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Pop Culture, Social Comment, The Writer's Life

These Guys Make it Tough to be a Liberal

Quick note: The paperback version of my collection, The Face Maker and other stories of obsession, will be available this coming week.

I’m pretty liberal when it comes to social issues, but last week I found out just how not-liberal I really am.

My wife loves the NPR show “Snap Judgment,” and when a live production came to Ann Arbor, she bought a couple of tickets. All I knew of the program was that it was an outgrowth of the popular “This American Life” and “The Moth” shows, which are some of the best things on radio. So I was looking forward.

But a half hour into the show the only thing I was looking forward to was going home. Unlike Moth, which offers fascinating stories related by fairly average people, “Snap Judgment” was a procession of professional comedians[1] doing what passes for standup these days—pointless, self-indulgent shtick. I was a fat kid until an accident made me lose weight; I wanted to be an artist and really had to struggle; I had illicit sex and went public with it. Good for you, but what’s the point? The one exception, which shook me from my stupor, was about teaching creative writing to kids held in juvenile hall, mostly because it wasn’t about the speaker, but the kids.

The most telling presentation was by a woman of Indian heritage, recounting her first sexual experience (yawn). She mentioned talking about condoms and tampons with her mother, an old-fashioned woman who responded to each product in the overused Indian accent of pop culture, “Oh no, those are for prostitutes… and white girls.” The crowd, which was at least 80 percent white, went wild with laughter.  Me? I sat there thinking, what if she’d said, “black girls?” I think you know the answer to that one. Is this the kind of guilt-riddled white social conscience it takes to be a liberal? Sorry, but count me out. A racial slur (which is exactly what that was) is a racial slur, no matter who the target is. Seriously, the self-appointed intelligentsia who think this show is so highbrow should stop congratulating themselves over their “open-mindedness” and ask themselves why they’re guffawing at such bottom-scraping material, at something they would no doubt condemn had the target been another group.

There was more, after the show, as cars queued up to exit the parking lot. At the only outlet, the gate arm malfunctioned after the first few cars had left, and blocked the way. The people in the eight or so cars ahead of us sat there, waiting. The people behind us sat there, waiting. No one moved. No one honked. Had it been a tractor pull or a Megadeth concert the people in back would have been all over their horns. The person in the first car would have bulldozed the gate out of the way. After a few minutes of watching this embarrassing display of submissiveness, I asked my wife to take the wheel. I walked up to the gate, yanked it up and held it there (against its will, mind you) until my wife and the cars ahead of her drove through. At that point the gate seemed to get the message and stayed up, at least until we drove out of sight.

I am still trying to understand the mindset. It seems to come down to this: Don’t you dare insult anyone who qualifies as a minority, but please insult my ethnic group because we deserve it. Bash us, ridicule us. We will take it, whether it comes from a person of color, a person of non-color, or even an inanimate object, such is my guilt over the abuses wrought by my ancestors. After all, the only way to build the self-esteem of those poor people is to show them we can handle what they had to endure for centuries.

As I’ve written before, a level playing field does not result from turning it upside down. And I’m sorry, but you can take that kind of liberalism and stuff it you know where, and I’ll bet they’ll take that, too, and probably laugh at it to show their willingness to get along.

If it helps, I’ll bash conservatives next week—but they’re such an easy target it’s not even a challenge.


[1] Although my wife assures me the actual radio show features average folks.

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About Joe Ponepinto

Co-publisher, with Kelly Davio, of Tahoma Literary Review. Author of "Curtain Calls," a featured Kirkus Review. Married to Dona. Dad to Henry, the coffee-drinkin' dog.

Discussion

14 thoughts on “These Guys Make it Tough to be a Liberal

  1. Yeah, not a fan of the angry, racial slur comedy, either. It’s quite disturbing to me that there’s such an audience for that stuff, like Lisa Lampanelli. Is it fashionable to be vulgar and mean? Apparently so. And, granted, some of it MIGHT even be funny…but does that make it right? Should it even be voiced into the air? I’m far from a prude, but I think extended rants of vulgar and racial slurs are just not lending to advancing the Human Race….

    And, kudos to YOU, my good man, for taking control of a stagnant situation and “raising the bar,” so to speak! Oh, the lemmings of the world! Encore! :-]

    Posted by fpdorchak | July 6, 2013, 1:38 PM
  2. There’s an additional facet to this sort of humor which you haven’t mentioned, and that is that deliberately or not (i.e., whether a white person is doing the ribbing or a person of color and other ethnicity is doing it), the barbed humor aimed only at whites ironically re-affirms a sort of superior status (i.e., “we’re able to take this because we’re still on top” sort of thing). But what to do? Have people of different ethnicities each making fun of their own? Everyone equally offended? Monty Python had a song years ago, an edgy one, whose first line was “Never make fun of an Arab,” and it went through a number of different groups before it finished. The problem is that edgy humor is necessarily offensive to someone. I for one found Monty Python’s song one of my least favorite.

    Posted by shadowoperator | July 6, 2013, 1:43 PM
    • I have no problem with insulting someone to get a laugh (anyone’s who’s followed my blog for more than a week should know this). But you’ll notice I never insult anyone because of their ancestry, gender or class. The barbs are always based on the person’s actions or beliefs, which usually reveal some level of greed, close-mindedness, or self-aggrandizement. That Python song is a new one on me, and I thought I knew all their bits. But it shows that even intellectual comedians like those Brits weren’t immune to stereotyping.

      Posted by jpon | July 7, 2013, 3:06 PM
  3. From Pete Brooks via Facebook:
    Pete wrote: “My missus works at a Uni, and I swear to God, first thing in the morning, every single day at the office starts with the faculty rolling in and blurting “You know what I heard on NPR this morning…?” They’re as impressed with their fealty to their single news source–and disinterested in opposing views–as the most couch-bound Fox News consumer. Zealous liberals are as intolerant and intolerable as right-wing loons. And getting all your news from one source creates an excellent breeding ground for extremism. You are correct about Liberals being as guilty of hypocrisy as just about anyone on the other side, we just try to be more clever about it than Conservatives, who don’t seem to give one single shit about it, or perhaps don’t understand what all the fuss is about. It’s almost admirable the way they stick their guns (pun intended). That said, I think White Guilt is bullshit. With hundreds of years of white men being the sole members of The Establishment behind us, we are a fair target for comedians of all colors. I could easily go up on stage and do a tight five minutes on how white men have screwed up the country. But I would definitely not do the same about black men. Double standard? Maybe. But I really would feel like I was “piling on.” And I would definitely have gotten fed up and opened the gate too. Good on you!”

    Posted by jpon | July 6, 2013, 5:39 PM
    • I’m continually amazed by people’s penchant for single-source or single viewpoint opinions. But then, I’ve been amazed at that since my days as a newspaper editor when readers complained when we presented “the other side” of an issue.

      Posted by jpon | July 7, 2013, 3:10 PM
  4. I agree that you cannot level the playing field by turning it on its head. The problem is more fundamental. Humankind has not evolved enough to want equality. We have an incessant need to judge others, to be “better than”, often using chance variables like appearance, social status and IQ to justify that we are more valuable and deserve more. The problem is not noticing group differences exist, it’s deciding a group is “less than” in some fundamental way because of these differences—less smart, less moral, less civil and therefore less deserving of equal treatment. Maybe stereotyping gained traction and morphed into something more destructive for woman and people of color since they cannot easily hide their group affiliation, unlike Megadeth fans and tractor pull attendees.

    Posted by Cynthia | July 7, 2013, 12:57 PM
    • I suppose that my blog is an example of judging others too, although sometimes it’s necessary to judge the judges, lest they become too smug. Stereotyping, unfortunately is a coping mechanism developed back in caveman days, which helped early man survive in a hostile world. Too bad a lot of people haven’t realized that it would be helpful if we evolved past that primitive practice.

      Posted by jpon | July 7, 2013, 3:14 PM
  5. Ugh. That mentality, as Cynthia says above, of the incessant need to judge others, to be better than. A few years ago I spent a week at a military college and figured they would all be Rush-Limbaugh-worshipping conservatives and look down on me. I was only there a day or two before I realized how much I was looking down on them and that they were, for the most part, far more open-minded than I was.

    I used to have a friend (note the “used to”) who became the most rabid, in-your-face liberals, to the point where I felt bullied by her, even though I agreed with most of her talking points. I remember staying with her for a weekend and thinking those 3 days could not be over soon enough. On my last night with her, we went out to dinner with a group and she was talking about the latest Michael Moore movie. I mentioned there were a few things in the movie that I thought were factually inaccurate and she let me have it to the point I cried. Cried!! I was so humiliated I’ve rarely spoken to her since.

    Posted by Teri | July 7, 2013, 1:55 PM
    • Too bad you lost a friend over personal politics, but at least you got to see who she really was. I think the nature of our media beast to shrink every issue down to tiny bites has helped exacerbate our tendency to stereotype. But the time and effort required to research and understand complex issues is also a barrier to cooperation, so many people tend to trust the “opinion leaders,” whether their opinions are valid or not. I wish I had an answer for how to deal with it all, other than to constantly raise questions that force the opinion leaders to explain themselves.

      Posted by jpon | July 7, 2013, 3:25 PM
  6. oh Joe, what a story! I love you pulling the damn thing up and out of the way. The show sounds terrible, and typical. Chris Rock made a comment once about jokes about Native Americans being allowed, because the genocide was so successful. and yes, the mouthing of white guilt is pretty crazy, while the behaviors in the work place, the political arena and elsewhere remain racially inflected. I don’t know what to say other than that I admire you tremendously. You got out of the flipping car…. and DEALT and that says everything to me about who you are. xxo

    Posted by Stephanie Barbé Hammer | July 8, 2013, 3:53 PM
    • Oh, I’m sure it was quite a sight, watching me tramp down to the gate and wrench it up, and then stand there while it tried to go back down.

      Dona informs me that the radio version of Snap Judgment always uses amateurs, so I do wonder why they chose to present the live show using professionals. It just sounded so phony at times.

      Posted by jpon | July 8, 2013, 4:22 PM

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