The Brouhaha Du Jour: David Letterman Under Fire For Joke Involving Sarah Palin's Daughter

8 years ago

I'm going to start this post with the following preamble: disagreement does not have to be agitating or wholly divisive, and I hope that at the end of this we're all still friends, still speaking, and that you'll still hug me at BlogHer in a few weeks. Because I'm going to venture a guess that I'm in the minority with regard to my opinion on what David Letterman said Tuesday night, and whether or not what he said was acceptable.

Basically, I think people are making a ridiculous, hyper-inflated mountain out of a molehill. And in thinking that, I kind of have to side with Letterman. [winces]

But before we get into hashing this out, let's have a look at the offending video, shall we? (From the monologue of Tuesday's "The Late Show"):

[rolls eyes] Really, America? Don't we have better things to be all up in arms about? SIGH.

To begin, I'm a mother, and I have a daughter. So do appreciate and understand that I am indeed looking through the eyes of someone for whom this joke has a special kind of significance and relevance. Which I suppose some people would presume to mean I should be especially offended by this. But I'm not. In the slightest. I mean, not even a single hair attached to the flesh wrapped around my skullcase is offended. I AM JUST THAT NOT OFFENDED.

And yes, I am a feminist, if that matters. But I am also a person in possession of what I hope is a good sense of humor, who values the art of comedy and satire to a degree that surpasses my desire for its authors to remain within rigid boundaries of Political Correctness. To my mind, the greatest, most insightful, funniest, and innovative comedians to ever walk the face of this planet have been ones who actively, consciously pressed (and sometimes outright pounded) against socially proscribed norms and boundaries of taste, decency, and propriety. Richard Pryor, George Carlin, Louis CK, David Cross, Andy Kaufman, Dave Chappelle, Chris Rock, Lewis Black, and of course Lenny Bruce (who, lest we forget, was *actually arrested* for obscenity) -- ALL of them have said things more shocking, risque, discomforting... BECAUSE THAT'S PART OF THEIR JOB DESCRIPTION (sorry about the all caps there, I'm just a little bit frustrated over here. DEEP BREATHS.). Transgression and provocation are now and have always been part of what raises comedy to art, makes it something more than merely amusing, more than just laugh-pandering.

During an NPR interview in 2000, George Carlin said: "I like to find out where the line might be drawn and then deliberately cross it. There are an awful lot of taboos. ... I just enjoy squashing them and stepping on them and peeling them apart and trying to expose them to people." And in my opinion the best comedy, the best comedians, absolutely do just that. Letterman included.

Whether you think Letterman was pushing boundaries here with good reason or not, it remains that Bristol Palin -- whom the joke is clearly referencing, since she is the Palin daughter whose pregnancy was a hot topic during the recent election -- is 18 years old, not a minor, not a child. And if we can make fun of other celebrities for their behavior, including speculation about sexual behavior and promiscuity, why should Bristol Palin be exempt? She IS a celebrity now, after all. I'm sorry that Sarah Palin wishes it were otherwise, but once you drag your children up in front of cameras for months on end, it's kind of part of the deal and what you signed up for.
McCain and Palin in Ohio

It should also be noted that Letterman has a long-standing, long-running comedic beef against Gov Palin, making her the butt of his jokes on a very regular basis (to the degree that the sheer repetitiveness of Letterman making Palin a target on the show has itself become funny) -- it's a running gag on "The Late Show." Oh and did I mention Gov Palin herself recently called Letterman "pathetic" during a radio interview? Yeah. cough. So viewed within that bigger context, I'm sorry, the joke IS funny. Maybe this makes me a bad feminist. But honestly, I'd rather be a bad feminist with an expansive sense of humor than good one without.

For the record, here's Letterman's response to this brouhaha, from last night's "The Late Show":

So having just offered myself up as sacrificial lamb for the slaughter here, let me ask: What do YOU think? Agree with me? Disagree? And why? (NOTE: Let's keep comments chill and not devolve into personal attacks or name calling, shall we? Perhaps I'm being overly cautious in saying that, but since this matter is apparently highly charged and will likely tap people with strong feelings of both political persuasions, I felt it might be good to just throw that out there. kthxbai!)

. . . . .
Tracey, aka Sweetney, writes about Pop Culture & Entertainment at MamaPop, and believes that, as Steve Martin said, comedy is not pretty.

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