Nothing kills a joke like having to explain it. And if the joke has anything off-colour about it that can see it called into question at some later date in a completely non-comedic context then that joke becomes a sin and anyone who has retold it becomes a sinner.
Welcome to the Future.
Anything of any cultural significance with an age older than 30 years ago is suspect. Anyone who performed any time before 30 years ago is a potential risk for public institutions to be associated with.
Case in point: Kate Smith, “The First Lady of Radio”, “The Songbird of the South”
In the first year of her career as a radio performer she sang a top 20 song which came from a theatrical production which was a satire on racism.
A satire. Defined as the use of humor, irony, exaggeration, or ridicule to expose and criticize people’s stupidity or vices, particularly in the context of contemporary politics and other topical issues.
The song’s name is all that is needed to call Ms. Smith’s suitability for public association into question: “That’s Why Darkies Were Born”
Is the problem only the name of the song?
Is the problem that a serious subject like racism was attacked by using humour as the weapon?
Or Is the problem that our current society can brook NO connection to racism of any kind unless it is a clear, unambiguous attack on racism?
Popular cultural content reflects the culture of the time. Culture evolves over time. Eventually some of what was generally accepted becomes unacceptable.
And that leaves us with a problem: What to do with all the popular cultural content we come to have a problem with?
It appears that the most risk averse entities in our world (those who can be directly affected by negative public opinion) choose to simply remove it from their world leaving the rest of us with gaping holes in the history of pop culture. But hey it’s all about the Benjamins (money) ain’t it? Threaten the cash flow and watch the icons go (away).
I liked the popular radio program Prairie Home Companion. It ran for decades (1974 to 2016) and was much loved and well respected. All it took to push all that back catalogue out of public access was one or two suggestions of a touch on the back or hurt feelings by women that happened in the middle of the societal recriminations flowing from the Harvey Weinstein scandal.
The accusations weren’t criminal. No sexual encounters of unbalanced power dynamic took place or even were alluded to. But a risk averse Minnesota Public Radio decided that not only was Garrison Keillor a problem but no one should be allowed to access ANY of the thousands of Home Companion programs is had in its catalogue of content. This situation existed from November 2017 to April 2018.
That it happened at all is a shame. That it took legal action to restore the back catalogue to public access is a shame.
Let’s return to the current case, Kate Smith.
She didn’t write the song. It was even performed at one point by a person of colour. It’s Satire. But apparently we have to pander to the Lowest Possible Common Dummy rule. IF anyone could possibly construe / misconstrue the lyrics as being a serious derogatory attack on people of colour then nobody should be allowed to associate [us] with that. Fill in the [us] with whichever entity you want like Baseball teams for instance.
It’s a shame that those who set themselves up as the protectors of public virtue can only see the public as small minded, immature, ignorant masses that have to be protected from bad things like humour they don’t get. Leaving the rest of us questioning the rationality of those in charge and worrying if we’ve ever said something that will come back to haunt us at some point.
Almost makes one want to become a public Asshole just so no one can later get any traction from accusing us of being one. Kind of like President Trump has apparently done.
But this yen to rewrite our history by excising things we don’t want to be exposed to, this urge to engage in revisionism, hurts us in the long run. There’s the ‘those who forget history are doomed to repeat it’ warning.
Understanding how we got to where and what we are as a nation or culture becomes much harder when you grow up not even knowing all the bits that collectively brought your world to where it is.
If you weren’t made aware of past cultural treasures that helped form the culture your live in because they were officially forgotten then how can you understand your culture? You don’t know what you never knew and no one informed you about. It might as well have not existed or happened . . . except that it did. You just don’t know about it.
Then there are terms that have been part of the lexicon like Call A Spade A Spade or Tarbaby.
If you use those terms in something you are publishing nowadays you open yourself to accusations of racism even though the origins had no racist connotations at all. The spade referred to is an entrenching tool – a shovel. The tarbaby is a thing that burns and sticks to you if you touch it. And for a whole generation of adults those meanings have been completely supplanted by racist redefinitions. And that means that for many that is the only definition they have or have ever had. Which means that any published article, book, song, movie, play – anything that used them can be subject to the same treatment that Kate Smith is going through now.
Sad isn’t it? That You have to live in a dummed down, white washed, world because Fear of the Stupid and Ignorant made it so. Ironic isn’t it that the term ‘white washed’ which we use to describe the actions of this purging of offensive content will sooner or later suffer the same fate.
I’ll leave this off at this point because I’m pretty sure I’ve laid enough ammunition for somebody to excoriate me with at some later date. Think I’ll get working on my next project ‘Getting In Touch With Your Inner Asshole’.