Is It Funny and/or Offensive?

Rose Woodhouse

Elizabeth Picciuto was born and reared on Long Island, and, as was the custom for the time and place, got a PhD in philosophy. She freelances, mainly about disability, but once in a while about yeti. Mother to three children, one of whom is disabled, two of whom have brown eyes, three of whom are reasonable cute, you do not want to get her started talking about gardening.

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216 Responses

  1. ScarletNumber says:

    I don’t know if this is coincidence or not, but tomorrow is Autism Awareness Day. #WAADReport

  2. Saul Degraw says:

    Great post, Rose.

    I think these tweets were pretty anti-Semitic and sexist but I was never a Daily Show devotee and I was never emotionally invested in the Daily Show host replacement.

    The Washington Post downplayed the tweets because they were 6 among 9000. There could be a lot of stuff in the 9000 though. WaPo seemed to think that these were the only offensive ones but maybe the others were just unprintable by some decency standard of the writers and editors.

    I wonder if a defense of Noah or not depends on desired outcome. People who are defending Noah the most seem to think that it is a really big deal to have an African replace Jon Stewart so this is progress. There does seem to be some motivated reasoning behind the defense. A friend who is defending Noah thinks the car joke is about Germans, not Jews. The rap industry joke is about the hypocrisy of the rap industry and not Jews and thinks that the Jewish girl joke is about as old as time.Report

    • Rose Woodhouse in reply to Saul Degraw says:

      I thought the car post took the whole issue of the Holocaust a little lightly for very little comic payoff, but I see how it could be read non-anti-Semitically. I do not see that at ALL for the rap post – it is blatant. And the sexist posts are blatantly sexist. Even if they are a small percentage of his total tweets, they are still things the guy said. Again. I have 2k tweets. I could be mistaken, but I don’t think I have the proportionate equivalent of, say, explicitly racist-sexist-ableist tweets. I mean, the uppercut one?!Report

      • Saul Degraw in reply to Rose Woodhouse says:

        I agree that it is all pretty bad but as a non-Daily Show person I have no stake in the outcome. I am just wondering about the outcomes that make people downplay and/or overplay the jokes or not.

        The worst jokes are the most recent ones and that is telling.Report

      • Kim in reply to Rose Woodhouse says:

        The comic payoff is a bit better when you think about the Jews who boycotted German car makers for years upon years. (Not sure if he was going there, but it’s a bit more amusing).

        The holocaust is an event crying out to be made fun of, and when done properly, it is fucking hilarious. (Yup, I’ll write a post about this, if you want). His comment is far too weak and mildmannered to really hit the beat though.

        Seen worse than that “anti-Semitic” tweet on TV, and nobody is bitching about it. (Again, if you kick Blamy out of the club, I’m leaving too).

        You also aren’t a standup comedian. I know comics, and they make some dire jokes sometimes (the fried chicken joke was dire). The good ones make it to TV, the bad ones stay at home.Report

      • Kim in reply to Rose Woodhouse says:

        Bob Sagett syndrome?Report

      • Saul Degraw in reply to Rose Woodhouse says:

        I see we are back to getting comments from inane Kim.Report

      • Troublesome Frog in reply to Rose Woodhouse says:

        I thought the uppercut joke was the only one of the bunch that was actually funny because I would be only partially surprised to find out that it actually was the original reason for getting down on one knee.Report

  3. Damon says:

    I didn’t see Stewart’s Fox News comments, but I’ve seen similar and we all know what it means. But you see, it’s ok to call conservatives/fox news “special” since a lot of liberals/ the left think they the only people who could “think that way” ARE brain damaged. If it offends some on the activist side, we’ll, where they gonna go? I’m sure this is a running joke on the Daily Show.

    Now, as to Trevor, I read the vox article. Half the tweets I laughed at, and I agree with the pizza comment. And it HAS been my experience that’s he’s on point regarding the “jewish chicks” comments, but admittedly, I have a limited sample size.

    This kinda stuff doesn’t offend me. Maybe because when I see the other side do it to the right there’s not a lot of push back vs the other way. But maybe that’s starting to change. It’ll do some good for the other side to eat their own.Report

    • Chris in reply to Damon says:

      I remember in the mid-to-late Bush years, it was popular on liberal blogs, including some ScienceBlogs, to suggest that conservatism was a mental illness. A bunch of research on political affiliation and personality traits came out around that time, and people who wanted to tear down conservatives interpreted it as evidence of mental illness. It was disgusting to watch, and genuinely offensive. It was the equivalent of using “gay” as an insult: it doesn’t just mischaracterize something or someone, it assumes that “mental illness” is an inherently bad and judgment-licensing characteristic.Report

      • Rose Woodhouse in reply to Chris says:

        Whatever else you think of Jonathan Haidt’s work, I think he has done excellent work in pushing back against the conservatism-as-mental-illness, conservatism-as-false-belief-holding in the academic community.Report

      • Chris in reply to Chris says:

        Yeah, while I disagree with his political psychology hypotheses, he’s actually had a balancing influence on the social psychology of politics pretty broadly. Here’s one of my favorite examples.

        If you don’t want to read it, this is basically what happened: for years (decades!), researchers had found that conservatives were more likely to use personal or “dispositional” explanations for negative things (e.g., you’re poor because you’re lazy or you’re not skilled or you make poor decisions) while liberals were more likely to use situational explanations (e.g., racism, institutional or systemic inequality, etc.). There was even a name for this phenomenon (because it’s social psychology, so of course there’s a name for it), the “ideo-attribution” effect, which mirrors the “fundamental attribution error.”

        Now, you’d think that the fact that it looks a lot like the fundamental attribution error, which we know extends to in-group and out-group members would have given researchers pause when it looked like conservatives and liberals might behave differently. But for a long time it didn’t, until someone looked at whether the who and the what of the negative events could affect the “ideo-attribution effect.” And it turns out yup, it does: whether conservatives (and liberals) use situational or dispositional explanations depends on who and what we’re talking about, and how they relate to conservative (and liberal) values.

        This seems blatantly obvious, but bias can hide even the most obvious things.Report

      • Saul Degraw in reply to Chris says:


        OT but:

        I don’t think conservatism is a mental illness. I think a lot of liberals have their own variants of small-c conservatism both politically and personally (trying to save the welfare state and all from radical Republicans).

        But I still have a hard time believing conservatives when they say their belief in small government is all about preserving liberty. There is some truth in it but the effect of a lot of their policies would still be entrenching privilege of all ready made it groups.Report

      • Chris in reply to Chris says:

        But I still have a hard time believing conservatives when they say their belief in small government is all about preserving liberty.

        I have a hard time believing anyone’s explanations for their judgments, because most of those explanations are ad hoc, ego-supporting explanations. Because that’s what humans do: we do most of our real reasoning below the level of awareness, and then we consciously rationalize it when we have to.Report

      • Kim in reply to Chris says:

        yeah, but we don’t all score highly on the Type A Hostility metric…
        You get some interesting correlations when you try to figure out who is most likely to join a cult…Report

      • Rose Woodhouse in reply to Chris says:

        @chris totally OT, but the reason why I said “whatever else you think of Haidt’s work,” is because I think Haidt is in many particulars wrong. But he has been very effective in showing that left and right positions can both stem from good-faith positions, and shown how biased some of that work was. I had lunch with him once – you might know him better? He was totally egocentric, but very charming.Report

      • Chris in reply to Chris says:

        If you’ve had lunch with him, you definitely know him better than I.

        Remaining well off topic, I will admit that I find much of the social psychology of politics thoroughly boring (but then, I find a lot of social psychology boring, because it’s so methodologically god awful; see e.g. 20+ years of research on the fundamental attribution error in ideologies that failed to properly control for ideology discussed above), but his work n moral psychology (and the work of a few other people in the late 90s and early Aughts) really sparked my interest in the subject, and led me to spend a lot of time on it.

        I even wrote about it a lot, once upon a time. For example (these may be a bit outdated, but I like the titles):

        Where is Morality in the Brain?

        The Life and Death of Moral Rationalism

        Social Intuitionism, or the Rise of Intuitive LawyersReport

      • Rose Woodhouse in reply to Chris says:

        @chris , just looked at your first essay, which I liked. I worked on rationality of emotions in my dissertation as a side issue. This is why I’m a virtue ethicist. You do not have to say that morality is either all cognitive or all conative. Or that it should be all one or the other.Report

      • Rose Woodhouse in reply to Chris says:

        @chris OT cont. You say, “Like Blair, and pretty much every “cognitive” account of moral judgment (i.e., any account that’s not by a neuroscientist or a social psychologist), things get pretty vague after the talk about affect.” Say what?! Lotsa philosophers are anti-cognitive accounts of morality. Starting with Hume on forward! Unjust, I cry, unjust. Indeed, they are too entirely anti-cognitive.Report

      • Chris in reply to Chris says:

        Rose, first, I cannot be held responsible for things I wrote in my youth, even if I link them in my old age.

        Second, yeah, I assume I was thinking of cognitive psychologists (Piaget, Kohlberg, and their intellectual descendants) more than philosophers. Philosophy has never been so pervasively cognitively-biased, because Hume looms as or nearly as large as Kant.Report

    • Rufus F. in reply to Damon says:

      If you think that liberals getting offended by things other liberals have said is a recent development…. well, you’ve been spared listening to many, many long arguments.

      I will say that mean spirited, unfunny, pretty much horrible use of the word “retard” as a noun is something I’ve seen on liberal websites where otherwise there is acute sensitivity about the circumstances of people’s birth and life situation. I don’t know if it’s supposed to seem edgy- like “hey, your pop’s a bleeding heart liberal, but he’s still pretty gnarly, right kids?!” Mostly, it just looks gross.Report

    • Vikram Bath in reply to Damon says:

      Damon’s observation is mine as well. Stewart makes these jokes *because* he wants to communicate that people he disagrees with are effectively mentally disabled. The able-ism is to him a purposeful feature, not a bug.

      To some extent, I’m not sure that Stewart has much of a choice. He has a million dollar smirk, but that’s about it. The team he had at the Daily Show was hopelessly outcompeted by The Colbert Report and John Oliver. At this point, it seems like anyone who tries anything in the segment can do a better job than Stewart ever did. Even Mark Russell on PBS, who I’m guessing didn’t have writers helping him, was often more funny.

      If Stewart had been more able himself, he might have made a different caliber of joke.Report

  4. j r says:

    I guess that I will just have to resign myself to being the turd in the punch bowl here, but I cannot see how anyone can find those Tweets deeply offensive, other than as an exercise in either concern trolling or pearl clutching. Unfortunately for us, we live in a time when the right loves to concern troll and the left loves to clutch pearls.

    If you turned on Comedy Central on any random day, those Tweets wouldn’t even register in an accounting of the most offensive things said on the channel in any given day. Has anyone ever watched a Comedy Central roast? Ever seen Lisa Lampinelli or Patrice O’Neill do stand up? This is what comedy is. It’s pushing boundaries, finding limits. And when you take those risks you are going to end up stepping over the boundaries and sometimes you are going to fail spectacularly. So what?Report

    • Kim in reply to j r says:

      I continue to find it amusing that blatantly anti-Semitic tropes can show up on TV, and people don’t say a damn thing about it. Character that is deliberately designed to create controversy (Comedians in NYC — if you make a character that makes fun of half your audience, you are going for the “controversy” angle).Report

    • Rose Woodhouse in reply to j r says:

      j r, I suppose it’s ironic that I find the phrase “pearl-clutching” sexist? (although vivid!)

      Yeah, I expected a lot of this sort of reaction (which part of me does feel!) is why I ended up not writing the piece.Report

      • j r in reply to Rose Woodhouse says:

        Don’t get me wrong. I appreciate hearing your perspective and, thus, enjoyed the piece.

        The “so what?” is just an exhortation to the universe and a response to the sort of ideological side games that tend to accompany these situations (as I mentioned below).

        There is nothing wrong with asking people to be more thoughtful. I am all for that. At the end of the day, however, we all have different tolerances for what might be considered offensive. Personally, I have very thick skin. You could say wildly offensive things to me, about me, and if they’re funny, I’ll laugh. If they’re not, I’ll stop listening. And I resist the urge to tell other people to get over it just as I hope others will resist the urge to tell me to be more sensitive.

        I tend to think that the best we can do is to voice our concerns, make the case for our respective positions, and let others decide for themselves where they fall. As far as I can see, there is no way to settle these matters definitively.Report

      • zic in reply to Rose Woodhouse says:

        @rose-woodhouse @j-r

        I tend to think that the best we can do is to voice our concerns, make the case for our respective positions, and let others decide for themselves where they fall. As far as I can see, there is no way to settle these matters definitively.


        Freedom to speak is 1) freedom to be offensive, and 2) freedom to call out when offended. I’d hate to see #1 limited by turning #2 into censorship.Report

      • Rose Woodhouse in reply to Rose Woodhouse says:

        And I have different tolerances from different people. People close to me and people with disabilities can make very different jokes to me – and I make jokes to them that I would find unacceptable from a stranger. I suppose it’s about knowing where they truly stand. That’s why Stewart’s 2002 joke is especially upsetting. Lots of people say “retarded” who would nonetheless never make fun of anyone with an intellectual disability. He is actually making fun of intellectually disabled people, and that says a lot to me about where his jokes are coming from.

        Noah is apparently 1/4 Jewish. I dunno if that’s enough to mitigate it, because it sorta depends on the role it played in his life.

        That uppercut joke? Hard to say that it comes from someone who generally has respect for women in his life.

        I used to have a thicker skin. I wonder why it’s thinned.Report

      • Rose Woodhouse in reply to Rose Woodhouse says:

        @zic 2) freedom to call out when offended. I’d hate to see #1 limited by turning #2 into censorship. The fact that I wanted to make this distinction – i.e., I mean to call out without calling for censorship, is one of the reasons I wrote this here. I thought I wouldn’t get it across otherwise.Report

      • zic in reply to Rose Woodhouse says:

        I used to have a thicker skin. I wonder why it’s thinned.

        Perhaps in the age of instant communication, our skins are overstimulated. T

        I quit TV/Cable news. I don’t tweet. I read a lot on the internet; but try not to over-indulge; it helped a lot. When I look at twitter or watch TV news, I find my anxiety levels rising rapidly, my sense of proportion slipping fast.Report

      • Kim in reply to Rose Woodhouse says:

        How much were you offended at Star Trek Into Darkness’ Falcon Punch?
        I just saw the proposal thing as a wry “You have my heart in your hands, and I’m totally going out on a limb here”.

        But, then again, I know someone who has actually been hit in the head by a clue by four for giving a pitch perfect “let’s be friends” speech. (Rule One about breaking up with someone: Don’t do it in a construction zone)Report

      • zic in reply to Rose Woodhouse says:


        It did come across clearly, and if I somehow implied it didn’t, I apologize and I regret that.

        I just meant to reinforce what JR said; he and I often disagree, and it matters to me to focus on where we agree; that’s where we build meaningful communication.Report

      • j r in reply to Rose Woodhouse says:

        I used to have a thicker skin. I wonder why it’s thinned.

        That is an interesting question. Isn’t it?

        I find that as I get older, I have more tolerance for people who inadvertently cause harm to others on the basis of honest mistakes and much less tolerance of people who are deliberately and willfully ignorant.Report

      • Kim in reply to Rose Woodhouse says:

        As I get older, i try to force myself to give people the benefit of the doubt more.
        Do comedians count as being willfully malicious?
        Can they count as being willfully malicious?

        Eddie Murphy had a bit about San Francisco that sidelong called gay people rapists. He would know better than to say this nowadays, I’m sure. But is the very attitude malicious?Report

      • veronica d in reply to Rose Woodhouse says:

        Eddie Murphy had a bit about San Francisco that sidelong called gay people rapists. He would know better than to say this nowadays, I’m sure. But is the very attitude malicious?

        It’s clumsy and hurtful, thus incompetent.

        Unless of course you want to be mislead, if you want to have a distorted view of the world, one rich in cheap laughs but short in truth and justice. Your choice. You get the comedians you deserve.Report

      • Kim in reply to Rose Woodhouse says:

        oooh, that’s mean. calling it incompetent is playing dirty. Apt, though… I approve!Report

      • aaron david in reply to Rose Woodhouse says:

        “I find that as I get older, I have more tolerance for people who inadvertently cause harm to others on the basis of honest mistakes and much less tolerance of people who are deliberately and willfully ignorant.”

        This, so much this.Report

      • DensityDuck in reply to Rose Woodhouse says:

        “Unless of course you want to be mislead…” [sic]

        Isn’t that part of a comedy performance, though? An implicit agreement by the audience members to understand that offensive acts and speech are part of the performance and meant to be taken in that context?

        But then, this is the modern age, where context doesn’t exist.Report

      • veronica d in reply to Rose Woodhouse says:

        @densityduck — You’re missing the scope of the issue. This is not about one dumb joke. Instead, it is about a sustained culture of jokes that single out a small set of targets for relentless abuse. Furthermore, it is about the members of those groups, who feel isolated and entirely alienated, perhaps until they find their way into an isolated subculture —

        But I don’t want to be in an isolated subculture, as there is much to experience in the broader culture. To hide is a diminished life.

        Jokes about trans women are generally very stupid. In fact, it’s not to hard to peek down one level and see them for what they are: jokes that reflect the sexual insecurity of straight guys. Which, it might be pleasant to mock straight guys, but it is hardly admirable. I want to be better than that. I want to stay free of the cycle.

        These jokes are relentless. I grew up hearing them, and basically nothing else about being trans. They are the default cultural symbol of me. Virtually everyday I encounter some dude-bro who thinks I’m hilarious.

        Trust me, these guys are not clever enough to reach these conclusions on their own. They are reflections of culture.

        This is not okay.

        Myself, I’ve learned to deal with this. No longer do I feel offense, instead I feel contempt. But this is hardly better. I’m still singled out.

        Humor is a part of this. In fact, I think it is a central part. These people know little about being trans, except how fun it is to make me the butt of the joke. But I am not the butt of the joke. I’m a person. I have dignity and strength — but also vulnerability and weakness.

        I have to stay strong all the fucking time, except when I hide among my own kind. This is wearisome.


        To some degree you get to pick the kind of person you want to be. You likewise get to choose how you personally shape the culture.

        You maybe cannot control what makes you laugh, not on the short term. But you can choose what memes you consume, what kinds of comedians you admire, where you put your support.

        And just as you make these choices, comedians make these choices, and round and round it goes.

        Do better.Report

  5. Mr. Blue says:

    Yesterday Salon’s loss was our gain, and today it’s the Daily Beast’s loss.

    Good to see you again, Rose.Report

  6. Kim says:

    I vaguely recall Autism Speaks being responsible for Amanda Baggs getting on CNN.
    Apparently at least one person without autism thinks it would be a fun disease to imitate.Report

  7. zic says:

    First, I’m not sure how anyone can be a comedian and not offend some people some of the time. And I do not think that should be an expectation of comedians, either. I’m also not a big fan of censorship; if you don’t like it, don’t watch.

    That said, I cannot help but think that the overwhelming response here is an effort to discredit before a new comedian is weaponized to poke fun at Real America™. The study that showed people who watched the Daily Show knew more about current events then people who watched other (unnamed) news networks reveals the size of the problem, and the importance, of dissing comics.

    I don’t know how to address the problems of a comic calling out The Stupid without, somehow, offending. I go to Vikram’s warnings about analogies; and comedy lives by analogy and comparison.Report

    • j r in reply to zic says:

      That said, I cannot help but think that the overwhelming response here is an effort to discredit before a new comedian is weaponized to poke fun at Real America™.

      That involves far more strategery than I think enters into these situations. For one thing, Noah is getting almost as much heat from the usual suspects on the left than he is on the right. And on the right, it’s probably more a case of conservatives wanting to join in on all the culture war fun. Also, it gives conservatives a chance to raise one of their favorite bogeyman: hypocrisy. How come the black guy gets a pass when he does it!? Finally, whenever claims of anti-antisemitism come up, expect the normal left-right divisions to warp significantly.Report

      • Rose Woodhouse in reply to j r says:

        I think j r is right. Much of the criticism I’ve seen has come from the left. Which I think is a good thing. We shouldn’t let “our people” have a pass. If anyone on the right was saying retarded one iota as much as Jon Stewart is, she would be pilloried. He’s not because people don’t want to take him down.Report

      • zic in reply to j r says:

        I didn’t suggest that this was conservative, though that’s easy to read into the idea; I suggested it was rooted in fears of what a comic (with this particular platform) would reveal about American Culture. American Liberals often lack funny bones, too. That’s why I didn’t say Fox News; I’m sure MSNBC watchers are/may be as ill-informed today. (Since I don’t watch either, I don’t know.)

        The point is that comedy is now recognized as ‘weaponized’ on many levels, and the best defense is a good offense, no matter left or right.Report

      • Rose Woodhouse in reply to j r says:

        I hear you. But I got the sense that the initial response to him was excited. Saw many articles about how funny his standup was. Then the tweets legitimately changed people’s minds. I can tell you that I had that reaction.

        Again, as I hope is clear in the post, it’s not that I now loathe him or think he should be banned or fired or even that he think that he shouldn’t have said those things. Just that I will personally be turned off by what else he has to say.Report

      • Jaybird in reply to j r says:

        Then the tweets legitimately changed people’s minds.

        I can’t help but wonder how much of the minds changing is actually semiotics.Report

    • Rose Woodhouse in reply to zic says:

      Although, zic, you might wonder whether the difference in reaction to Stewart’s comments and Noah’s has something to do with the difference between the two of them or between the groups they offended. I had tended to think it was because people don’t care so much about ableism as they do about sexism and anti-semitism. But maybe it’s because a) Noah is non-white or b) Noah doesn’t have the established reputation yet to shake off such responses.Report

    • Troublesome Frog in reply to zic says:

      I think there’s something to that. The Daily Show’s host chair is the closest thing the entertainment world has to the Secretary of State appointment, for better or worse. The person who gets nominated will be vetted and every attempt will be made to torpedo the nomination and score big political points against the institution. Given that, I’m actually a little bit surprised they found so little. Comics for the most part have plenty of offensive skeletons in their closets, and with Twitter and cell phone cameras, I doubt that most stand-up comics or satirists would fare as well. If the best they could do were some moderately offensive tweets with no real comic payoff, that’s not too bad. The interesting question is why so much of it has managed to stick so well.

      I don’t know much about his actual body of work (which seems to be fairly large for somebody his age so I can’t judge it all. I don’t know if it’s coincidence that the most offensive tweets they could mine were also just not very good jokes. I could probably come up with a half dozen more offensive things from most good comics with a decent written record. On the one hand, they’d be funnier. On the other hand, they’d be polished jokes and not tweets. I’ll wait and see.Report

  8. Tod Kelly says:

    Rose, if you haven’t yet you should check out Jon Ronson’s new bool, So You’ve Ben Publicly Shamed. It touches on some of what you touch on in this post, and I think you would find it fascinating.Report

    • zic in reply to Tod Kelly says:

      OT, but did you see the slate piece on Jonah Lerher? I thought it an offensive shaming of Lerher to discredit Ronson’s book. I was really disturbed by it.Report

    • Rose Woodhouse in reply to Tod Kelly says:

      @tod-kelly I read an excerpt from it, which is how I know about the dongle thing. I think what happened to that guy is horrifying, and same with #HasJustineLandedYet.

      A couple of things:

      I don’t think anyone should lose job over any one comment ever – or even several comments. That’s part of the point of the post. I roll my eyes at oversensitivity. Hell – I roll my eyes at my own oversensitivity.

      I do think there’s a difference between a muttered joke between friends, tweeting to a small following, and tweeting to a huge following, and speaking to a televised audience. The latter two have a greater responsibility. I also think there’s a difference between a one-time slip-up that’s clearly out of character, or a repeated pattern that looks worrisomely like it might be in character.Report

    • Kazzy in reply to Tod Kelly says:


      He was recently a guess on The Daily Show. Irony or ironies.Report

  9. veronica d says:

    Steward and Colbert are also pretty terrible on trans stuff — although I’m personally willing to give Colbert a pass, cuz satire. But still.

    To me this is a question of voice. Both trans people and neuro-diverse people (of which, the latter group includes me, in case that wasn’t screamingly obvious) have little voice, so people outside of these groups know very little about how we actually are.

    We seldom get to talk, but we are often talked about, since mocking the powerless is terrific fun. It’s the ultimate objectification. We are tokens, and you decide who I am and how I feel and what I’m really thinking.

    You pay no cost if you speak falsely about us. This sucks a lot. Please don’t be part of that.


    It’s probably much worse for developmentally disabled people. I mean, it almost has to be worse.

    But I know very little about that.


    There are a ton of shockingly hilarious jokes waiting to be made about trans women. Trust me. Tons. But cis people won’t make them, because they don’t really understand us very much, so they won’t see anything new about us. Instead they will get cheap laughs from tired clichés, before an audience who has no idea they are laughing at false images of actual people.

    Likewise for we weird-brain people. Likewise for “retards,” who are actual people, many of who know the word means them.

    Just stop. Everything is terrible enough already.


    “punch up” needs to mean “punch where the truth lies.” Hit those who need hitting, and be right about it.

    It is the last point. Real knowledge matters, real insight matters, getting it right is critical. If you get it wrong, you should pay a price. That’s what justice looks like.Report

    • Kim in reply to veronica d says:

      That last graf is beautiful, and I do agree.
      But to me, it’s different from the way Rose is putting it.
      Comedian do bad, comedian get punched (or publically called out, or what not).
      It’s not an “avoid comedian forever” thing.

      Maybe this is “My skin is thicker than yours”… or maybe it’s not.
      Am pondering this.Report

    • Kazzy in reply to veronica d says:


      Question (if you’ll oblige): Do you identify at “neuro-diverse” because you are trans? Or is that for other reasons? Perhaps put better, is being trans itself a form of neuro-diversity?

      I’ll also echo your and Rose’s dismay when this bullshit comes from the left, especially folks who consider themselves allies. Bill Maher might be the worst offender. I listen to his show sometimes because I think he gets interesting guests, but goddamnit it if he doesn’t engage in the most offensive attacks if he considers the target “primed”… which usually just means ideology opposed. He is STILL making jokes about Chris Christie’s weight, regularly makes awful comments about trans and gay people, and indulges in the sort of ironic hipster racism that makes me want to scream. That shit needs to stop, full stop. We get that those who are opposed to the mere existence of folks like yourself are going to be awful to you; it isn’t acceptable but at least we expect it. But for people who are supposedly “allies”… who like to count themselves among the enlightened… to so willfully engage in hate (and that is what it is)… ugh. I can only imagine…Report

      • Kim in reply to Kazzy says:

        I feel like most people who are trans are “neuro-diverse” in that they are … experienced in being in the middle in terms of gender (along with roughly 10% of the planet, including a lot of gay guys).

        I’m not certain I could consider someone who has gone through transition to be as “neuro-diverse” as before… if that makes sense?

        Am I being stupid? V, please tell me if I am.Report

      • veronica d in reply to Kazzy says:

        @kazzy — I’m diagnosed with ADHD and dyslexia, plus I have prosopagnosia. Likewise I have a number of behavioral factors similar to autism, such as stimming and the eye contact thing. In addition to prosopagnosia, I have a deficit at recognizing emotions in faces. This doesn’t hurt me much, however, as I have strong verbal skills and I’m quite good at understanding subtext. I think the advantages and deficits balance out.

        When I was a kid, autism diagnoses were quite rare. I suspect, however, that were I a kid today, I would almost certainly be diagnosed. As it was, teachers largely could not control me. Instead they stuck me in the hall with long math worksheets. It kept me quiet and out of the way.

        Socially, I could not relate to other children at all. I was bullied relentlessly from when I began school until late high school. I was just weird, unable to properly gauge the responses of other kids. I would ramble on about strange topics, which made me a target of abuse. I couldn’t figure out why they hated me. Nothing made sense.

        It seems like each school year, from middle school into high school, I would try out different personalities and different social approaches, to see if any worked. In late high school, I figured out that being “weird, super-creative, fucked-up rebel punk rock kid” worked for me. I wore that mask for about five years, before I was ready to re-don my nerd mask, but this time with social skills.

        I often say that, for me, social skills are “learned behavior.”

        I’m smart. I learned them well.

        I’m actually pretty good at it now, and I’ve shifted from a fairly introverted person to a fairly extroverted person. I can enter really about any social environment and do okay. I think it’s because I look good, I’m articulate, I’m confident, and I know to let others talk. Plus I have a cool job.

        Also I know to avoid talking about math stuff. If I start talking about math stuff, I’ll get going and turn into robot girl, just staring at the floor and explaining something in tedious detail.

        It turns out this isn’t a very good conversational strategy, so I know to avoid it. On the other hand, if you ever want to hear someone ramble on about polytope theory and its relation to combinatorial optimization, I’m your girl.

        If you’d rather discuss shoes, I can do that too. I’ll probably probably compliment your outfit. People seem to like that.Report

      • Kazzy in reply to Kazzy says:


        I’m big into shows. Guy shoes, at least. If you want to join me on a two hour expedition for new dress shoes, my wife will happily pass the baton.Report

  10. Dee says:

    Actors of fully Jewish background: -Logan Lerman, Natalie Portman, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Mila Kunis, Bar Refaeli, James Wolk, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Julian Morris, Adam Brody, Esti Ginzburg, Kat Dennings, Gabriel Macht, Erin Heatherton, Odeya Rush, Anton Yelchin, Paul Rudd, Scott Mechlowicz, Lisa Kudrow, Lizzy Caplan, Emmanuelle Chriqui, Gal Gadot, Debra Messing, Robert Kazinsky, Melanie Laurent, Shiri Appleby, Justin Bartha, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Margarita Levieva, Elizabeth Berkley, Halston Sage, Seth Gabel, Corey Stoll, Mia Kirshner, Alden Ehrenreich, Eric Balfour, Jason Isaacs, Jon Bernthal, William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy.

    Andrew Garfield is Jewish, too (though I don’t know if both of his parents are).

    Actors with Jewish mothers and non-Jewish fathers -Jake Gyllenhaal, Dave Franco, James Franco, Scarlett Johansson, Daniel Day-Lewis, Daniel Radcliffe, Alison Brie, Eva Green, Joaquin Phoenix, River Phoenix, Emmy Rossum, Rashida Jones, Jennifer Connelly, Sofia Black D’Elia, Nora Arnezeder, Goldie Hawn, Ginnifer Goodwin, Amanda Peet, Eric Dane, Jeremy Jordan, Joel Kinnaman, Ben Barnes, Patricia Arquette, Kyra Sedgwick, Dave Annable, Ryan Potter.

    Actors with Jewish fathers and non-Jewish mothers, who themselves were either raised as Jews and/or identify as Jews: -Ezra Miller, Gwyneth Paltrow, Alexa Davalos, Nat Wolff, Nicola Peltz, James Maslow, Josh Bowman, Winona Ryder, Michael Douglas, Ben Foster, Jamie Lee Curtis, Nikki Reed, Zac Efron, Jonathan Keltz, Paul Newman.

    Oh, and Ansel Elgort’s father is Jewish, though I don’t know how Ansel was raised. Robert Downey, Jr. and Sean Penn were also born to Jewish fathers and non-Jewish mothers.

    Actors with one Jewish-born parent and one parent who converted to Judaism -Dianna Agron, Sara Paxton (whose father converted, not her mother), Alicia Silverstone, Jamie-Lynn Sigler.Report

  11. Kazzy says:

    Hi Rose,

    First! YAY! You’re writing (here!) again. I didn’t realize you were elsewhere and now will look for you there.

    “His “Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear” with Colbert has also ruffled feathers in the disability community. Using “insane” to mean “bad” is still totally amazingly acceptable, even in progressive activist circles.”

    I have been more conscious about my use of the word “crazy”. I generally try not to employ it, especially with my students. I will sometimes describe things as insane if they do seem to genuinely fit at least a colloquial definition of the term (i.e., making no sense), but even that may be inappropriate. I do bristle at how easily people use it and other terms and wonder how this impacts people suffering with mental health issues and their ability to seek and receive help. @chris discussed this yesterday with regards to the term ‘depression’. So, thanks for bringing more attention to this issue.

    With regards to autism and other similar… conditions? Even here I’m lost on the language. Anyway, I don’t think it’d be controversial if I said, “I want to cure cancer.” I don’t think anyone would balk at me developing a pill that everyone’s mom took while they were pregnant and it made cancer go away for ever. Cancel, to me it seems, is objectively bad and it is better to not have cancer than to have cancer (which should in no way downplay people who have taken positives away from their own experiences with cancer).

    Let’s go WAY to the other end of the spectrum. I have no qualms saying that it is objectively harder to be a woman in American society than it is to be a man. Yes, some things may be easier for women. But, all in all, the deck is stacked against women in a way that it is not against men. In a way, we could similarly (sort of!) say that it is better to not be a woman than to be a woman. But no one would be on board with eradicating women. No one wants to “cure” womanhood.

    Autism and others conditions seem to fall somewhere in the middle. I’ve heard similar comments about how “curing” autism can be offensive to some people. And yet… it seems to me that it is objectively better to not be autistic than to be autistic. But how much of this is inherent to the condition itself (like cancer) and how much is because of society’s response to the condition (like being a woman)? If pills existed that pregnant women could take that would prevent their children from being born with autism or dyslexia or MS or being blind or developmental delay… would we all universally welcome those pills? Only some of them? I’m not talking about “curing” people of autism; I’m talking about preventing it. Stopping it from continuing to proliferate. Is this a good thing? A bad thing? Opinions may vary… or maybe they don’t? Were you to get pregnant again and could take a pill and ensure that your fourth son was typically developing, would you? Would you be wrong to?

    Thanks in advance for indulging any of these questions and if I was offensive in any way here, please call me out!Report

    • Chris in reply to Kazzy says:

      First! YAY! You’re writing (here!) again. I didn’t realize you were elsewhere and now will look for you there.

      Dude, get thee to Twitter.Report

      • Kazzy in reply to Chris says:


        If you can write a post explaining Twitter, I’ll consider it.

        I’m on Instagram… does that count???Report

      • Chris in reply to Chris says:

        Instagram? I assume you’re posting photos of yourself nude or scantily clad, because that’s what Instagram is for, right?

        If I had to explain Twitter in four words, I would do so thusly: black and white llamas.Report

      • Kazzy in reply to Chris says:


        At this point, it is 99% pictures of the boys. Am I Instagramming wrong?

        As for the llamas, I didn’t learn about those until I saw a news report that night at the gym. As a function of my job, I am minimally ‘connected’ at work: I regularly check email and this site and a few others, but otherwise I’m out of it.

        My concern with Twitter is twofold: Either my phone will be blowing up with alerts every thirty seconds -OR- I won’t check it regularly enough to make good use of it.

        That… and I’m still not sure how it works. I think I have an account somewhere though. Maybe I’ll activate it and start following the OT people so I can double down on being a social media putz with Instagram dedicated to baby pics and Twitter dedicated to you nerds.Report

      • Will Truman in reply to Chris says:

        I thought instagram was for pictures of food.

        You can manage your twitter account so that you only get an alert if someone is talking to or about you, and for the rest you can check in or out. It’s analogous to Facebook (or at least how I use Facebook) that way.

        The Big advantage, to me, is that you can have conversations with heavy disincentives to ramble on and on.

        Though I use it mostly for flagging links.Report

      • Chris in reply to Chris says:

        You can mess with your notification settings, and even without any customization you will only get them when people interact with you. My suggestions with Twitter, and the other regular users should feel free to correct any of these, are:

        1) Don’t panic.
        2) Embrace the scroll: If you’re following enough people to make Twitter interesting, you’re going to miss a lot of interesting stuff. Accept this and just enjoy what you don’t miss.
        3) Related to (1), follow a lot of people. You can also use lists to sort them, or just pay attention to them when you want. I follow a bunch of people for a variety of different reasons: news, Austin stuff, urbanists, black Twitter, funny people, stuff I’m interested in, smart people generally, professional stuff, musicians (Anna Wise followed me! Maybe she and I can hang out with Kendrick Lamar sometime? No, that’s not how it works? Shut up!) personal friends, OT people, etc. (there is a lot of overlap in some of these, of course). So my time line is always interesting (well, mostly).
        4) If you want to make it a really social experience, learn the ins and outs of @’s and #’s, and learn what people on Twitter are doing when. For example, there are often hilarious TV watch parties on Twitter centered around a # (e.g., #Scandal).

        There’s a bit of a learning curve, but it’s not steep, and if you follow a bunch of OT people right away, you’ll get help. Also, I almost always know what Russell and Rose and other former or wayward OTers are writing about on other sites, ’cause they tweet about it.Report

      • Rose Woodhouse in reply to Chris says:

        Reasons why Twitter is my favorite social media platform:

        1) There is no expectation of mutually following.
        2) It is not weird to follow strangers, so you can get to know some interesting people. I’ve gotten to know so many interesting people. It is not nearly so insular as Facebook. It is also no real biggie to unfollow, so if they’re annoying you, you just sign off.
        3) You get a very quick sense of how a bunch of people are reacting to something.
        4) Much more interesting stuff gets linked to, much fewer boring personal stories.
        5) There are no algorithms of what Twitter thinks you would find interesting. You see whatever crap is posted by the people you follow when they post it.
        6) I don’t check it for days at a time, and then if I have to kill time, I can follow all the interesting links people have posted that morning.

        I think that’s it. I barely use Facebook anymore.Report

      • Rose Woodhouse in reply to Chris says:

        And totally agree with Chris about how to use it. Follow lots of people and you just dip your toe in sometimes. And I love the mixed bag I have: disabled folks, philosophers, scientists, feminists, feminist scientists, OT peeps, journalists, film nerds, gardeners.Report

      • Kazzy in reply to Chris says:

        @chris @will-truman @rose-woodhouse

        If I make different “lists”, will I have different feeds? Can I curate my own sports feed, music feed, friend feed, and toggle between which one I view as I see fit? If not, let’s make that happen and become billionaires.

        Okay… I THINK you’ve convinced me.

        But I’m too lazy to do all that following. Can you just share with me who you follow and I can select some or all of them? Again, if not, let’s make that happen and become trillionaires.

        But now I’m really scared one of you won’t follow me. 🙁 I swear my feed won’t be entirely off-handed comments about my infant/toddler, whining about the Eagles, fart jokes, and comments about the ‘Fast and Furious’ franchise. It will be *mostly* that. But not all that.

        And, Will and Chris, you see my wanton abuse of hashtags through Facebook. I don’t know if that means I’m primed for Twitter or woefully ill-equipped.Report

      • Kazzy in reply to Chris says:

        And if it really does cultivate shared experiences, I *need* that! Country living is getting to me! If I can interact with people watching the same sporting event (like we did here during Game 6 of the 2013 NBA Finals… the end of which consisted of me and a few others simply jamming fists into our keyboards as Ray Allen become a real Jesus), I’m totally game for that!Report

      • Will Truman in reply to Chris says:

        Kazzy, twitter feeds go crazy during sporting events. I have been following March Madness with no actual intent to do so.Report

      • Chris in reply to Chris says:

        Oh man can you watch sporting events with other people! I watch Kentucky games with Kentucky fans. It’s awesome. Big Blue Nation!

        I will email you a list of people I’d recommend you follow, if you’d like.Report

      • Kazzy in reply to Chris says:

        Email??? There isn’t a more efficient way??? SERIOUSLY! THIS COULD BE OUR BIG TICKET!!!Report

      • Glyph in reply to Chris says:

        I have been following March Madness with no actual intent to do so.


      • Kim in reply to Chris says:

        following march madness is a survival skill.
        Hordes upon hordes of … is that North Carolina versus LSU? How far did they drive to get here??Report

    • Rose Woodhouse in reply to Kazzy says:

      Kazzy, I just gave a talk on this very topic. Plenty of people think disability is TOTALLY neutral in terms of how it makes your life go. I think it’s not that simple. For example, with autism, there are gastrointestinal symptoms that are difficult.

      I think most people would welcome those pills. I would be hesitant.

      I tend to think of disability as something like not having a lot of money or being physically unattractive. On the whole, on average, it probably makes your life go worse. But that definitely doesn’t mean that your life is not worth living. And for some people, it might make their lives go better. Someone physically unattractive may cultivate hobbies and personality traits that would otherwise lie dormant. Had Helen Keller not been disabled, she likely would be an Alabama housewife. Instead, she got to travel the world and be an internationally renowned author. Seems like her life went better because she had a disability. Likewise, having a kid with a disability, on average, makes your life go worse, I’d say. But personally, my life has gone better because of it.

      So if we could magically give all people enough economic resources, we’d say sure! How about giving pills to make sure people who are physically unattractive would be born attractive? Should we give those pills? I hesitate.Report

      • Kazzy in reply to Rose Woodhouse says:

        Thanks, Rose. Very interesting perspective. I should make clear that the pills would not terminate any pregnancies… those people would still have lives. You probably gathered that but given the many sordid ideas out there about killing people with atypical development (before or after birth), I just wanted to clarify.

        Honestly, I’m not sure I buy the analogy to attractiveness because A) that is much closer to ‘womanhood’ in that it has to do with how society responds as opposed to some inherent aspect of it and B) attractiveness seems to be relative insofar as people who are highly attractive are that because they are in the .0001%. If everyone looked like them, biological urges would still exist but I’m not sure we’d still have the same quality of life issues.

        I guess what I’m wondering is where is the line between “This is a disease that can and should be treated” and “This is a part of my identity that should be respected”. And how many things straddle the line?Report

      • Rose Woodhouse in reply to Rose Woodhouse says:

        Right, so the difference between disability and disease (where a disability might be considered part of someone’s identity, but a disease as an intruder that is attacking the person) is one that is hotly debated. Indeed, the difference between disability and non-disability is not so clear. Oscar Pistorious can out-run me any day, yet, he’s disabled just because he requires technology? I need glasses, but don’t think of myself as disabled. Etc.

        In general, there are a few things going on. One is whether the condition is congenital, progressive, static. I’d say congenital and static are more likely (certainly not entirely!) to be considered a disability rather than a disease. When it involves mind and thoughts and psychological states, again, it’s going to be more a part of your essential identity.

        But none of what you ask has easy answers and they are all questions that philosophers of disability write about all the time.Report

      • Rose Woodhouse in reply to Rose Woodhouse says:

        Also: does the symptom cause actual pain or deterioration? Is it something that society can accommodate? (For example, we can learn to accept hand-flapping as socially acceptable; we can make curb cuts.) If we can accommodate and it causes no pain or health problems, that seems a sign we should.Report

      • j r in reply to Rose Woodhouse says:

        Had Helen Keller not been disabled, she likely would be an Alabama housewife. Instead, she got to travel the world and be an internationally renowned author. Seems like her life went better because she had a disability.

        There is a bit of conflicting idea here though, no?. On the one hand, you are saying let’s be careful about making objective determinations of good and bad, favorable and unfavorable when it comes to disabilities. At the same time, your statement implies that being a world-renowned author and recognized historical figure is objectively superior to being an Alabama housewife.

        My own thoughts are that we ought to do our best to disaggregate these conversations and deal with them on the smallest scale possible. Different strokes for different folks. That gets in the way of adopting universally recognized norms about right and wrong, but maybe that is a feature and not a bug.Report

      • zic in reply to Rose Woodhouse says:

        I have sequencing issues (I think that’s right,) difficulty with left/right, sequences of letters in words (dyslexia,) etc.

        As much as this is a ‘learning disability,’ it’s also a gift; left/right troubles me because I’m aware that it’s perspective, it depends on your point of view, and I can easily rotate 3D space in my mind, so I’m often unsure of someone else’s perspective. The spelling problems often lead to better writing as I search for words that convey my meaning and that I can spell.

        Of course, both lead to frequent mistakes and some amount of zic-shame.

        So it is with may things; they now thing Van Gogh was color blind; Monet had vision issues. Beethovan lost his hearing, and felt the music through the vibrations of his piano on the floor.

        It really depends on the person; I know a lot of people ‘on the spectrum’ who are brilliant; and a lot of people who are perfectly normal that are boring.

        One’s state is one’s state; I cannot cure my migraines (a brain inflammation, of which a headache is one of many symptoms). Sometimes, the migraine state leads to beautiful poetry and seeing incredible things. But I doubt I could hold down a 9-5 office job, either; too much time in the inflammed-brain state, where I am not a reliable person.

        But that does not mean I am not a worthwhile person, either. I just am what/who I am, and all I can do is make the best of the moments I have, no matter my state.Report

      • Rose Woodhouse in reply to Rose Woodhouse says:

        j r , you’re absolutely right. I just use the Helen Keller example as something people can grasp easily, and Alabama thing is sort of an inside joke with myself. My husband currently has a position at U of Alabama and there’s a nonzero possibility I will be moving there within 90 days. I do not want to. Not because I hate Alabama or think it’s a bunch of rednecks but….it’s complicated. Anyhow, the joke was that I may soon become an Alabama housewife.Report

      • Kazzy in reply to Rose Woodhouse says:


        It is good to know that these questions are being asked and seemingly by/of the right people. I’ll do my best to continue to educate myself. Thanks!!!Report

    • Chris in reply to Kazzy says:

      Her comments on autism remind me of a documentary I saw on deaf culture a few years ago (I cannot, for the life of me, remember what it was called, but it was excellent, so I’d recommend it if I could find it). There was a lot of tension within the deaf community surrounding “cures” for deafness like cochlear implants, and a lot of deaf people expressed a feeling of betrayal when people underwent such procedures.

      It is really a difficult subject to navigate, because on the one hand, it seems almost self-evident that everyone being able to hear would be a good thing, but on the other, deafness is not merely a physical or physiological difference, but it is also an identity and a culture, and in that sense, eliminating or curing deafness means something quite different. There is probably a way to talk about deafness without confusing the culture and identity with the physiology, but it takes a care and thoughtful use of language to do so. I get the impression that the same is true for autism.

      Which is part of why, without the context of his other ableist comments, I’d think we could cut him some slack for his “against autism remarks”: that should be a learning moment, not just for him but for most of us.Report

      • Rose Woodhouse in reply to Chris says:

        it seems almost self-evident that everyone being able to hear would be a good thing and yet the testimony of people who are both congenitally deaf and who have gone deaf (after some transition costs are paid) dispute this. They are self-reportedly as happy as people without disabilities, as long as they are socially involved. For deafness and blindness in particular, this is true – the story is more complex for deaf-blindness and other disabilities.

        There’s a tendency among academics no to take these self-reports seriously, because we simply cannot imagine that a mere lack of what is obviously a good can ever in itself be a good.

        One is that there are community compensations. Another is that there may be cognitive compensations. I just read a paper about how there has never been a reported case of a congenitally blind person who developed schizophrenia. Among the theories about why are that people who are congenitally blind have more developed auditory and executive function systems.

        Another may not be compensatory at all, but simply how bad we are at predicting what makes or lives go well or badly. We (most of us) have had the experience of getting something we desperately wanted, only to realize it wasn’t all that amazing, and we’ve had the experience of having some shitty luck that turned not to be all that bad after all.Report

      • Burt Likko in reply to Chris says:

        This may be true, @rose-woodhouse , but if you had a choice between hearing and deafness, knowing that the decision was indifferent as to your ultimate happiness, wouldn’t you still choose hearing?Report

      • Chris in reply to Chris says:

        Right, I should have been more clear: the fact that many, perhaps most deaf people do not find being deaf to be a bad thing, so much that they choose not to receive what are now readily available treatments that allow people to hear, is something we have to take seriously when we talk about deafness. This doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t talk about the physical aspect, and it doesn’t mean that we should continue to research treatments, it just means that the “badness” of it is not as objective or as universal as we might have believed before wading into the issue.

        And even for those who do seek treatments like cochlear implants, we have to avoid reading too much into the implications of that for deafness in general. It’s entirely possible that some, perhaps many deaf people seek out such treatments because of the way non-deaf people treat them and treat deafness.Report

      • Rose Woodhouse in reply to Chris says:

        @burt-likko I would, because of averages. Just like I’d choose to have money and be good-looking. But that doesn’t tell you much about a particular case. Pretty much no parent would choose to have a kid as disabled as mine, and yet it has made me happier and actually opened up career opportunities.Report

      • Kim in reply to Chris says:

        yer just picking plums to pull blind folks out of the hat, you realize?Report

      • Chris in reply to Chris says:

        @burt-likko in the documentary (damn, I wish I remember what it was called… it might have been on PBS?) there were many deaf people who chose deafness over treatments that would have allowed them some measure of hearing, and they did so because deafness was part of who they were and what they knew of the world (Eyeth vs Earth is how it’s framed in the documentary). We might expect Rose to choose hearing, because she’s been on Earth her whole life, but a deaf person who’s been on Eyeth all or most of his or her life might very well choose deafness. I’m not sure much that is generalizable can be made of their choices.

        And let’s be clear, this is not a trivial decision for deaf people. My son is taking sign language for his high school language requirement (his Spanish was already fairly good, and he’ll likely take French in college, so this might be his only opportunity to learn an important language in a formal classroom setting), and he had a lot of difficulty with his first teacher. Part of this is a function of some of my son’s social deficits: he was pretty severely language delayed when he was young, and one of the lingering effects of that is that he has some difficulty reading people. But the other part is that, without the availability of many of the social, and particularly emotional cues that hearing people have (tone of voice, say), deaf people develop other ways of reading each other and non-deaf people, and different ways of expressing some of that social information. My son couldn’t pick up on those, and it led to some unfortunate and unnecessary conflict (conflict we got worked out, but not before there was some unpleasantness).

        My son had a couple toes in the deaf world, Eyeth as it’s sometimes called, for an hour a day 5 days a week, and it was difficult. Imagine being thrust into it fully, full time? Or imagine the reverse: being deaf and thrust into the largely unfamiliar world of the hearing. When I think about it that way, it almost seems like an obvious choice in both cases: choose the world you know.

        I’m pretty sure I’d choose hearing, and it’s a decision I’ll likely face at some point because of the way I’ve treated my ears over the years, but I don’t know Eyeth.Report

      • Kazzy in reply to Chris says:


        “It’s entirely possible that some, perhaps many deaf people seek out such treatments because of the way non-deaf people treat them and treat deafness.”

        This is what I was trying to get at with regards to differentiating between the inherent effects of the disease/disability and the social constructs that exist around it.

        Absent some form of treatment or assistive technology, a fully deaf person will never hear music. This is an objective fact and a consequence that is inherent to the disability.

        However, stigmatizing deaf people is a social construct, something not inherent to the disability and something that need not exist if we choose otherwise.Report

      • Jaybird in reply to Chris says:

        There are a lot of things bundled in with the whole “ableism” thing.

        The evolution of the terms used for differently abled people provide an illuminating example. The term that is originally intended to be purely descriptive and not have the baggage of the previous term gets changed because the purely descriptive term has picked up the baggage of the abandoned term.

        The problem, of course, is the baggage. People who use the term after we’ve pretty much agreed to use a downright clinically descriptive term instead of the old one are deliberately signalling that they are using the term because of the associated baggage.

        And I don’t know that there’s ever going to be a way to get rid of the baggage.Report

    • veronica d in reply to Kazzy says:

      @kazzy — I kept trying to write up some response to this, but I right now I can only manage the following.

      Short version: I don’t want a “cure.” I’m sure some people do, those who cannot operate socially, those who suffer. But many of us learn to compensate. We find other ways. And in fact, those compensations can be really amazing.

      I wish my childhood had been easier. I wish I had been taught about transgender stuff, and autism stuff — I mean the truth about these things, instead of a steady stream of alienating nonsense. Those lies hurt me, cuz they made me hate what I was and hide from the truth about myself. For years. For half my life. (I get half a life.)

      These lies hurt me far worse than the bare fact being trans or being neuro-diverse. Being both of these things means I am weird, not that I am invalid.

      In fact, being trans and being neuro-diverse are really fucking cool. I wouldn’t trade them for the world, now that I’ve walked the hard road and got to a place where I can be accepted.

      My cognitive abilities are strange, which means I’m really bad at some stuff, such recognizing faces, and really great at others, such as understanding complex software systems. But I am not some weird robot girl. I have friends. I have lovers. I get “out” often, meet new people, have fun. I have a rich emotional life.

      What would the “cured” version of me look like? I cannot even imagine. Not-trans veronica is no veronica at all. Not-neuro-diverse veronica is — well, what is she? Boring normal girl who thinks boring normal girl thoughts. Does not-neuro-diverse veronica ramble on for twenty minutes about spectral graph theory with her friends?

      Cuz I do that — to my smart friends who like that stuff. I don’t do it with my other friends, those who are not into math. I’ve learned how to behave in each group.

      A cure means killing me — I mean the actual me, who I am. A world with a “cure” is a world without people like me, a world where I am invalid, erased, nothing. It’s horrifying.Report

      • Kazzy in reply to veronica d says:

        Thank you for this illuminating perspective, @veronica-d .Report

      • Jaybird in reply to veronica d says:

        Another reason to not make conservativism something like a mental illness or otherwise non-neurotypical:

        To change the people who are conservative would then be akin to murder the way that Veronica says that a “cure” for what makes her her would murder her.

        If it’s something else, then we can change it. We can change the everliving heck out of it.Report

  12. Shelley says:

    Noah’s comments given here are not funny. Cold-hearted is not funny. And they’re heartless.

    Stewart, whatever slips he made have made, clearly had his heart in the right place.

    Noah just wants to make a career.Report

  13. Mo says:

    I think one thing that needs to be recognized is that Twitter has become part of the comedic process to test out jokes. It probably goes somewhere before testing it out in a stand-up joint in a one-horse town. The only real way to see if a joke “works” or doesn’t is to gauge audience response. Some hit and some come off bad, but you can’t find the line without going over it some times. That’s probably why many of the worst tweets came out as he was doing more and more stand-up, he needed to do more market testing.Report

  14. ktward says:

    Definitions often morph into something else. I googled the word “retarded” and got this :

    dated offensive
    less advanced in mental, physical, or social development than is usual for one’s age.

    informal offensive
    very foolish or stupid.
    “in retrospect, it was a totally retarded idea”

    Surely given the totality of Stewart’s work, one could reasonably assume he meant the latter.

    The term “retard” has clearly evolved–for better or worse I’m in no position to say–to be less indicative of a mentally disabled condition and more indicative of seriously faulty reasoning. That said, I’m genuinely struggling to understand why it still weighs so heavily as an offense when used in arguably benign context.Report

    • Rose Woodhouse in reply to ktward says:

      A) Did you click on 2002 link?
      B) Check on campaigns to end the R-word. It is considered highly offensive. Stewart made direct reference to the fact that he shouldn’t be using it.Report

      • ktward in reply to Rose Woodhouse says:

        I didn’t click on old links because, well, they’re *old*. 2002 seems like a lifetime ago even to me and I’m old.

        I’m just trying to understand why you so vehemently cling to this term as a pejorative against the disabled when clearly it is, anymore, almost entirely used as a pejorative toward folks who are obviously not disabled.

        I very much appreciate that your experience as a parent of a disabled child necessarily lends you insights into a human experience in which I’ve no insights to lend. Which is why I so appreciate your columns.

        But here, in this piece, it feels to me like you’re mostly just beating a dead horse. A horse I’m pretty sure most of us know is dead, but I am indeed curious why you insist on beating it.

        Wait. Is this an April Fool’s thing?Report

      • Rose Woodhouse in reply to Rose Woodhouse says:

        ktward, I was about to answer you totally seriously, until I saw the last line. I am seriously, totally enraged right now. Please never condescend to me again.Report

      • Rose Woodhouse in reply to Rose Woodhouse says:

        Seriously, I have never been so pissed off by a comment. Even ones telling me I should kill my kid.Report

      • ktward in reply to Rose Woodhouse says:

        Well then, have it at. Be pissed off.

        Though, it’s hard for me to imagine that anything I said was remotely as horrific or egregious as someone literally telling you to kill your kid. Really? Then again, you know you better than I know you so who am I to argue.Report

      • Rose Woodhouse in reply to Rose Woodhouse says:

        That person had a lot of false beliefs – so many that it was hard to take them seriously. Which is clearly what you think of me. They paid me the compliment, however, of believing I was a rational creature.Report

      • Kim in reply to Rose Woodhouse says:

        Rationality and parenthood are words not often used in the same sentence. And particularly not by older and wiser parents, looking at those with their first child.Report

      • ktward in reply to Rose Woodhouse says:

        That person had a lot of false beliefs – so many that it was hard to take them seriously. Which is clearly what you think of me. They paid me the compliment, however, of believing I was a rational creature.

        Huh? I never insinuated that you had a lot false beliefs, nor were an irrational creature. If anything, I suggested just the opposite even while disagreeing with your position. My last statement was meant only to lighten things up, not send you into a whirlwind of defensiveness.

        Seems like you have stuff going on that has nothing to do with me or my comment. Believe me, I get that. I’m happy to bow out of this thread, my investment in it is trivial to yours.Report

      • Chris in reply to Rose Woodhouse says:

        Seems to me that Stuart is riding that dead horse, and Rose is just pointing that out.

        Also, the word is used as an insult that ascribes a disability to non-disabled people as though it were a bad thing. It can’t be difficult to see why that is offensive.Report

      • ktward in reply to Rose Woodhouse says:

        @chris Also, the word [retard] is used as an insult that ascribes a disability to non-disabled people as though it were a bad thing. It can’t be difficult to see why that is offensive.

        That’s no longer true in common usage. Which is exactly why I posted that google def.

        Nevertheless, I myself am indeed sensitive to the fact that some people find the word offensive, and lord knows I have plenty of other terms at my disposal to use when [cough] needed. But I think it’s time we officially declaw the term retard. We’ve done it before. (Anyone feel a twinge of guilt when you call someone a moron?)Report

      • veronica d in reply to Rose Woodhouse says:

        That’s no longer true in common usage.

        This is almost certainly false, insofar as it confuses strict denotation with what happens when people hear words. In fact, the word gets it power from its association with the developmentally disabled. The word functions by saying “as stupid as…” or “as pathetic as…”

        Just because the word can be used to denote objects in the world other than developmentally disabled people does not mean that the word loses its connotations. In fact, it remains rich in those connotations. It is how the word works. It is why it remains powerful, because the contempt remains strong.Report

    • Rose Woodhouse in reply to ktward says:

      I’m rational, but obviously am too emotional and personally invested to discuss it rationally?Report

      • ktward in reply to Rose Woodhouse says:

        Of course you’re more personally invested than I am. After all, it’s your OP.
        Of course you can discuss it rationally. Which is why I expect you should be able to take criticism and altogether benign humor for what it’s worth. Seriously, your defensiveness is wasted on me.

        Look. After re-reading your OP I still don’t know what it is you think I’m not getting. I get that parenting is hard. Been there done that. I also get that parenting disabled children is especially hard, even though I haven’t done that.

        I also get that US society, which includes me, must support all families, including ones with disabled kids.

        What I don’t get is why you spent so much precious energy on this OP in effort to discredit a couple of people over occasionally edgy humor, people who likely champion the same ends you do. Forest, trees.

        Like @zic , I figure you can just turn off whatever it is you don’t like.Report

      • Rose Woodhouse in reply to Rose Woodhouse says:

        Right. So if you read the OP, you’ll see I said they shouldn’t be banned, they shouldn’t lose their jobs, that part of me can still roll my eyes at overreactions. Not even that I’ll never watch them again. Just that it bothered me. Why did I spend so much time writing the OP? Because I thought that there was a lot of sheer outrage, and a lot of STFU at outraged people, and I wanted to articulate a middle ground. Why what Stewart said was exceptionally offensive: he makes repeated reference to the fact that he shouldn’t be saying such things. In the 2002 video, he is not using retarded as a metaphor, he talks about “smiling like f**king mentally retarded people.” Here’s where we disagree: I don’t think it’s a dead metaphor. Neither does Stewart, or he wouldn’t joke about how now, because he used the word, Sarah Palin’s going to hate him even more now, etc. I wrote this on a phone, so forgive horrendous typos [update: which I just edited.]Report

      • Rose Woodhouse in reply to Rose Woodhouse says:

        One last. In general, I don’t think I’m super defensive. In fact, I think I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve expressed actual anger on any sort of discussion board. This is despite the fact that I’ve written about controversial subjects plenty of times, including disability. People regularly write wretched comments on my freelance articles. You’ll notice that plenty of other people disagreed with the OP and I didn’t get angry at all.

        What got me angry is the attitude, “That is so stupid, no one could possibly think it.” Which you’ve now expressed in multiple ways. All I can tell you is I *do* think it. I leave you to decide whether that means (A) I’m so stupid or (B) I’m not so stupid but am entirely incapable of seeing reason at least this one topic. I hope for (C) I feel this way for certain reasons that are not completely out of left field, but are fundamentally wrong.Report

      • Road Scholar in reply to Rose Woodhouse says:

        @rose-woodhouse , but is the problem really the particular word itself? Would it actually have been any less offensive had Stewart said, “smiling like f**king developmentally disabled people.”?

        It seems to me that @jaybird hits it on the head in his comment above:

        The evolution of the terms used for differently abled people provide an illuminating example. The term that is originally intended to be purely descriptive and not have the baggage of the previous term gets changed because the purely descriptive term has picked up the baggage of the abandoned term.

        The problem, of course, is the baggage. People who use the term after we’ve pretty much agreed to use a downright clinically descriptive term instead of the old one are deliberately signalling that they are using the term because of the associated baggage.

        And I don’t know that there’s ever going to be a way to get rid of the baggage.

        The term “mentally retarded” was the clinically descriptive term that replaced the taxonomy of idiot, moron, and imbecile that were the former clinically descriptive terms that had fallen out of favor due to their use as pejoratives. Then “retarded” was out in favor of “mentally handicapped” but since “mental” became a slang pejorative it was replaced with “developmentally” and “handicapped” morphed into “challenged” which was then appended lots of other things like “height” to denote short people which is its own kind of mockery, and… you get the idea. It sometimes seems like some kind of game of rhetorical whack-a-mole. Any term that’s considered right and proper just gets co-opted into slang in fairly short order.

        A couple days ago I used the term “moron” in a comment to refer to a Republican politician. (I actually said, “… assuming he’s not a complete moron…”) For some reason the PC police didn’t come down on me. But why not? After all “moron” basically means the same thing as “retarded.” Is it simply that enough time has passed since moron was seriously used to refer to actual DD folks?

        The basic problem is that we analogize to the developmentally disabled as an insulting descriptive. Perhaps we should stick to “poopyhead” instead? Honestly here, how the hell do you make the point that so-and-so doesn’t appear terribly bright without inadvertently casting aspersions on those with diminished mental capacities?Report

      • I had that problem in a comment that I decided wasn’t worth posting, and arrived at “cranial capacity of a mollusk”. But that would probably get the ALF and PETA people all over me.Report

      • Rose Woodhouse in reply to Rose Woodhouse says:

        As for Jaybird’s whack-a-mole idea, I have this bonkers idea that we will not hold the intellectually disabled in contempt in perpetuity. That between inclusion and awareness, their name will no longer be a pejorative.Report

      • Chris in reply to Rose Woodhouse says:

        I wonder if we’re most aware of prejudice at the points in the “whack-a-mole” language game at which we realize the current name we’re using has become too laden with baggage and needs to be retired.Report

      • Jaybird in reply to Rose Woodhouse says:

        I have this bonkers idea that we will not hold the intellectually disabled in contempt in perpetuity

        It’s not just contempt we hold them in, Rose. There’s also pity. There’s also m/paternalism. The list goes on for a while. There are some things that we hold them in that will not go away. Some of the baggage we handle is full of those things as well.Report

      • Kim in reply to Rose Woodhouse says:

        yeah, and a couple of other terms.
        You’d be surprised how pissed people get when they go to a sperm bank and wind up with a retarded guy’s sperm.Report

      • zic in reply to Rose Woodhouse says:

        @road-scholar but is the problem really the particular word itself? Would it actually have been any less offensive had Stewart said, “smiling like f**king developmentally disabled people.”?

        I think the problem lies not so much with the words, which have their own history and baggage, as the intent. It’s a comparison; this behavior is bad because of this other group of people. Take calling someone weak by saying they’re a pussy. It compares them to women, and reaffirms the meme that women are weak; it’s a way of saying you’re bad because you’re like this other group of bad.Report

      • Rose Woodhouse in reply to Rose Woodhouse says:

        @jaybird How do you know they will not go away? Is it essential to the human condition that we can’t respect people with ID fully? People who love people with intellectual disabilities and people who work with others don’t feel that way about them. I used to feel all paternalistic, etc. Why did I change? I didn’t get hit on the head with a brick of mommy-love and lose all rational thought. It is not sentiment that changed my mind – let me admit to you, it took quite a while for my mind to change. It was familiarity. You should meet my husband who (as Russell will reassure you) is the least sentimental being on the planet. I became very familiar with a group of people with whom I wasn’t previously familiar. And my paternalism, etc., faded away. People who spend time with a member of a minority — or repeatedly hearing the viewpoint of that minority — have a habit of having their prejudices dissolve.

        Public minds have changed quite rapidly on gay rights, for example. Minds can change. Almost all children are now being educated in inclusive classrooms – almost none of us over 30 ever interacted with anyone with intellectual disability.

        The more there is community inclusion, the more people call out prejudice as prejudice (which is part of why I wrote this and why I write about disability so much despite having so many other interests), the more this can change.

        Call me a starry-eyed optimist.Report

      • Jaybird in reply to Rose Woodhouse says:

        Stepping gingerly here:

        Insofar as there are significantly different requirements for the proper care and feeding of people with ID, and significantly different developmental benchmarks, and significantly different expectations, these simple logistical truths with translate to baggage.

        In the same way that a group of people who have a friend who has something as uncomplicated as a wheelchair or food allergies will know that there are some restaurants that they can visit when they are doing things with the friend and some options open to them when the friend has other plans that night, there will be the knowledge that there are fewer options that are available when the group hangs out with their ID friends than there are when the ID friends are otherwise occupied the night that the gang goes out to hit the town.

        And that has nothing to do with a lack of respect, in the same way that hanging out with the friend with peanut allergies closes off the idea that the night begins at Chik-Fil-A has nothing to do with a lack of respect.

        But the silent knowledge that there are things we can’t do is there and the longer the list gets adds to the baggage.Report

      • Rose Woodhouse in reply to Rose Woodhouse says:

        Right. Here’s what familiarity breeds: a belief that those differences are not nearly as consequential as you once thought.Report

      • veronica d in reply to Rose Woodhouse says:

        On @road-scholar ’s point, I think both things are true. I think a joke that replaced “retard” with “developmentally disabled” would still be offensive, since it still makes the same comparison; it still marks the developmentally disabled as an exemplar of contempt.

        However, I think it is also true that the word “retard” has gained a certain power to harm. It is a short word, a blunt word. In a sense it (nearly) always implies a kind of contempt, so much so that it would be staggeringly inept for a modern speaker to try to use it any other way.

        Perhaps it will be reclaimed someday, but today is not that day.

        Question: is there another way to refer to the “developmentally disabled” that is shorter and easier to type, but that is respectful?Report

      • Rose Woodhouse in reply to Rose Woodhouse says:

        @veronica-d you can use I/DD.

        @jaybird Here’s something that I think is interesting. My seven-year-old is a highly verbal, super-bright kid. He’s grown up with his brother, and going to playdates where there are other kids with disabilities. Some of them (i.e., kids w/disabilities) he likes, some he doesn’t. There is one kid who is more or less non-verbal with an IQ of 50-odd that my son considers one of his best friends and BEGS to play with always. Because I still have my own baggage (I did go to segregated schools), I once asked him why he enjoyed playing with a kid who couldn’t even talk. My son answered, in a “Duh, mom” voice, “Because we play tag and swim and he likes Pixar movies.” When they are together, they play tag and swim, the kid gets my son to read to him, he watches my son playing video games and cheers him on. Obviously, their interests will diverge more as they get older. But if I can lay aside my prejudices by getting to know people with disabilities by starting in my mid-30s, and enjoy their company, and find things in common with them, I imagine how much more in tune he will feel. I was a person who made my living by thinking abstractly, surrounded by people who believe that abstract thought is what defines a person, who had a kid more or less incapable of abstract thought. And I found out there was a LOT more to a person than that.Report

      • Glyph in reply to Rose Woodhouse says:

        It is a short word, a blunt word.

        I’m free-associating a bit here, so bear with me, but the word itself, by dint of its actual sound/English phonemes, doesn’t have many positive associations – that is, ‘retard’ might just *sound* like a slur or insult, no matter what it actually means. Consider words that rhyme, or almost so, with it –

        canard – an unfounded rumor or story
        shard – something broken and/or dangerously-sharp
        card – somewhat neutral, though it calls to mind “sharp” (physically) and “shark” (interestingly, also “ar” sounds) and gambling/vice; there’s also the archaic/comedic “class clown”, “oh, you card” meaning, but at best this can still imply silliness or ridicule
        lard – no explanation necessary
        hard – ditto
        charred/jarred/marred/tarred – all indicate disturbance to something else
        bombard – attempt to destroy
        discard – get rid of

        I’m seriously at a loss – I guess ‘yard’, ‘boulevard’ and ‘guard’ are fairly neutral, though the last still implies enemy action of some kind.Report

      • j r in reply to Rose Woodhouse says:

        I have got no issue with changing the words that I use to describe people with mental and intellectual disabilities (if that is the preferred nomenclature). I’m agnostic and it is easy enough for me to accommodate those who care.

        At the same time, however, I wonder if this isn’t just a case of resetting the clock. I assume at some point the term “mentally retarded” was relatively value neutral term. It became negative, because people associated it with something negative and started using it to insult people and behavior. So I wonder if the same thing won’t happen with whatever term people decide is preferable.

        None of that is to say that the change is bad or a waste of effort. We can see a similar progression in other areas, race for instance. At some point, referring to someone as a negro was likely seen as a progressive move away from the term colored or worse, but today the term negro is an anachronism and everyone says black, except for the people who make a point of saying African-American.Report

      • Chris in reply to Rose Woodhouse says:

        leotard – ballet, beauty
        Lyotard – ugh, pomo!Report

      • Chris in reply to Rose Woodhouse says:

        At the same time, however, I wonder if this isn’t just a case of resetting the clock.

        This, I believe, was Jaybird’s point in a nutshell. It’s an empirical question, and one on which I think the last half 60 or 70 years has given us a lot of data, data that I suspect some researchers have used (to the Google Scholar….).Report

      • j r in reply to Rose Woodhouse says:

        Are you telling me that I’m supposed to read the whole thread before commenting?

        Doesn’t seem fair.Report

      • Rose Woodhouse in reply to Rose Woodhouse says:

        Ahem. Empirical evidence-wise, I just wrote an article about this for renaming schizophrenia, although I didn’t name the numbers specifically. I read them though. When schizophrenia in Japan was renamed, doctors’ willingness to discuss the diagnosis with patients went up ten-fold. Yes, ten-fold. Patient compliance with treatment increased by more than double. Patients reported significantly less stigma from friends and family members.

        Over 80% of psychiatrists reported significant benefits for their patients with schizophrenia.

        As one of the shrinks told me, there’s a reason why companies are so focused on “brand.”Report

      • Chris in reply to Rose Woodhouse says:

        Ah yes, and it was an excellent article.

        The first post I ever wrote here was actually related:

        Libertarians are not like Beryllium.Report

      • Zane in reply to Rose Woodhouse says:

        @chris I just read your provocatively-titled essay, and not once did you explain the difference between libertarians and beryllium. You’ve tricked me just like all the other click-baiters!Report

      • Zane in reply to Rose Woodhouse says:

        @Rose Any chance you’d share the article about renaming schizophrenia with us? I’d certainly like to read it.Report

      • DavidTC in reply to Rose Woodhouse says:

        Ahem. Empirical evidence-wise, I just wrote an article about this for renaming schizophrenia, although I didn’t name the numbers specifically. I read them though. When schizophrenia in Japan was renamed, doctors’ willingness to discuss the diagnosis with patients went up ten-fold. Yes, ten-fold. Patient compliance with treatment increased by more than double. Patients reported significantly less stigma from friends and family members.

        I think we should rename schizophrenia because 75% of the US population seems to think that’s some sort of multiple personality disorder (Which, yes, I know is actually called dissociative identity disorder.), and 50% think it has to do with violent behavior. (yes, that’s more than 100%…many people think it’s both.)

        Same problem, but worse, with the word ‘psychotic’, which is actually just a set of symptoms. (People have _psychosis_, they aren’t ‘psychotic’.) All that actually means is ‘loss of contact with reality and there’s not any other reasons we can point out’, but people think it means ‘randomly violent serial killer’.Report

  15. Alan Scott says:

    Speaking of disability and humor, @rose-woodhouse , have you ever seen a British TV show called “The Last Leg”?

    It’s a show in which three comedians (two of whom are disabled) talk about the events of the week, often with a point of view that highlights disability issues.

    On the one hand, respect for the disabled community is clearly important to the hosts, both personally and professionally. On the other hand, focus on disability-related issues and the boundary-pushing comedic style means the jokes places that in other contexts would certainly be over-the-line.Report

  16. Lenoxus says:

    I winced at “The Special Network”, my immediate assumption being that it was pure ablism. However, given the context (a series of clips where Fox anchors seem desperate for accolades about how great Fox is), there’s a good chance that the writers’ intended joke is that Fox “wants to be special”, and it had zero to do with “special needs”. But if that’s the case, dear Lord what a misfire.Report

  17. trizzlor says:

    >>If you’re going to offend, make it worthwhile.

    I’m going to geek out a bit, but I think you have to look at this as a distribution of jokes that hit or miss the mark. If you have a comedian with a 2,000 jokes of which 80% are funny and 10% are offensive (with replacement), finding 40 jokes (2%) that are both offensive and not funny isn’t statistically surprising (assuming independence bla bla bla). If Twitter is a peek into the comedian’s brain, then these 40 jokes are just outliers in his random process of trying to find things that are funny. In taking those 40 jokes and analyzing them separately, there’s a big risk of inaccurately generalizing how that comedian thinks. In this example, there would be 160 jokes which are offensive AND funny – four times more than the bad ones – but they haven’t factored into the conclusion.

    On the other hand, if all the offensive jokes are not funny, then you can argue that the comedian values offense over humor; or when he goes offensive he doesn’t make an effort to think about offense. I’m thinking of someone like Andrew Dice Clay, for example, who tends to have a lot of offensive humor that is summarily unfunny. That humor stays in his act; it gets creepily fawning support from his audience; it becomes part of his image; it lives on. You can look at the whole of his work and conclude that he’s made an explicit decision to be a misogynist for the lulz. Looking at what makes it into Noah’s act, I don’t see that kind of skew.Report

  18. Nate Watkins says:

    i really dislike what steward said about autism. it has been shown to be genetic and therefore part of us. one of the big reasons we suffer is due to the fact that people treat us like we do and that society doesn’t wanna help us.Report

  19. Patrick says:

    Back in grade school, I was in class for six years with One Black Guy. I still interact with him on Facebook, he’s a stand-up comedian now (writes for John Oliver’s show, actually. Small world syndrome).

    He posted this link today:

    There’s a lot to that piece, I think. The money section:

    Chill out. Your fave is problematic. Deal with it.

    I don’t care who your fave is. It’s true for all of them.

    The fact that your fave is problematic isn’t a big deal?—?the big deal is if we ignore it. Patricia Arquette’s Oscar speech was entitled, privileged and racially insensitive. Tina Fey’s new show is racist, Trevor Noah has made transphobic and sexist and anti-Semitic jokes, Lena Dunham’s feminism is very privileged and largely excludes women of color. They have contributed to systems of injustice that oppress others. These things are all true.

    Patricia Arquette is a dedicated women’s rights activist and a talented actress, Tina Fey is a ground-breaking comedic writer who has opened doors for many women, Trevor Noah is a very talented comedian whose new role as host of The Daily Show is important to the visibility of people of color in the media, Lena Dunham is a very talented writer who has accomplished great things at a young age and has changed the way we view young women in the arts. These things are also true.

    So can we just talk about it?

    To a large extent, this is how I read the O.P. Jon Stewart is problematic. Trevor Noah is problematic.Report

    • greginak in reply to Patrick says:

      That is some good stuff Pat. Right on target.Report

    • Jaybird in reply to Patrick says:

      And this will result in the following:

      Person On Our Side Says Something Problematic And Gets The Response “Dudes, everything is problematic. We need to be more than finger-waggling moralists here. Yes, they said something wrong but we shouldn’t use that as a cudgel. People make mistakes. We need to not pile on people who make mistakes.”

      Person On Their Side Says The Exact Same Thing And Gets The Response “We, seriously, need to boycott. We need to get Buzzfeed on this. We need to start the hashtag #HasHitlerLandedYet. We need to organize. We need to make sure this person gets fired. We need to keep this from happening ever again.”Report

    • Rose Woodhouse in reply to Patrick says:

      Patrick, that is how I meant the OP. This is problematic. Can we talk about it, and why we feel that way, without calling for anyone’s heads or putting a stop to offensive comedy?Report

    • DensityDuck in reply to Patrick says:

      “Can we just talk about it” is fine.

      But it more often turns out like, can we just talk about how you’re a racist. Can we just talk about how privileged you are. Can we just talk about how you clearly don’t care about the REAL problems that REAL people face.

      Because the point isn’t usually to work anything out, the point is to show The Other Side what it’s like when someone else is holding the whip.Report

      • zic in reply to DensityDuck says:

        Your frames here are fascinating; people who want to talk about racism, privilege, etc. are, the one’s holding whips?

        Absolutely beautiful, even artful, way to say “I’m being bullied because somebody else want’s to keep me from bullying.”Report

      • Kazzy in reply to DensityDuck says:

        @densityduck @jaybird

        I have written about one of my “problematic” past moments here, albeit in the comment section (hooking up with a very drunk girl when I was in high school). I have other skeletons in my closet; we all do. I’ve debated a series of posts exploring MY OWN problematic moments… The times I used “gay” or “retarded” as a slur; racial jokes; poor treatment towards women. All things from my past I detest now but I undoubtedly did and I thank my lucky stars I’ve been able to grow from them. My hope behind these posts was to encourage others to do the same… Identify their own problematic elements not as a means to excuse anyone’s past, ongoing, or future problematic moments but to help develop empathy. To help us towards a “Let’s talk about our shit rather than deny it and cast stones.”

        Maybe I/we should write that series.Report

      • Rose Woodhouse in reply to DensityDuck says:

        Kazzy – one thing that’s interesting about that series is that those of us who are parents of disabled kids were (often) once people who had no contact with disability. I said “retarded.” I thought, when I received the diagnosis, that maybe the world was better off without him and that the only parents who could ever love a kid “like that” were Christian fundamentalists.Report

      • veronica d in reply to DensityDuck says:


        “Can we just talk about it” is fine.
        But it more often turns out like, can we just talk about how you’re a racist. Can we just talk about how privileged you are. Can we just talk about how you clearly don’t care about the REAL problems that REAL people face.

        Because the point isn’t usually to work anything out, the point is to show The Other Side what it’s like when someone else is holding the whip.

        Funny thing, you’re on a forum right now where few of us are really doing this, but instead of responding to this fairly healthy conversation, you are trying to ensure that it drops to the level of that other, more toxic, conversation.

        I wonder why you would do this?Report

      • DensityDuck in reply to DensityDuck says:

        “you’re on a forum right now where few of us are really doing this,”

        Except for the author of the post. Maybe you missed the part where ktward said “I really don’t think that when people use ‘retard’ as an insult these days, they mean to imply that those persons with actual developmental disorders are inherently lesser beings”, and Rose replied that at least the people who said her son should die gave her the benefit of assuming she was a rational creature.Report

      • Chris in reply to DensityDuck says:

        Ah, way to cut the wheat from the chaff in summarizing that exchange, DD. You’re as honest a dealer as I remember.Report

      • DensityDuck in reply to DensityDuck says:

        “people who want to talk about racism, privilege, etc. are, the one’s [sic] holding whips?”

        But you don’t want to “talk” about it, you want to scream about it, and that is in fact what is happening.

        “You’re as honest a dealer as I remember.”

        I didn’t make this up, bro. We had the chance to have that “talk about it” that we’re supposed to be hoping for, and what we got instead was a bunch of angry, and the side that wanted us to “talk about it” brought the angry first and kept it going.Report

  20. Rose Woodhouse says:

    One last: people with intellectual disability, and those who care for them, OVERWHELMINGLY feel that “retarded” is offensive. Shouldn’t we take their word for it, rather than deciding for them that it’s not?Report

  21. I’m pretty sure that if we watched Chris Rock while he was still working out how Black People vs. N****s should go, we’d conclude that he’s the worst person in the world.Report

    • Jaybird in reply to Mike Schilling says:

      I don’t know what would be the proper response to that bit. Today, I mean.Report

      • Mike Schilling in reply to Jaybird says:

        To start with, I’d rule out doing it at work.

      • Jaybird in reply to Jaybird says:

        A great point.

        It seems that discussions of dangerous comedy is the only appropriate place to bring this bit up.Report

      • Mike Schilling in reply to Jaybird says:

        But it’s brilliant, one of the best and (dumb as this sounds) most important comedy routines ever, like Carlin’s Seven Words and Jon Stewart’s demolition of Crossfire. We should not be discouraging that.Report

      • Jaybird in reply to Jaybird says:

        Sure, but imagine, if you will, a political discussion in which class is discussed and one of the sides brings up the bit.

        I just winced at the thought. You?Report

      • Mike Schilling in reply to Jaybird says:

        If one side conflates being poor with being lazy and irresponsible, the discussion is already going to go off the rails.Report

      • Jaybird in reply to Jaybird says:

        So we already know which side is going to reference the comedy bit, and we already know how they’re going to reference it, and we already know that they’re bad for referencing it that way.

        I’m back to “It seems that discussions of dangerous comedy is the only appropriate place to bring this bit up.”Report

      • Chris in reply to Jaybird says:

        I believe Rock stopped doing that bit because of how certain people were using it.Report

      • Glyph in reply to Jaybird says:

        He did. Specifically, because he thought racists used it as “permission” to use the n-word. He hasn’t performed it since at least 2005, maybe earlier, even though it’s the riff that basically catapulted him to stand-up superstardom.

        I’ve also seen criticism of the bit from people who liken it to similar sentiments from Cosby and Charles Barkley that criticized certain bits of (purported) black culture (there was one on Salon not too long ago); the bit’s also reminiscent, in a way, of Chappelle’s infamous “Reparations” sketch (Chappelle also famously walking away from parts of his comedy, because he thought some people were laughing for the wrong reasons).Report

      • veronica d in reply to Jaybird says:

        I’ve also heard that he stopped using it, although I’ve never seen a citation.

        In any case, yeah it’s hilarious. And yeah, a ton of white people thought it gave them permission to use the n-word, since they were just playing along with the joke.

        Plus there is this thing that happens when a minority person “plays” to the non-minority crowd. For example, I use a somewhat different rhetorical style here than on a trans forum, mostly cuz I can “read the room” and try to figure out how my message will sound.

        This is obviously an important skill. However, it can backfire in the face of large power differentials, as the minority person is gets caught up in approval seeking, which often means playing to stereotypes. This is highly effective behavior and highly rewarded, since the majority loves to see their stereotypes confirmed. They love to hear what they want to hear. However, one’s fellow minorities, who don’t have either the opportunity or the stomach to play the stereotype, are kinda screwed over.

        Example: Rupaul and his interminable “shemale” humor. That shit is not okay, no because those jokes are not funny. They’re very funny, obviously. Nor is it because we trans folks never say them among ourselves, cuz some of us do. But the problem is, it’s playing to a stereotype, about which cis people seldom have much insight or subtlety. Furthermore, it gives cis people a kind of permission to play with that humor, without the life experience to know how the humor effects trans people. From this, Rupaul derives significant rewards, which do not flow downstream to the poor trans women on the street.Report

    • Troublesome Frog in reply to Mike Schilling says:

      I’ve used that example as well because it’s a really great bit and because Chris Rock himself said that working out the details of it were a nightmare because it bombed horrifically until he got it just right. Doing something like that requires a certain amount of genius and a whole lot of tuning.

      Along similar lines, IIRC, Rock stopped doing the bit because a lot of people who didn’t really get the spirit of the bit seemed to think that he was giving them permission to use the n-word.

      I suppose that while most of us were laughing at Colbert’s Ching Chong Ding Dong bit for one reason, there was a subset of less clueful people laughing at it for exactly the opposite reason.Report

      • Kim in reply to Troublesome Frog says:

        Yeah, and I get people being annoyed enough that “don’t let THEM laugh!” could be a valid reasonable response. (They’re assholes and racists, so they shouldn’t be allowed humor)Report

  22. Jesse Ewiak says:

    This policing comedy trope is way overblown. Did anyone watch the Comedy Central Roast of Bieber? Does anyone watch south park? Tosh.0? Always Funny in Philly, Family Guy? I could go on and on about how many people have careers in jokes twitter finds offensive.

    I mean, yes, for example, Daniel Tosh got in “trouble” for a rape joke. But, his show is still a whole bunch of sexist and ethnic humor. I have no problem with it but lets not let one anecdote get in the way of his shows growth and his larger and larger paychecks.

    I mean, what comedian has gotten themselves actually blacklisted? Comedians says offensive shit all the time and they get called out on it now. Certainly hasn’t stopped it, or particularly effected those comedians. The truth is, just because a small but vocal minority is offended by your comedy doesn’t mean the world is becoming more censured or that anyone is persecuting you and your fellow comedians.

    Yeah, comedians frequently say millennials have no sense of humor and are too goddamn PC, but usually only after they get harassed for making the same tired jokes against the LGBT community. After all, if someone is pissed off at a joke they feel denigrates them I’m not going to tell them they’re wrong to feel that way.

    Jokes can be offensive. Comedy didn’t change, comedians just have to listen to all the people who don’t like their jokes now, whereas before if someone wrote a letter, hell, they may never read it. What a comedian decides to do with feedback is up to them, but they do have to live with the fact that these aren’t backdoor clubs they’re trying their jokes out on; when they fail, that stuff sticks now. When they fail, they’ll get feedback. That’s life. I’m sorry your not being affected by someone trying to start a conversation on twitter.

    And anybody who brings up Carlin or Pryor wouldn’t have survived in these times misses the point of Carlin and Pryor, who literally slagged against the mainstream of their era. But, offensive comedy is not in trouble from PC-ness.

    There is definitely an “outrage culture,” but for the most part, people just want to start conversations about having higher standards for ourselves. This then gets met with the actual outraged, offended people who don’t even want to do that.

    That’s the actual problem. I don’t have a problem with the “jokes,” I understand were he’s coming from and a do find some of it funny. What I’m weary of is people taking this as a true social commentary and the implication that people rasing complaints are a threat and need to be sidelined.

    I should say I follow a lot of rightwing political types on twitter and that’s the lense I view this through. When I see them and gamergate types hold this up in their fight against feminism, anti-racism, anti-islamophobia and patton’s seemingly personal crusade on this matter I view it has more than a joke.

    Tumblr jokes are funny, when they become serious statements saying people shouldn’t complain and are used politically that’s when I worry.Report

    • Did anyone watch the Comedy Central Roast of Bieber?

      They made that mandatory at Guantanamo, and eight people confessed to being terrorists. Two were guards.Report

    • Kolohe in reply to Jesse Ewiak says:

      I’m thinking Michael Richards is actually blacklisted, so to speak, but that does seem to be the extent of the list.Report

      • Mike Schilling in reply to Kolohe says:

        If what Richards told Seinfeld on Comedians In Cars Getting Coffee is accurate, he’s in self-imposed exile. Seinfeld was encouraging him to get back in the game, but he demurred.Report

      • Troublesome Frog in reply to Kolohe says:

        From what I’ve heard, Richards was a disaster as a stand up comedian to begin with, so he really doesn’t have a lot of goodwill to fall back on in that world. Being famous on TV gives you a pretty short grace period on stage, and it sounds like he burned his by going on stage and assuming that being Kramer would do the trick. From there it’s pretty easy to see an inexperienced comic melting down under the pressure.

        I’m not surprised that the exile is self-imposed. I don’t know how he’d go about getting on stage and trying to build any goodwill from scratch. He’s not the guy who told all those funny jokes and then had that one awkward slip. He’s just the guy who had nothing going for him and then had a horrific meltdown and alienated everybody. His return would have to be beyond brilliant–hilarious and introspective at a level I don’t think even the best comics can generally pull off. Anything short of that would just dig the hole deeper. Personally, I’d take my Seinfeld money and disappear from the public view. And maybe grow a beard.Report

      • Glyph in reply to Kolohe says:

        I thought that Richards used to do stand-up long, long ago, pre-movies and TV but wikipedia doesn’t necessarily support that (at least not explicitly).

        (Though he DID have short-lived improv act with Ed Begley, Jr.!)

        (AND supposedly turned down the role of Monk!)

        He’ll always be Stanley Spadowski to me…Report

      • Chris in reply to Kolohe says:

        Wasn’t Richards with Second City?Report

      • Zane in reply to Kolohe says:

        @Chris “Wasn’t Richards with Second City?” I believe so, and he was on “Fridays”, ABC’s attempt to try to capture that SNL magic.

        His work wasn’t exactly stand up-like, though. More like different iterations of weird characters as I remember it.Report

      • Mike Schilling in reply to Kolohe says:

        My presumption is that years of working only in TV had caused his ability to hold an audience and deal with hecklers to atrophy. But ICBW.Report

      • Jesse Ewiak in reply to Jim Heffman says:

        Yes, people criticized him. He still is the well paid host of a demographically friendly TV show on cable, and I’m sure is well paid when he goes on comedy tours. The horror.Report

    • j r in reply to Jesse Ewiak says:

      This policing comedy trope is way overblown… I could go on and on about how many people have careers in jokes twitter finds offensive.

      This is true, but it is likely only true because the people who want to police comedy don’t have the power to enforce their views more widely. Not that they don’t try. And likewise, the people who critique the critics have the same freedom of expression of the critics. So, I will continue to point out that if these people ever manage to get their way, the world will be worse off for it.Report

  23. Will H. says:

    @rose-woodhouse , I’m going to take contrary view. (Coming from me, that may be interpreted as, “I have a view on this.”)
    1) Not funny, *AND*
    2) Not offensive.

    #1 is easy. Let’s accept that as self-apparent for now. (You’re the philosophy chick anyway; I know you can out-self-apparent me any day of the week.)

    #2 is not offensive, because of the role of comedy in society; i.e., to bring into the public dialogue those things which are taboo.
    That said, it would be misguided to let that dialogue end upon its initiation.
    You need to have your say on the matter as well.
    That is, the benefit of Stewart being so glib about it provides opportunity for more serious dialogue to follow.
    And you’re doing pretty good, as far as that goes.
    You have no right to feel ashamed of your dignity, or that of your child.
    Were you to someday stop advocating for a greater understanding, the entire world would suffer significantly. You are so needed.Report

    • Rose Woodhouse in reply to Will H. says:

      Couple of things. I certainly didn’t mean to say with this: “And everyone else should be offended, too.” Just that I am.

      If everything comedy said was walled off from anyone ever being offended, wouldn’t that lose its sting? Corrupt politicians should be offended by Jon Oliver, Republicans (and sometimes Dems) should be offended by Jon Stewart – because even though what they say is funny, what they say *matters*. If we always walled off all comedy and said that none of it mattered and none of it could ever be offensive and none of it should ever be taken seriously, we wouldn’t learn from it. Which we do.Report

  24. Zane says:

    This is a beautiful essay, Rose. Thanks for sharing it.

    As with your example of “dongle-gate”, I worry that as a society we are too willing to look the other way when disparaging terms are used, and then sometimes too harsh in our response to individuals when we do pay attention.

    I’m not trying to excuse racists, sexists, heterosexists, transphobes, or whoever. Just that it seems arbitrary when ongoing offensive statements are ignored, but one day one person gets caught on video/twitter/other evil social media (and through some alchemy that event catches on when others don’t) and the boom falls as though the offender must pay for the sins of all those ignored before. And others continue to say or do the same things during and after the ruckus and are ignored.

    I’d much rather as a society that we called out stuff all the time but people had the opportunity to change.

    (Again, I’m not blaming those within affected groups for lack of calling out offenders. That work actually goes on all the time. I’m speaking of society at large.)Report

    • veronica d in reply to Zane says:

      Right. The “dongle-gate” guy should not have been fired. It’s worth noting that Richards never called for his termination. That was a decision of his employer and, in retrospect, a poor one.

      In any case, yes. It’s important that being “called out” is not a life or death struggle.Report

      • Zane in reply to veronica d says:

        Exactly. And Richards then got fired and received death threats in the backlash that followed. It was an awful mess all the way around. And sexism still continues, unfortunately. The “ignore, then destroy one or two offenders, then ignore” process doesn’t help a lot. I’m not sure how to change it, it’s not like there’s a single actor who can modify their behavior. It’s mob justice.Report

  25. Rufus F. says:

    It seems like there are different sorts of offensive humor too. At the least, I can think of three:
    1. Humor that makes fun of some group with less power in a cruel sort of way. I would probably include Stewart’s 92 joke in that.
    2. Humor that is not so much mocking the group as insensitive towards some group as a way of mocking our sensitivities. Sacha Baron Cohen, National Lampoon Magazines from the 70s, Ricky Gervais, and quite a bit of the contemporary comedy of discomfort would count.
    3. Humor that is rooted in the horrible or horrific. This can be the most interesting because it can approach Artaud’s theatre of cruelty if done right. The point is to make the audience laugh and hurt them at the same time. Michael O’Donoghue aimed at this often. I would say his unaired and unairable SNL sketch ‘The Good Excuse’, which I don’t even know how to summarize properly, would be a good example.Report

  26. ScarletNumber says:

    In 2008, Stewart held a televised fundraiser for Autism Speaks. So, disability activists should be grateful, right? Well, it may indicate his heart is in the right place.

    I don’t think Stewart should get a free pass just because of his fundraising work. After all, Donald Sterling donates money to the NAACP, and no one gave him a pass.Report