The most positive trend of 2006 (surely there had to be one) was described in The Wall Street Journal earlier this month by Jeff Zaslow in a piece titled, “Comedy Comes Clean.” Notwithstanding the fact that the movie “Borat” was a “scatological sensation,” Mr. Zaslow described stand-up comedy’s new turn toward humor passed through a sieve of normal decency. My favorite, from comedian Michael Jr.: “Someone asked me if I’m pro-gay. I’m not pro-gay or amateur gay. I didn’t even know they had a league.”
Wow, isn’t that wonderful? I’m skeptical about the claim that comedy has suddenly turned to normal decency, whatever that is. But if it has, fine. What I’m fascinated by is the apparent push for this through the self-correcting nature of the (comedy) market. If this can happen, and it does as economics explains with all sub-markets of the overall market, what justification exists for allowing the Congress to continue violating the Constitution through the FCC?
The author, an editor at the Wall Street Journal, goes on to place the blame, or at least causation, for the new trend at the feet of Eddie Murphy. The argument makes little sense, but it’s mostly irrelevant to the topic. Some comedians use the f-word. Some don’t. This is not news. Instead, the essay seems to serve little purpose other than to allow the author to close with this:
Can we blame this verbal morass on the Supreme Court? Maybe. Back in 1973, in Papish, the court ruled on a college that tried to ban a student newspaper showing a cop raping the Statue of Liberty. The college had a rule that students should observe “generally accepted standards of conduct.” It lost, 6-3.
Chief Justice Warren Burger’s long-forgotten dissent is relevant to a society today that vulgarizes simple conversation while euphemizing or banning its darker thoughts. Justice Burger defended the right of students to criticize their school or government “in vigorous, or even harsh, terms.” But he called the student publication “obscene and infantile.” A university, he suggested, is ” an institution where individuals learn to express themselves in acceptable, civil terms. We provide that environment to the end that students may learn the self-restraint necessary to the functioning of a civilized society and understand the need for those external restraints to which we must all submit if group existence is to be tolerable.”
“Tolerable.” That’s an interesting, old-fashioned word. It’s not quite the same as “tolerant,” is it? As t-words go, I think I prefer “tolerable” to the current alternatives.
I can think of a word to describe Chief Justice Burger’s dissent, but it isn’t tolerable. External restraints? When coming from the government, for no other reason than to make group existence “tolerable”, whatever that means, external restraint should be seen as a clear violation of the First Amendment. You’re not wise enough to be trusted with freedom. We must restrain you, lest you wreak havoc on society. Silly gobbledygook. And execrable.
Consume your clean comedy if it makes you happy, but you do not have a legitimate right to prevent me from enjoying “unclean” comedy.