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Tag: Bigotry

America’s hideous laugh track

No television situation comedy is complete without the laugh track. That eruption of pre-recorded howls of approval that instruct the audience – even if that audience is an audience of one sitting at home in front of the television – how to react to what it has just seen.

Now we’ve seen how a bad joke works when there is no laugh track, after Roseanne Barr tweeted this inexplicable attack on Valarie Jarrett, the former aide to Barack Obama:

Muslim brotherhood & planet of the apes had a baby=vj

So for one news cycle, maybe two, a racist, xenophobic, conspiracy-consumed comedian nudges aside our racist, bigoted, megalomaniac president. A man whose glide path is eased by a different, but equally insidious, laugh track.

We’ve been watching the normalization of Trump for a couple of years now. First during his presidential campaign, and now through the 15 months of his presidency. From the outset, we knew what Trump was: A liar, a con man and a coward with no ethics. Yet in America, a country divided, there is a built-in audience for his Make America Great Again charade. A minority that struts like a majority, because it has a stamp of approval from the White House.

Roseanne Barr is done, her show cancelled. Her apologies are hollow. Last night, her barrage of tweets included retweets of Jarrett pictured side by side with an ape. Now the question being asked is: Given her history of irresponsible public comments, how did ABC even give Barr a public platform? An entertainment soapbox that quickly became the network’s top-rated show, one that even drew the praise of Trump, who said at one of his conservative-packed rallies that Roseanne was “about us.”

As always, Trump was lying. The “us” he was talking about is the blue-collar family portrayed in Roseanne. The “us” he was talking to is the blue-collar crowd that helped, along with the Russians, to get him elected. But Trump is not blue collar. He is a born-rich man with a dangerously overblown sense of entitlement, driven by impulses that can only be described as greed and immaturity.

For a couple of years now, at least, we’ve watched as the media gave Trump the benefit of what should have been obvious doubt. We kept hearing references to perhaps this Trump comment or that Trump photo op was a “pivot” to a more-presidential Trump. I experienced that myself in the outfit that once employed me, as stories and quotes from musicians and artists criticizing Trump were killed. One lower-level editor explained it to me: Those stories and quotes were killed because a higher-up editor “didn’t want to have that conversation.”

It is clear now, there will be no pivot. We are stuck with what we knew we were getting all along. Language and thoughts that had been hidden are now openly expressed. It is the new, shameful norm, endorsed by Trump.

And like it or not, now we’re forced to have that conversation.

Read that Roseanne Barr tweet once again:

Muslim brotherhood & planet of the apes had a baby=vj

Realizing that her career was in jeopardy, Barr apologized for her “bad joke.”

But in the wide world of comedy writing, where is the joke in that tweet?

Barr was expecting to hear the canned laughter. But now, at least by a majority of Americans who can distinguish right from wrong, she will be greeted by silence.

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“Duck Dynasty,” and the Redneck Conspiracy

The camouflage outfit has come off of Phil Robertson.

The camouflage outfit has come off of Phil Robertson.

I’m not an authority on television, but it seems as though every time I spot one in a bar or squatting in the corner of my living room, it’s featuring a commercial whose official spokesman is a beefy dude in a goatee, with the sleeves torn from his flannel shirt, battered baseball cap, driving a monster truck and advising me in his homespun southern drawl about heartburn. It’s Larry the Cable Guy, and seeing as he sells a line of Larry the Cable Guy food products at Big Lots that includes a boxed hamburger dinner, he must know a lot about heartburn.

As I watch this guy spinning donuts in his monster truck and unleashing a rebel yell, I wonder: Do Americans really find this redneck to be appealing? Yep, he’s a regular guy. I guess we can all relate to someone who seems to be selling stupid.

In real life, I’ll bet Larry the Cable guy is a smart fella. And I wouldn’t accuse him of selling stupid if it weren’t for the fact that he’s kind of admitted that the southern accent is fake. And I wouldn’t accuse him of playing off the dumb southern stereotype if his co-conspirator – TV, particularly reality TV – wasn’t so obsessed with parading these folks before us as though they are a rare and unusual species of hominid.

Pause for a list of Southerners who I considered really smart: Arkansas native Johnny Cash, Texas native Buddy Holly, Mississippi natives William Faulkner and Eudora Welty, South Carolina native Dizzy Gillespie, Georgia natives Flannery O’Connor and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Uh, yeah. That is kind of a short list. Don’t read anything into it.

Return to main theme: Look at the TV entertainment that we’re offered. Rednecks building hot rods. Rednecks wrecking hot rods. Rednecks sticking their arms in alligator mouths. Rednecks pulling fallen trees out of swamps. Rednecks hunting squirrels. Rednecks running moonshine. Rednecks drilling for oil. Rednecks living in a trailer park. Honey Boo Boo.

Don’t these folks understand that they’re being used?

You’re smart. I think you know where I’m going with this.

The makers of Duck Dynasty have suspended the patriarch of the Louisiana family, 67-year-old ZZ Top-bearded Phil Robertson. Was it something he said? Well, yeah, in an interview with GQ magazine:

“Start with homosexual behavior and just morph out from there. Bestiality, sleeping around with this woman and that woman and that woman and those men. Don’t be deceived. Neither the adulterers, the idolaters, the male prostitutes, the homosexual offenders, the greedy, the drunkards, the slanderers, the swindlers — they won’t inherit the kingdom of God. Don’t deceive yourself. It’s not right.”

And then more that he’s said has turned up:

“I never, with my eyes, saw the mistreatment of any black person. Not once. Where we lived was all farmers. The blacks worked for the farmers. I hoed cotton with them. I’m with the blacks, because we’re white trash. We’re going across the field…. They’re singing and happy. I never heard one of them, one black person, say, ‘I tell you what: These doggone white people’—not a word!… Pre-entitlement, pre-welfare, you say: Were they happy? They were godly; they were happy; no one was singing the blues.”

Fox News is going to war over this one. Sean Hannity called Robertson’s comments “old fashioned traditional Christian sentiment and values.”

Despite a long list of high-profile conservatives and the show’s many fans rushing to the wrong side of history in their eagerness to protest Robertson’s suspension, this is not an issue of First Amendment free speech. Phil Robertson works for the A&E network, it can dismiss an employee who it feels makes statements that reflect poorly on the company.

As we’ve seen, there are plenty of rednecks available to take Robertson’s place. And plenty of tree stumps  out in the middle of the Louisiana bayous where he can stand and express his faith and beliefs all he wants.

And redemption being just a crisis-management specialist away, Robertson will be back. Perhaps with Duck Dynasty, after the proper sensitivity training. Or on Fox, as a keen social observer.

This is the 21st century. Yet there’s always gonna be a self-proclaimed piece of white trash, or a conservative radio talk-show host, telling us that gay people are sinners and black people were having a grand old time under the south’s Jim Crow laws. The best we can do is gently remind these remnants of the 1800s that their time is gone, and we’re taking away the TV show that made them rich. That show is dishonest to begin with. These rednecks are being marketed as charming, dirt-common folk uttering country-cracker wisdom. It’s a Redneck Conspiracy. Now we see that Phil Robertson is an unrepentant Christian bigot.

But the premise of the Duck Commander business is deception, isn’t it? It manufactures duck calls, whose promise of sex in the shrubbery with some unseen mallard stud is in reality designed to lure innocent waterfowl to their deaths. Phil Robertson fell for his own charade, and he got fucked.

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