Sunday, April 21, 2013

This Ain't Your Daddy's Joke.

A Timeless Beauty
I have watched "Breakfast At Tiffany's" a total of three times in my life. The first time was when I was a kid, it was one of those movies that I happened to see when someone else was watching it. I paid it no mind, I dismissed it because it lacked Transformers.

The second time I watched it was in film school. Visually, it's a beautiful film. Blake Edwards captures some really stunning moments, Audrey Hepburn... Well... Come on... Look at her! This woman spews elegance, not just in her looks, but she had talent galore. And it was a movie about a writer, I'm a sucker for movies about writers. The story deals with the complexity of a woman and the man who falls for her. At the time, it was a bold film, in a society where women were just pretty things to look at, everyone misjudged Holly Golightly (great name) as that, but she was so much more.

The only thing is, this second time around, there was no way to not notice Mickey Rooney's blatantly racist portrayal of a Japanese photographer, Mr. Yunioshi. With films done so long ago, you pretty much had to excuse it for its backwards portrayal of ethnic characters. At least, that's what I used to think.
You should've protested harder
I recently watched this movie again, and I honestly cringed watching Rooney's scenes. Mind you, everyone has since apologized for this stereotypical portrayal of a Japanese man, and Rooney has said that if he knew everyone was going to react like this years later, he wouldn't have done it.

...Wait, what? So you're saying because no one you knew was offended back then, you were okay with it, but now that you find out people can't stomach it, you're like, "Well I wish I could go back and change it."

I seriously think Mickey meant no harm, but harm is the only thing you can derive from this. Sure, people laughed at it. Hell, a lot of people laugh at it today. The stereotype is so old that folks have become blasé about it and have dismissed it as an easy joke. The thing is, the joke has changed. Not necessarily the premise, but the punchline sure has. It's either self-deprecating, or part of a larger joke, or so over-the-top that you can't take it seriously.

But what happens when the person telling the joke is serious, what's it like when you try to pull A "Breakfast At Tiffany's" and you turn to the audience and say, "What? This is how they act!"?

In a movie where race poking wasn't the focus, "Breakfast At Tiffany's" couldn't be done today, at least not the exact same way. Because all you would see is the really fucked up racism, and you'd miss the story that they were trying to tell.

The old joke doesn't stand today, because the audience is not the same.

Imagine you're watching Saturday Night Live today (mind you it may not be Saturday when you read this, so bear with me), and Seth Meyers is sitting across Kenan Thompson in a skit about a job interview. And out of Seth's mouth you hear, "Negro, Tarbaby, Colored, Spearchucker, Jungle bunny, Spade" and finally, "Nigger".
This happened, but in a different time.
This skit happened, but at the time, it was bold. It was taking social inequities and putting it out on the table to make you see that shit ain't right. And it worked.

Now let's go back to Seth and Kenan's interpretation of this skit. Will the joke play out today?

Can Seth Meyers get away with saying "nigger" to Kenan?

Not in the same context, and therefore there's no way it can happen in the same skit. They were able to do it once, but society, for as much as we are ridiculously slow to make real change, has done so, ever-so-slightly. And that slight change has brought about growth. Not saying that racial humor doesn't exist, but we've seen a White man call a Black man a nigger in jest. We're ready to move on.

Comedy is a fickle beast. What makes one person laugh will offend someone else, no matter how unambiguous it is.

In "The Avengers" Thor tells the other Avengers to take care how they speak about his brother. When told that he's killed eighty people, Thor pauses for a moment and retorts, "He's adopted?"
Of course adopted children are all bad, that's what I meant.
Sure enough, umbrage was taken. And a small group of people assumed that the filmmakers were implying that adopted children are evil. Clear evidence that you can't please everyone.

When it comes to comedy I take the stance that it's either all fair game, or none of it is. We should have the right to make a joke about anything no matter how sensitive. Laughter is a great way to deal with the savagery of the human race. It's funny to me to think that a horsefly is the result of a sexual faux pas between a fly and a horse. But do I want to see a horse try to fuck a fly? I'm going to say no, just incase there's someone out there that believes I would.

This past week, a lot of bad shit happened. Two assholes bombed the Boston Marathon in a cowardly act of terrorism. One was caught, one what killed. When they were on the run, many people flocked to Twitter to keep up with the news, but also, and more importantly, be at each other's side. And there were jokes. Jokes about the lack of real news from CNN, jokes about how you should never fuck with Boston, jokes about the moronic dickhead who hid in a boat.

A lot of people thought that they were making light of a horrific situation. A lot of those people were safe in their houses, far away from everything, and probably the jackasses who started posting about how they bet the liberals in Boston wish they had guns, now.

Take one of these and in a really small dose.
Truth is, laughter is a great medicine. In really tough times, it reminds us we're alive. It helps us through the grief, it reminds us that there's still hope that we will feel better, again.

Problem is, EVERYONE thinks that they're the funniest fuck from Fuckington University, and they got their degree online, on their own time.

Take that, and half remembered jokes they heard their parents tell, plus whatever show they happened to gleam as they were channel surfing, and you have the recipe for some really bad jokes, some really bad timing, and the lack of judgment to tell the difference when and when not to open their maw.

Winston Churchill once said,
"A joke is a very serious thing."
Truer words...

Laughter is a weapon, a tool, a cure, an ice breaker, and a motivator. In the right hands, used for good, and oh what good it can do. In the wrong hands, it can be mean and vile. Full of hate and hurt.

And in the bumbling hands of someone who means no harm but takes no account into how it affects people, and doesn't seem to care? Well, you get this.

I'm a nice guy, bitches!


Anonymous said...

This was a great post. While social media is a great medium for outreach, it's given people permission to spew whatever crap comes out of their brain-holes. And there is a reason why most comedians are paid.

Americo said...

Thanks man. I think we should look into licenses for comedy.