russel Brand] fucked your [Sach’s] daughter”.
    I should also point out that:
    a) It was actually pretty funny, in context, and not as abusive as it sounds in print
    b) Barely anyone heard of this event, and Sachs didn’t say anything about it, until the complaints started coming in — that is, most people heard about it *because* they heard it was offensive, and decided “Ooo! I want to be offended too!” and listened to the recording.

    Anyway, it culminated in Ross’ suspension and Brand being fired.
    The thing is: I think it had very little to do with the nature of the event.
    As with this Letterman thing, I think it has more to do with a deep-seated jealousy of these rich entertainers.
    Throughout the whole event as it was paraded through the media, the thing constantly mentioned was Ross and Brand’s ‘exorbitant’ pay. The matter of the actual event was practically irrelevant, compared to the rabble over how grossly overpaid they were.

    I wouldn’t be surprised if we get more events like this, not just fueled by a PC mentality, but by a desire to see all these “overpaid” actors finally cut down to size. Of course, the end will be the same as the PC mentality: increase State intervention in the media.

  • Harrison

    Being upset about someone making jokes about a girl getting raped is not political correctness. And the “right” is not doing anything… Letterman is the one who told the joke and HE has done it to himself. The only difference is that there is a reaction this time.

  • TW

    Since when is it wrong for a person to decide to withhold his money (and to encourage others to do the same) from an enterprise he finds distasteful, for whatever reason? No compulsion, no force, is being exerted here, other than the force of the market. Everyone is free to say what he wishes, and everyone is free to spend his money where he wishes. If the speech is found to be repugnant, it won’t be in demand. It will be in the opposite of demand. Otherwise, people will scoff at the boycott and enjoy the speech.

    An organized campaign against any speech is itself free speech provided it isn’t backed and privileged by state power, and it stands or falls in the market just like any other speech.

    I have long found Letterman to be insufferable in so many, varied ways. But I can’t be bothered to boycott his sponsors. So the minuscule effect I have on the market, in this case, dictates that Letterman’s, and not Palin’s, partisans take the day.

  • Myrhaf

    Do we want to shut comedians up when they make jokes about a politician? I realize there is a difference between a citizen boycott and state repression of speech. When it come to politicians, I’d rather leave it to the market than have an organized partisan campaign.

  • madmax

    But isn’t this yet another example of the hyper-sensitivity of today’s culture? I oppose sexism and racism but I don’t like the fact that comedians and social commentators can have their whole career jeopardized by one off-color remark (or even a few of them). Whether its Don Imus, David Letterman, or Rush Limbaugh, it seems that there are those “professionally offended” people and organizations that are ready to pounce and sue and destroy someone’s career. Most of these are leftists but some are religious conservatives. I think Myrhaf is therefore right to be critical of this PC phenomenon.

    Letterman’s comments didn’t really phase me. Sara Palin looks like a MILF and ARod is a slut. Letterman is right about that. He shouldn’t have made comments about Palin’s daughter but he’s a comic. He is going to take chances and say offensive things. How funny would he be if he didn’t?

    Now it is true that he would never dream of saying anything disparaging about Michele Obama (who, to me, looks like a man). If Mrs. Obama were a white woman with the same physical attributes she would be constantly mocked and insulted by the media. But today, the only people who can be offended are whites and mostly white males. Non-whites are strictly off-limits. (Well unless they are a Republican. But even there, liberals have to be careful of how far they go.) This is a multiculturalist form of thought control and a watered down version of fascism (or fascism in the making). The Republicans should not be taking part in this even if Sara Palin was the victim of crude, offensive humor. Its wasted effort for Republicans to even voice concern over this. They should be opposing Obama’ s march to tyranny with all their strength.

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