Yesterday I introduced the topic of Donald Trump’s recent WTMJ Milwaukee interview with Charlie Sykes in which he basically said it was okay to say horrible things about women if you either don’t expect to run for office or if you’re just joking. The focus of the piece (which you can read here) was about how this interview shows his supporters that Trump is in fact the liar and manipulator he says he’s fighting. Trump is not the authentic, honest human being he’s portrayed as: he’s just an attention whore.
But today I want to focus on the claim that we’re allowed to be misogynistic if we’re just joking. That, if it makes someone laugh, it’s all okay.
Spoiler alert: it’s not.
We all know that being provocative gets laughs. Sometimes people laugh because they can’t believe you’d say that or it’s something they’ve secretly thought. Sometimes they laugh because it’s outrageous. Sometimes they laugh to help defuse the situation or even just as a reflex. That doesn’t mean what you said is good.
To be funny, you do not need to be hateful. You can talk about the humorous actions of a person without generalizing about their entire sex or gender. You don’t have to make them look bad to get a laugh. One of the funniest comedy sketches in history is “Who’s on first?”, which has nothing hateful in it. Charlie Chapman was a brilliant humorist and never once did anything hateful. Monty Python relied on absurdism instead of stereotypes to be funny. Humor and hatefulness are not mutually exclusive.
When we’re trying to entertain people, we often put on a persona. We become more bumbling or easily frustrated. We blow our lids or say rude, candid things. We exaggerate situations and statements. And we do this not to be bad people or turn back civil rights but just to get a laugh. And sometimes it results in really bad situations.
However, there is a difference between accidentally going too far and making a career out of going too far. If every joke a comedian makes is about raping women and shooting black people, that’s not good. If they cannot tell a story that doesn’t include some objectification of women, that’s not good. If every time they talk about minorities they use stereotypes, that’s not good. And if, instead of acknowledging their bad behavior and working to correct it, they double down on it, that shows they’re not willing to change or modify their behavior when they do something wrong.
Trump in his decades in the spotlight has consistently shown that he doesn’t know how to be entertaining without being hateful. To get laughs, he always lashes out, whether it’s saying hateful things about women, mimicking a physically handicapped man, or miming shooting someone. And he hasn’t slipped up once or twice where his mouth got the better of him and he said something wrong – this has been going on for years. He’s never apologized for his words or said he’s embarrassed by them. Instead, he blames TV and the Internet for immortalizing his words and people for asking him about them. He brushes them off as in good fun and asks why you’re so stupid to think they’re important. He once again lashes out.
I’m not laughing when you call women ugly for disagreeing with you, Mr. Trump. I’m not laughing when you insinuate a woman asking hard questions is on her period. I’m not laughing when you threaten to kill or beat someone. I’m not laughing when you call whole groups of people criminals. Because you’re not funny. A hateful comment is not a humorous anecdote. It’s just you being an asshole that’s too boring to think of a real joke. And when you or anyone else relies on hatefulness to get a laugh, you’re just showing the world what a joke you are. It’s pathetic.