By Dom Serafini
In the 1970s, progressive producers like Norman Lear created TV sitcoms like All in the Family, whose main character, Archie Bunker, could be described as an equal opportunity offender, in the sense that the character disparaged every nationality, sex, and race. It is now considered the fourth greatest TV series of all time by TV Guide. Too bad that it could no longer be replicated.
U.S. comedian Don Rickles was famous because of his offensive antics towards anyone and everyone, including (and especially) his fellow Jews. He referred to his own mother as “the Jewish [General George] Patton.” To get a glimpse of this raunchiness, just look up one of Dean Martin’s Celebrity Roasts TV shows from the 1970s on YouTube (pictured above). Rickles billed his routines as “insult comedy,” and was nicknamed the “Merchant of Venom.” Rickles was also a lifelong Democrat, however, the “politically correct” doctrine that was taking hold in the 1990s would not let him continue with that stage character, and in 1993 his last sitcom, Daddy Dearest, was canceled after 11 episodes (of which only 10 aired), even though it aired on FOX.
Another progressive comedian, George Carlin (who despite his progressiveness was not a fan of political correctness), was dubbed “the dean of counterculture comedians” because of his focus on taboo subjects. In 1978, his “seven dirty words” TV routine ended up being reviewed by the U.S. Supreme Court during a case brought by the U.S. Communications authority. Carlin went on to win that case.
Yet another stand-up comic, Lenny Bruce, was one of the first to be known for performing a sort of social criticism from the left’s perspective. In 1961, he was arrested for obscenity, because, at the time, his act was viewed as contrary to a social and political status quo that inflicted pain on poor people and minorities.
Today, that era could well be described as “Live, Laugh, Love,” as in the recent cartoon in the weekly New Yorker, that stalwart of progressive thoughts. Unfortunately, its politically and socially sterilized cartoons are no longer funny.
Progressive politicians have also used humor since the dawn of time. The new book How to Tell a Joke by Michael Fontaine showed that even Cicero in ancient Rome used it (e.g., “What kind of man gets caught in flagrante delicto? A slow one”). President John F. Kennedy also used humor, but conservative presidents Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush were funnier. One famous conservative leader who used “unorthodox” humor was British Prime Minister Winston Churchill (e.g., “Mr. Churchill, you’re drunk.” “Lady, you’re ugly, but tomorrow I shall be sober and you will still be ugly”).
Today, only cussing (and not social irreverence) can be used by stand-up comedians to get laughs, because their routines are now guided by “political correctness.”
Curiously, according to linguist John McWhorter’s new book, Nine Nasty Words, cuss words (or curses) are mediated by people’s left brains.
In order to get some irreverent humor 15.5 million Americans used to tune in to a radio show hosted by right-winger Rush Limbaugh (before his death in February). Conservative publication National Review called him a “hilarious entertainer.”
On the progressive side, there is the recent Disneyland backlash over the Snow White ride, which made big news in Europe. In some progressive U.S. circles, it was argued that Prince Charming is kissing a sleeping Snow White without her consent, meaning that that cannot possibly be true love.
Earlier this year, U.S. news reverberated throughout Europe when the publisher of progressive author Dr. Seuss’s children’s books removed six of his books from circulation, citing racist images in them (prompting many people to rush to buy them online).
Today’s progressive society lives in an era of “cancel culture,” a term popularized in 2014 as part of the #MeToo movement, which is affecting Hollywood, as well as books and newspapers.
Will The Godfather be next? The 1972 film and its sequel, which won nine Oscars, disparaged Italian-Americans, as did the 1999 HBO TV series The Sopranos, and the 1992 movie My Cousin Vinny, among scores of others.
What about West Side Story? Will Puerto Ricans now object to the 1961film and 1957 Broadway play about fear of immigrants and racism? And could the 1978 funny film La Cage Aux Folles (The Birdcage in the 1996 U.S. version with Robin Williams and Nathan Lane) be made in today’s cultural climate?
Not only has the left lost its sense of humor, but it also wants to rewrite history from a modern perspective. For example, it wants to declare Christopher Columbus a “racist,” when such a word did not exist in 1492. (It was coined in 1902.) Plus, there’s the fact that, in an effort to save the natives, he requested that they be baptized, and called them, in Spanish, indios (meaning “with God”). These facts are often overlooked by advocates of “cancel culture.”
Nowadays, the only folks who can talk “frankly” without paying any consequences are the populists, ultra-conservatives, and nationalists, who are all epitomized by former U.S. president Donald Trump, who famously said, “I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose voters.” Trump also attempted to be humorous with quips directed at some 60 U.S. political leaders (plus foreign leaders and media figures). He called Senator Elizabeth Warren “Pocahontas.” He referred to Joe Biden as “Sleepy Joe.” And he called Senator Marco Rubio “Little Marco.”
The U.S. is now faced with a political situation in which the humorless far-left needs the rage caused by the antics of the far-right in order to mobilize its base and remain relevant, while the political right is eroding the Democratic centrist movement (especially among blue-collar workers), which no longer relates to the popular culture impositions by the far left.