Sunday, February 8, 2009

Looking Out from the Spiderhole

As Lori reminds me, I haven't been around lately. Still alive and well, just navigating some unusually busy seas. Good things mostly - busy at work, a bunch of last minute preparation for the new course I'm starting to teach this week, etc. Hopefully things will let up enough so that I can take the Christmas tree down some time before I have to hang hearts on it and call it a Valentine's Day Fern.

A few thoughts and observations I've been wanting to commit to writing...

Taking a Dive
It amazes me that people think that photo really shows Michael Phelps dragging from a bong. He's an American hero, for goodness sake. He wouldn't do that. He was obviously attending a classical music event and was being shown how to blow into a bassoon. Yeah, yeah, that's the ticket.


Now that we've settled that, there's also a logical explanation for this A-Rod/steroid thing, and you'll read it here as soon as I come up with it.

Memo to Ashley Judd...
Readers here know I'm second to none in my lack of confidence in Sarah Palin to lead the contiguous 48. But fair is fair: when the problem at hand is that wolves are threatening the caribou and moose populations, even I can see the average New Yorker is probably not qualified to offer an opinion, including on whether or not aerial hunting is appropriate. Besides, we do something similar here. We just call them drive-by shootings.

Why I Wish Joan Rivers were a Wolf in Alaska
PBS has been airing a wonderful six-part series about the history of American comedy. A couple of weeks ago, during an otherwise hilarious and informative episode, I was floored - and not in a good way - by a clip from a Joan Rivers stand-up piece about how the 9/11 widows were better off having the financial settlement checks instead of having their husbands.

I read once a quote from Lou Jacobs, one of the greatest and most recognizable circus clowns of the 20th century. Someone asked in an interview how he knew whether something was funny. He answered, simply, that if people laughed it was funny. I understand what he was getting at, but I respectfully disagree with anyone who takes that too literally. To call everything that makes a portion of the population laugh comedy is something like calling every greasy, fatty, processed chemical-laden stuff people want to ingest food. It's bad enough when artless school-yard dog-piling on people who are gay, handicapped, or whatever the person trying to be funny is not passes as comedy. When someone uses 9/11 deaths as the object of jokes, a serious line has been crossed. It's doubtful Rivers would make the same statement, even as part of an act, to the face of a 9/11 widow who in reality would give that settlement check and another like it to have her loved one back. There's a difference - and it's a big one - between something being shocking because it's insightful and cutting edge, and something being shocking just because it's so cruel as to be inappropriate.

I don't care what Joan Rivers accomplished early in her career. And I don't give a damn how many people were shocked into laughing this time around. It's not comedy. Period.

In Ms. Rivers' case, her horrifying insensitivity is particularly surprising, even hypocritical. Her own husband Edgar, sitting in a Philadelphia hotel room in 1987 faced with a choice between staying married to her or swallowing a bottle of Valium, chose the latter. It's been 22 years, not the 7 the 9/11 widows have had, and I still haven't heard Ms. Rivers extolling the hilarity of that event in her own life. Maybe I just missed it.

8 comments:

FrankandMary said...

I don't care too much for Rivers(although many years ago I found her more "real" and somewhat funny-perhaps before her 17 facelift)but since I am ALWAYS saying *hit people don't like,or do find offensive, I have to take a pass on smacking her down. Besides we should all be busy upbraiding Phelps for taking a hit off a bong. My ex was a lacrosse playing straight A preppie Irish Catholic altar boy & he loved pot. Go figure. I don't see it as a big deal, considering in the past I've had to call DYFS on neighbors neglecting their children & the cops when a neighbor was beating his wife with a vacuum-I consider those things real problems, & nothing was ever done- & no, I don't live in an inner city for those who profile.
~Mary

Angie said...

Ben, I never can see anything funny in anything Joan Rivers says or does. When she's in England she's usually only on late night chat shows, and long may she remain so
love, Angie, xx

Silverdoe said...

I think a Valentine fern would be nice!! I couldv'e used that idea a few times in my past!

Hope all is well....

miss alaineus said...

i am a u of m grad-- that photo depicts phelps participating in a lung capacity study....

go blew?????


xxalainaxx

oldhousegal said...

You know, I am not all that outraged about Michael Phelps. He's a young guy who's not perfect. Duh. Who is perfect and why is it that we need to have our heroes 100% perfect? It's even worse in politics. Someone has a tax problem, or a nanny problem, or whatever, and the entire nation loses what they have to offer. I'm not talking about people who lie or cheat, but people who made an honest mistake or let something fall through the cracks. The sanctimonious nature of it all makes me crazy!

As for Ms. Rivers, I didn't hear what she said, but if you are quoting her accurately it is just plain old insensitivity. A paticularly extreme example, I agree. It makes you wonder.

Indigo said...

When I see what Elliot Spitzer did and he gets off, flagging someone for a bong seems...off.

As for Arial hunting. Nothing will ever get me to look positively on that form of hunting. If the wolf population was indeed out of hand (which numerous reports show it wasn't - they just barely made it over the consensus of no longer being in danger of extinction), why not hunt them on their own playing field on the ground and make it a fair fight. Far more noble than a slaughter that they can't hope to escape nor understand. (Hugs)Indigo

Cathy said...

It's a little edgy to catagorize humor I'd say, Ben. What's funny to Ms. Rivers is literally her business and if she assumes others might laugh, she's free to put it out there as comedy, no matter how disgusted we might feel. People make jokes about Nazis, just think of Mel Brooks imitating Hitler. And we laugh. A holocaust survivor would be as horrified as you were at River's "joke" but then again, who can really define what's funny when some of us never crack a smile watching Robin Williams (which seems impossible lol) It's an upside-down world sometimes, and people think oddly. I don't know what could've possessed Ms Rivers but she obviously didn't mean any harm since to her, she was being funny. Who knows? Can we laugh at cancer? We do, all the time, we joke about ppl in wheelchairs, blind ppl, just everything. I'd never look too deeply at this subject, it's as touchy as religion.

DB said...

Ben, it isn't so much the subject matter, there isn't anything in life that doesn't deserve to be laughed at, even death, it helps us get through some of the worst trials, but it is how one goes about it. I didn't hear Ms. Rivers' comment, but she has never been one for subtlety and finesse. If some people laugh then it's funny to some people. I wonder what she would do with shooting wolves from an airplane. I remember sending money to an organization trying to save the wolves. And what's the difference between shooting wolves from an airplane and flying an airplane into a skyscraper? I guess it's a matter of your point of view.

DB