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Sunday, June 14, 2009

It's the hypocrisy

I'm happy to live in a society where speech is free enough that a comedian like David Letterman can openly mock Sarah Palin as a "slutty flight attendant." He also compared Palin to an "Olive Garden hostess" and "the woman who owns a chain of cupcake stores." I thought the riff was funny, because she does sort of resemble those stereotypes. But what would happen if a comedian mocked Michelle Obama as resembling "the angry woman behind the counter at the DMV," or the "finalist in the Olympic 100 meter dash who makes you wonder if she's juicing" or "one of the women you used to see in hot pants on 8th Avenue who might or might not have been a transvestite?" I would find that riff funny, too, because she does sort of resemble those stereotypes. But we all know what would happen. Any comedian who dared mock her would be given the Don Imus treatment -- he would lose his job and be forced to do public penance.

I'm not as happy to live in a society where free speech runs in only one direction.

Likewise, Sonia Sotomayor has every right to express her opinion about wise Latina women with the richness of their experience coming to "better conclusions" than white men. I actually found it thought-provoking: it actually made me wonder about the experiences that a Latina might have had that a white man would not have. What irked me about it was the knowledge that if a white man had said the equivalent, he would not only have automatically been disqualified from consideration for public office, he would have lost whatever office he already had.

Although most of the talk has centered on Sotomayor's "racism," I suspect that it's this double standard that bothers people the most.

I'm happy to live in a society relaxed enough to make and distribute movies which mock Christianity (Dogma, The Last Temptation of Christ, The Da Vinci Code, Bruce Almighty, etc.) can be shown freely. I'm not happy that other religions can't be mocked as freely.

This is not a new state of affairs. Twenty years ago a controversy erupted over Andre Serrano's "Piss Christ," a statuette of Christ on the crucifix immersed in a container of the artist's own urine. The controversy centered on whether this "art" was too offensive to Christians to be put on exhibit. Arnold Lehman of the Brooklyn Museum felt that it wasn't, and displayed it. It's actually a sign of a healthy society when a sacrilegious work can be freely exhibited (leaving aside the issue of whether it constituted "art.")

But it's not so healthy that a "Shit Menorah" or a "Puke Muhammad" would never, ever see the light of day.

Think of the most despicable people you know from your own life. They are probably the people who smugly and self-righteously tell you to behave in one way while they behave in another. When you have an entire society which has two sets of standards, one for one group and one for another, this is simply the same hypocrisy writ large. But the media simply continue to enforce the double standard, to the ever growing resentment of those who recognize it.

Freedom of speech is wonderful. As long as it's for everyone, about everything.

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