Friday, July 20, 2012

You Didn't Build That. Your Stupid Meme-Builder Did.

Sometimes - okay, often enough that you wonder if it's some sort of elaborate bet - politicians say dumb things. And, because this is the Internet of the America, those dumb things haunt you like the time you mixed crushed-up Ritalin into a glass of red wine.
Which brings us to Obama, who your thrice-married sistercousin has probably informed you is out to destroy America and was only elected because he's black. (Saying that is apparently NOT racist. Huh?) But, yes, he does hate America and loathes business and wants to reduce our country to a Commietopia. Here's the smoking gun:

"If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help. There was a great teacher somewhere in your life. Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive. Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you’ve got a business -- you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen. The Internet didn’t get invented on its own. Government research created the Internet so that all the companies could make money off the Internet. The point is, is that when we succeed, we succeed because of our individual initiative, but also because we do things together."
These are all perfectly valid things to say. If you think your achievements come exclusively by bootstraps and brilliance, then you're living in a fairyland where you never went to public school, never used a road, and never got a lick of help from anyone. Now, I'll be fair and say "you didn't build that" was a gaffe. All he had to do was say "You didn't build that by yourself," and the political narrative would have stayed in the land of magical tax break dressage ponies, vacation spots and whether it's racist to compare the Obamas to monkeys. (Answer: yes. So very, very much.)

Saying "You didn't build that," scares the crap out of people. That's because it is human nature to externalize failure and internalize success - as in, if something goes well it's because you're awesome, and if it goes poorly it's because somebody (usually the President, an ex, or your parents) screwed you over. It's all very human and normal. After all, if it wasn't for the fables we tell ourselves, society would collapse into a puddle of fetish porn, trans fats and despair.

But there's a silver lining: conservative memes. They're right up there with rapping little old ladies and dads using hipster slang on the Awkwaaaard Scale. Unlike liberals, who amass abundant time to dream up their memes during barista shifts, conservatives have to just sort of throw things against the wall and hope they stick. Like spaghetti made of one-liners. Mostly it's just a rehash of the Most Interesting Man in the World, Willy Wonka...yeah, I'm snoring already.

Sometimes it's semi-amusing, like this one:

Sure, using Footprints is only slightly less embarrassing than trying to make a meme out of Desiderata, but it's an attempt and it's even slightly cute.

But sometimes, in their girlish enthusiasm to pick the least-flattering Obama photo, they kind of prove the other side's point. To wit:

First off, yes, that is a freaking awesome expression on his face. Like the little girl suddenly grew fangs, and only he can see it.

But, well, the little girl didn't build the tower. She was helped by the good people of Lego, who molded the plastic to make the bricks, by the teachers and parents who nurtured her motor skills, and so on. The only way she could have credited herself with "building" the tower is if she worked in a Lego factory. If that were the case, most of us would be up in arms about child labor, while the rest of us would hope this meant cheaper Legos. (I'm Team Cheap Legos.) So, conservatives, thanks for helping Obama prove his point.

To continue the nitpick, I bet Obama helps out the other side by making those ridiculous faces. That expression? You didn't build that, either. (Doesn't feel so good to be on the other side of a nitpick, does it?)

So let's figure out what we've learned, before the narrative takes us to the next gaffe or creepy uterine obsession. The American political process is like that married couple you know who just never stop bickering. Either side will bring up a tiny quote out of context for the express purpose of damning the other, and in the Age of the Internet any quote can become a meme. And our society has elevated ignorance to the point that whoever wins this election will most likely do so by creating a meme that brings together Mordor, cats, Willy Wonka and a political gaffe in a glorious crescendo of all that's wrong with America.

Also, when the best you can do is a Footprints parody, it's time to wonder if your party's half stuffy/half crazy image isn't at least partially earned.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

On Tosh, Gottfried, and Why "Edgy" is for Teenagers and Steak Knives

Hi! Miss me? Or, more exactly...remember me?

By now, particularly if you are my Facebook friend, you have probably heard about Daniel Tosh and rape jokes to a numbing degree. Everyone from feminists to Tosh apologists to Gilbert Gottfried has weighed in.

That's right. GILBERT GOTTFRIED. Has an opinion. On For real. I suppose Carrot Top was unavailable? That or the Apocalypse is nigh and it's time to stock up on gin and firearms.

Here's the article.

So, what have we learned? We learned that Gilbert Gottfried, aside from being numbingly unfunny, has yet to learn a damn thing about anything. So far he's been called out for bad tsunami jokes, bad terrorism jokes, and just bad jokes in general - and yet, he thinks he's qualified to be an arbiter of humor and what others should and should not find hurtful.

Sigh. Did anyone else read this and imagine a petulant teen?

Look, I love humor. Wrote this blog for years. Dealt with trolls, harassing emails and all sorts of silly drama in order to come on here every day and hopefully make someone laugh. I adore comedy. The more ridiculous and inappropriate, the better. But the purpose of comedy is to take pain and turn it into laughter. It is not to be offensive and hurtful for the sake of being offensive and hurtful, and then pretend that it's just you being "edgy." Edgy is for teenagers and steak knives.

Moreover, if you realize that you've metaphorically poked someone in the eye, the correct response is to simmer down and reflect, and perhaps learn something from the experience. It is not to lay blame on the other person for having the temerity to have eyeballs in the first place. And maybe you'll hone your craft and be funnier the next time you put yourself out there.

Finally, the whole Tosh brouhaha isn't about heckler etiquette, it's not about "edgy" humor, and it sure as hell isn't about the First Amendment. At no point has anyone said the government should ban rape jokes. So please step off the silly "freedom of speech" arguments.

The issue is that rape is used as a threat to keep women in line - be docile, don't go out by yourself, be a lady, don't get drunk...because if you don't follow those rules, ugly things will happen and it's going to be your own fault. So when Tosh uses the threat of gang rape (even as a "joke") to dismiss and subdue a woman who disagreed with him, it's a whole level of ugly beyond "tastelessness," "offensiveness," or, silliest of all, "edginess." She stepped out of line, and he used rape to bludgeon her back into being a "lady." It's misogyny, it's real, and it's scary stuff.

Pretending it's just a "slip of the tongue" is pretending that misogyny is over, and you don't have to be a woman to know that's bollocks. You just don't get from rape jokes to rape threats without some serious underlying issues.

Thanks for reading, and I look forward to your comments. (Which, yes, is my way of saying I'd like to be coddled out of retirement.)