AS139: Louis CK, Filters, Mad Max, MRAs…

It’s a bit of a potpourri for today’s episode! What did Louis CK’s SNL monologue from the other week have to do with free will and determinism? Also, I saw Mad Max and felt the need to talk a bit about it and the intersection with feminism.

4 thoughts on “AS139: Louis CK, Filters, Mad Max, MRAs…”

  1. Hi Thomas! As you’ll probably guess, I think this will be a long post… Sorry again, I’ll try to keep it as short as I can.

    On “Louis CK is making child rape victims the butt of the joke”: I agree with you here, I don’t think he is and instead the joke is more about the absurd reasoning behind the actions of the molester. My only real query here is why frame it as a “progressive” issue? I get that your friend is progressive and his views are maybe shaped by progressive ideals but ultimately it seems like just a difference in opinion or taste, not really a progressive sticking point. As you remark, trying to understand the complexities of the motivations of a child molester is more of a progressive position.

    If I were to defend your friend’s position at all, I would suggest that it’s not so much that the victims were the butt of the joke but rather just that it’s making light of very horrible experiences for a lot of people. For some people this isn’t excused by the line “it’s comedy though!” and ideally we’d live in a world where people were a bit more respectful to each other.

    On “letting yourself be offended”: I’m working a little from memory here but I think you said something along the lines of not understanding why your friend or others allowed themselves to be offended. Interestingly this reminded me of a piece from Louis’ other SNL monologue (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-VnAKGFo-rM) where he talks about guys trying to distance themselves from responsibility. He talks about the language they use: “I uh just said something and then she hurt her feelings”. He makes the point that you don’t say that you fired a gun and someone murdered themselves, they didn’t lean into the bullet.

    I think the same applies here in that people don’t “let themselves be offended”, it’s more that somebody says something offensive and it offends people. The responsibility is squarely on the person saying the offensive thing. You also mentioned how you don’t really find anything too offensive and that’s great but I think it’s more a reflection of your relative privilege than any attitudinal stance that others could adopt. It’s easy not to be offended in the world as a straight white guy (coming from another straight white guy). Life is pretty easy and even if someone calls us a “cracker”, who cares, we still get unfair employment rates in our favour, less jail time, and not getting murdered for liking women.

    On “having no filter”: I think what the person is getting at here is that there are a number of “shock jock” comedians who simply say offensive things and that’s the extent of their humour. Sometimes the set can be funny in that saying unexpectedly edgy things in certain situations creates an absurd juxtaposition but usually the complaint is that it is lazy and unfunny in how overplayed it is. I don’t think this criticism really applies to Louis CK but there are comedians that push the line. Frankie Boyle, for example, can be really funny but sometimes it’s just him on stage naming things that are distasteful, which is less a standup show and more just a guy reading out a list.

    I’m not sure I agree with you, however, on the claim that “as long as it’s funny it’s okay” (or words to that effect). I think there is value in saying that comedians should have a filter, and I don’t understand at all why we would think it’s okay for them to say whatever they like simply because they’re telling jokes. To put a real world example on to it, take the finding in psychology regarding Prejudiced Norm Theory, which encapsulates multiple findings that show bigoted humour serves not only to strengthen the bigotry in people and lead them to believe their ideas are shared by most people, but it can lead to actual tangible discriminatory effects (e.g. donating less to women’s causes after hearing a dumb blonde joke).

    None of this is to say that the humour should be banned and made illegal, it just means that (like everybody else in society) comedians have a social responsibility. If they fail in their responsibility then they should be open to criticism and venues/outlets etc should be encouraged to remove them from their billings if the problem is bad enough. That’s the beauty of free expression, you can criticise whoever you like for whatever reasons you like and you can stop them from saying shitty things using your media.

    Anyway, I couldn’t really find much about the outcry of his standup on google. Some media outlets asked if his bit was too controversial but seemed to just fizzle out in saying “probably not”. I think any feedback on it was just because it was the finale and people didn’t expect a comedian to really push the line in such a setting.

    1. I find that everyone really has different levels of what qualifies as offensive, so I personally am more judgmental of people who are purposefully trying to be offensive and have upsetting people as their goal. I find the intent part more threatening than the words. Like Thomas, its pretty difficult to really offend me. Honestly I have never faced any serious harm in my life physically or verbally, so its easier for me to think about that sort of thing in the abstract.

      To your point about bigots enjoying offensive comedy, I am reminded of Sarah Silverman having an experience that made her face this where some guy was telling her how much he loved her racist jokes. I’m sure that plenty of comedians who make good jokes that comment on race relations are seen as funny by racist. I appreciate good jokes irregardless. I think this is where my position on intent in this matter comes in.

      I think having to worry about filters would be restrictive to comedians. It bothers me that Chris Rock recently decided to stop performing at colleges because of the restrictive environment in terms of offensive language. However, I do believe that all comedians should think heavily before making jokes about serious issues because of that offense factor. A comedian who tells a bad and offensive joke that gets nothing but shock value is a hack and worthy of derision. At the same time, I think some people make too much hay over the responsibility of comedians as they are just one aspect of popular culture. At the end of the day, very few are actually popular enough to be impactful.

      1. “so I personally am more judgmental of people who are purposefully trying to be offensive and have upsetting people as their goal. I find the intent part more threatening than the words”

        Good point, and I feel like that was the point of the commenter Thomas was talking about who said that comedians need to have some kind of filter. The “filter” referring to the idea that they need to be aware of the harm they can cause and take responsibility for it.

        “To your point about bigots enjoying offensive comedy, I am reminded of Sarah Silverman having an experience that made her face this where some guy was telling her how much he loved her racist jokes. ”

        That’s a perfect example. I first started to notice it with my brother as we’d laugh at the same racial jokes but I’d be laughing because I thought the concept was absurd and that we were supposed to be laughing at the idea of a bigot believing it, whereas he took the “it’s funny ’cause it’s true” approach. After that I noticed it all the time and it made it so much harder to laugh at the same jokes, even if I understand the intent of the joke is positive.

        “I think having to worry about filters would be restrictive to comedians. It bothers me that Chris Rock recently decided to stop performing at colleges because of the restrictive environment in terms of offensive language. ”

        I think “offensive language” (if you mean swearing) is probably pushing it a bit far as well. There are restrictions you can put on entry that would fix that and allow the appropriate ages to view it otherwise uncensored. I’m only really concerned about “offensive” ideas, but even the use of the term “offensive” seems strange to me because I don’t think the concern is necessarily that someone was offended, but rather that ideas and words can cause measurable harm. I’m not “offended” when someone shoots me, I’m more concerned with the pain caused by their actions. Sometimes I feel like people use the term “offensive” to downplay the harm caused by things like this (not directed at you, just a general rant that your comment reminded me of).

        It’s interesting that you mention Chris Rock though as he had a bit where he used to joke about “niggas vs black people” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Niggas_vs._Black_People) where he essentially said it’s okay to use the word because it’s not synonymous with black people, it’s more of a term for black people who behave in ways consistent with negative stereotypes that affects the image of other black people. However, he had to stop doing the bit because so many racists used it as an excuse to use the word and he couldn’t cope with it.

        “At the same time, I think some people make too much hay over the responsibility of comedians as they are just one aspect of popular culture. At the end of the day, very few are actually popular enough to be impactful.”

        Sure, I agree with that but hopefully nobody is making it their life mission just to address problems with standup pieces. Usually it’s part of a greater societal discussion and standup is just one area where it’s addressed. With that said, I do think comedians do have an unusual amount of power and sway in society, I know that there are some pieces from Louie that have caused myself and people I know to step back and really reassess how we were approaching some things. There’s a good bit where he’s with his friends playing poker and they ask his gay friend about his experiences and how he feels hearing slurs like “fag” and it was a great bit.

  2. Ok, dude, I’ve been looking for a new interesting podcast to listen to that I can relate to and doesn’t annoy me. I pulled up your podcast and skimmed through the show notes and found one where you speak about Louis. I LOVE his standup and show so I thought, alright lets give this thing a try. Boom, I related to almost everything you said. I enjoyed your full 38 minutes, so I got to hand it to you good job. I’m on board, starting from the beginning of your podcast. Keep up the good work.

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