I don’t even like Kathy Griffin much. It’s not personal—I just don’t like her comedy. I care very little whether or not she loses some once-a-year-gig on CNN entertaining the inebriates on New Year’s Eve. I didn’t even know she did that. I remember her from Seinfeld. I didn’t much like her character there either.
But can we all step back a bit ? Yes she did something tasteless and crude—held up the bloody decapitated head of the president (actually it was a mask) in very much the same way that Macduff holds up the decapitated head of Macbeth at the end of that lighthearted play we all read in high school. It’s a shocking scene—shocking by design—though very few in the Elizabethan audience did much other than buy a lifetime pass for all of Shakespeare’s plays afterwards. They liked being shocked—they knew it was fake—they understood the motive.
And yes, admittedly and justifiably, Shakespeare had his detractors. Straitlaced Londoners wanted to shut down his productions. And no, I’m not equating Kathy Griffin with William Shakespeare, though they probably both had bad days, Griffin’s being more recent.
Now if we want to talk about tasteless and crude, we elected a president who defines those qualities, who embodies them, who lives them in every public moment. (God only knows what the private moments are like.) Today he said “screw you, world and the generations to follow” by withdrawing from the Paris climate agreement. For him to be repulsed by a comedian’s misstep and for us to rally behind his call for decency is ludicrous, and for his adherents to scream for Kathy Griffin’s banishment is beyond hypocritical, verging on absurd. This man who blithely advocated sexual assaults on women, who sought every possible legal means to keep black Americans out of his properties, who at rallies gave his followers license to beat up protesters…this man has no business deciding what defines crudeness and vulgarity. And decency? Oh, please. I’m offended by almost everything Donald Trump does and says—what are my chances of getting an apology like the one Griffin was forced to offer?
As individuals we have the power turn off Kathy Griffin with our remotes and the touch of a finger. Theater and club owners can cancel her appearances. She can be ostracized by businesses who refuse her endorsements. In short she can become one of America’s “disappeareds.” But Donald Trump lingers on, and in the long run he will do more damage to more Americans in more ways that we can not yet imagine than any entertainer. He will offend our sensibilities and diminish our quality of life and leave the world in a sorrier state than he found it…all this without bloodying a mask.
And yet we pile on. The VFW condemned Griffin, perhaps forgetting that in 2006 she participated in a USO tour to Iraq and Kuwait. But they claim—and rightly—that the gruesomeness of beheadings is associated with ISIS. Of course Griffin is not a terrorist. The Secret Service responded to the photo by saying that threats against its protectees receive the highest priority. Well, that’s reassuring I guess, but Griffin is not an assassin. If she is, nobody has ever devised a stupider plot.
In the final analysis, Kathy Griffin tried some new bit that fell flat; she tried to push some boundaries and offended people. It happens to comedians. In that respect she followed in the footsteps of George Carlin, Richard Pryor, and Roseanne Barr to name a few. And for those who claim that this is “not a free speech matter,” well, it is. That’s the problem with free speech—sometimes it’s going to offend us and we’re going to demand that someone stop painting, or singing, or performing, or yes blogging. I’m pretty sure many of my readers are considering that very thing right at this moment.
As I said, I don’t even like Kathy Griffin that much, and I found her particular attempt at political humor offensive. But my biases have little to do with it.