Drawing the line on offensive comedy


Do you know where your line is?

I enjoy listening to Toby Keith. Not all the time and not every song, but I definitely enjoy his music. I’m sharing this tidbit — seemingly apropos of nothing — in the spirit of something I read this week.

In the “What Tami Said” blog, Tami, a “a wife, womanist, writer, stepmother, music lover, black woman, sister, nappy advocate, American, yogi, bibliophile, daughter, student, Midwesterner, progressive, gardener, eccentric” noted that, despite herself, she saw and thoroughly enjoyed the movie Tropic Thunder:

See, I consider myself a good progressive — anti-racist, womanist, pro-equality, broad-minded, sensitive to the needs of marginalized people and all that stuff. How then, could I find humor in a movie that features a white actor in black face; an offensive portrayal of an intellectually disabled boy; stereotypically drawn evil, Asian characters; and a lame, closeted gay tough guy plotline? I don’t know. I just did.

And that’s where Toby Keith comes in.

I’m a big fan of the Bill of Rights, and I think it’s patriotic to question the government, and yet I regularly choose to listen to Mr. Jingoism sing out his call for a return to frontier justice. And I sing along.

I like his voice, and I like country music with some twang to it, but as a Dixie Chicks fan, I’m not entirely comfortable enjoying their primary sparring partner.

All of which is to say that there can be a disconnect between what we believe and what we enjoy. (It’s kind of like being attracted to a girl you know is bad for you.) Reasonable people can absolutely disagree about where the line is between offensive/funny and just plain offensive. For example, Sarah Silverman clearly straddles this line.

And when Kathy Griffin held up her Emmy and exclaimed, “… Suck it, Jesus, this award is my god now,” did you laugh, cringe or laugh as you cringed?

I definitely have a line when it comes to overtly homophobic entertainment, but sometimes it seems a little permeable because I can certainly enjoy less-than-positive images of LGBT folks in entertainment.

For example, my favorite John Waters movie, Desperate Living, showcases truly vile lesbians. (Lesbian glory holes, anyone?)

And in the 1978 movie A Different Story, Meg Foster and Perry King play a lesbian and gay man who fall drunkenly into bed together one night (possibly believable) and eventually end up riding into the sunset together (not so believable).

Of course, John Waters’ stock trade is over-the-top, affectionately vile entertainment. If you’re inclined to be offended by him, it’s pretty stupid to watch in the first place. And A Different Story falls into the “It’s so bad, it’s good” category. Both movies are camp, and I like camp.

But I hate cheap, easy gay jokes — such as in the Broadway version of The Producers. I’m not a big fan of the characterization of lesbians as baby-crazy and excited to sleep with men to get said babies as in She Hate Me. And I have limited patience for lazily written lesbian characters who rarely behave consistently and can never sustain a long-term relationship — as in The L Word.

What entertainment that’s inconsistent with your values do you enjoy? And do you know where your line is?

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