Shooting at a Moving Target

Why does Samantha Bee still have her job when Roseanne doesn’t?

Isn’t what she said at least as bad?

The Curmudgeon had this very conversation with Mrs. Curmudgeon the other night.  He suggested that while it’s absolutely unacceptable to use either of the words in question, if he knew a good joke – it would have to be a REALLY good joke – that had the “n-word” in it and that really needed to use that word, he might at least consider telling the joke after warning his listeners that he was about to use it and explaining that the word is integral to the joke.  But the “c-word”?  No way:  there are no circumstances under which The Curmudgeon can ever imagine himself uttering that word.

So why does Samantha Bee still have her job and Roseanne doesn’t?

The Curmudgeon feels their pain – both of them.  He and Mrs. Curmudgeon usually spend some time a few evenings a week on YouTube streaming the monologues of late-night television hosts Seth Meyers and Stephen Colbert, with an occasional dose of Samantha Bee and Trevor Noah thrown in.  Mrs. Curmudgeon watches Bill Maher; her husband can’t stand him.  They watch John Oliver together, and with great pleasure, the day after the show is broadcast (being too old to stay up that late on a school night).  All of them walk a very, very fine line in the matter of the words they choose to, mostly, express their disdain for the president of the United States. While his audience is far, far, far smaller and he is (mostly) anonymous, The Curmudgeon continually asks himself whether the language he’s using is appropriate and whether he’s being too disrespectful and whether his disrespect – and the language he uses to express it – threatens to cross that line.

Recently, for example, The Curmudgeon used the word “vagina” in a piece; if you’d like to refresh your memory on its use, you can find it here. The decision to do so wasn’t made easily:  he thought long and hard about it and at least considered asking Mrs. Curmudgeon what she thought about it.  He didn’t and she never mentioned it after she read the piece (assuming she read it), but The Curmudgeon received an annoyed text message from his sister the day after the piece appeared.  A few weeks before that he took a pot shot at the religious right but before doing so he asked himself whether a regular visitor to this site who happens to be a minister might be offended by the observation (even though he’s not a member of the religious right) and considered running a draft by him before realizing he didn’t have his email address.

One of the things The Curmudgeon doesn’t like about Meyers and Colbert, both of whom he likes a great deal, is the frequency with which they belittle the appearance of the people they’re telling jokes about.  They love, for example, to show an overweight Trump in his tennis whites while refusing to acknowledge how great it is that a guy who will be 72 years old next week is still playing tennis. Mitch McConnell’s chins, John Bolton’s mustache, Jeff Sessions’ height, Steve Mnuchin’s face, they all seem fair game to these folks.  When they make remarks about various public officials’ appearance, Mrs. Curmudgeon often takes a quick glance at her husband to see his reaction.  It’s not pretty.  Years ago The Curmudgeon and his mother visited with the family of a relative who just passed away and sat near a woman who was going on and on about the ugliness of the daughter of a mutual friend.  As soon as mother and son left the house The Curmudgeon turned to his mother and said, “You know, as soon as we leave, she’s going to start talking about how ugly I am.”

The Curmudgeon tries not to do this kind of thing.  He’s sure he doesn’t always succeed, but he’s aware of the challenge and does pay attention to it.  It takes constant vigilance, and sometimes, something sneaks through.

Just last Friday, for example, the first sentence of The Curmudgeon’s post about Newt Gingrich began with the following sentence:

On Wednesday morning, the day after the whole Roseanne kerfuffle, The Curmudgeon was in his basement, pedaling the stationary bike and channel-surfing, eventually landing on Fox & Friends – a morning staple for him, since every day should start with a good laugh – when on came Newt Gingrich.

The end of this long-ish sentence was this way for the first two drafts but for the third draft, he changed the last phrase to “…when on waddled Newt Gingrich.” Fortunately The Curmudgeon thought better of it and restored the line to the previous version; he didn’t want to do what Meyers and Colbert and all of the others do.  He doesn’t want to be one of those people, and Gingrich’s girth has nothing to do with Gingrich’s grinchiness.  The Curmudgeon also thought twice – okay, three or four times – about the brief aside in that same piece about the circumstances under which Gingrich told his first wife that he wanted a divorce and only went ahead and included it because Gingrich is so incredibly judgmental about everyone who has the audacity to disagree with him.  It was a close call, and even now The Curmudgeon isn’t sure he made the right call.

Mind you, he doesn’t object to being a little “out there” – okay, a lot out there – but he’s also not looking to offend or hurt for the sake of offending or hurting.  He certainly doesn’t aspire to emulate Michelle Wolf, whose performance and the White House Correspondents Dinner a few weeks was so despicable.  A few years ago The Curmudgeon used the term “wife-beater” to describe an article of clothing in an attempt to draw a picture of the kind of person he was writing about and was taken to task by a reader who noted that changing mores make that term no longer acceptable (an exchange called to mind because just last week the New York Times published an opinion piece titled “Are We Really Still Calling This Shirt a ‘Wife Beater’?).  The Curmudgeon considered himself both chastened and educated.

Those of us putting our views out there also need to deal with the reality that when it comes to what’s acceptable and what’s not, we’re shooting at a moving target. Have you heard that Harvey Weinstein’s lawyers are considering a defense built around the concept that he’s an older guy who came up at a time when the “casting couch” was still common and everyone was doing it?  Does that mean the legal system should be giving Weinstein a mulligan?  Of course not – yet at the same time, as completely unacceptable as his behavior was, we’re being told (The Curmudgeon has his doubts) that for a long time it apparently was the norm rather than the exception.

Or take the R.I.P. The Curmudgeon wrote last week about Philip Roth.  As The Curmudgeon noted in that piece, Roth often wrote demeaningly about women, and as a result, a lot of people are looking at his work through a new lens.  Is that right?  Is that fair?  Is that necessary? Does it mean we need to condemn and discard Roth and everything he wrote or should we just look at him differently?  Is what he wrote no longer literature?  No longer great?  Similarly, George Washington and Thomas Jefferson owned slaves:  do we need to take their names off streets and schools and towns and counties?  Off our money?

And how in the world do we explain the electoral success of Donald Trump in the middle of all of this?

There are no easy answers to these questions.  Oh, a lot of people think they have them, but they’re deceiving themselves. Can Kevin Spacey never act in a movie again?  The Curmudgeon doesn’t care.  Can Matt Lauer never host a TV show again?  The Curmudgeon doesn’t care.  But no more Louis C.K.?  Now THIS The Curmudgeon cares about, which just reinforces his belief that there are no easy answers.  Again, this is all shooting at a moving target, and while their age suggests that the possibility of redemption will almost certainly elude Bill Cosby and Charlie Rose, there are others who are younger who will need to sit by patiently until we figure this out.

After all, even hardened criminals get out of jail after serving their time and are invited to try, try again to be productive members of society.  Are the people we’ve recently learned these bad things about not to be given the same opportunity at some point?  Ever?

The Curmudgeon doesn’t even pretend to have the answers to these questions, but he’d like to end this piece with the same question with which he started it:

Why does Samantha Bee still have her job when Roseanne doesn’t?


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  • Peaches Shimmerdeep  On June 4, 2018 at 9:48 pm

    Why does Donald Trump still have his job?
    Why is it ok for him to use the “p” word, but not for Samantha to use the “c” word? Why should he keep his job and her lose hers?

    Roseanne made a pejorative and racist remark. Samantha made anpejorative remark. I share your distaste for comments on people’s physical features, which Roseanne did. I share your distaste for both the “p” and the “c” word, and I think Samantha Ber could have made a compelling point without the language.

    But ahe’s Not in the same league as Todeanne. Except that they both wanted attention.

    • Peaches Shimmerdeep  On June 4, 2018 at 9:49 pm

      It would be good if I did not write on my phone and not check twice before posting.

    • foureyedcurmudgeon  On June 4, 2018 at 10:34 pm

      I have heard that argument a lot, and I get it. But consider this: how would you have felt it Samantha Bee used that word about, say, Michelle Obama? Or if a conservative political commentator, such as Ann Coulter or Rush Limbaugh, said it about Mrs. Obama? This is what I mean by “moving target.” I’ve seen suggestions that there’s a double standard at play here because Roseanne lost her job but Samantha Bee didn’t, but they have different employers with different standards of conduct. Again: a moving target.

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