Muzzling the Mirthful
Full disclosure: I know Katie Rich a little bit — not well, don’t wish to overstate, but she and I performed on the Chicago show The Paper Machete a few times and have mutual friends. My personal acquaintance with her has nothing whatever to do with my conclusion that Lorne Michaels is a hypocritical toadying little shitbird.
So SNL writer Katie Rich has been suspended. For making a joke on her own time. On her personal social media.
If this ARTICLE is to be believed, Ms. Rich deleted the tweet, publicly apologized for having posted it in the first place, and has since — I assume as much in response to the ensuing backlash, as to the urging of the corporate turd merchants she works for— deleted her Twitter and Facebook accounts. In other words, as an individual, she dutifully performed the acts of social media contrition that might reasonably be expected of her.
All this was insufficient for SNL puppetmaster Lorne Michaels, however. She has been “suspended indefinitely” (which as I read it can land anywhere along a spectrum between “let’s all just lay low till the heat dies down” and “fired without cause”). If I was inclined toward cynicism, I might observe that the Executive-Producer-of-The-Apprentice-in-Chief might not be averse to some behind-the-scenes strong-arming, since SNL appears on the same network The motherfucking Apprentice, and as a craven purveyor of timid swill that’s been printing his own goddamn money for 40 fucking years, Michaels might foreseeably be vulnerable to such pressure; I might also muse about the fact that Comcast (which, as anyone can tell you is a criminal enterprise) which goddamn owns goddamn NBC, is likely to have all manner of plundering deal-making in the coming years and not inclined to ruffle the feathers of the Dumpster pigeon recently installed in the Oval Office, since members of his administration will serve as the crepe paper barricade in the numerous antitrust hearings Comcast will face.
But I am not a cynical man. I lay the blame, as I do for most avoidable flares of such friction, at the feet of somebody being stupid. Which is the real national pastime.
My objection here is not about her boss’ disproportionate response, though I do object to that. Nor is it about the nascent fascism that these early days of the Great and Good Business Father’s presidency are ushering in, though I sure as shit object to that.
My objection is that the outrage, and the retribution, and the contrition, is all founded on a fallacious interpretation of the ostensibly offending joke. The interpretation holds that it is Great and Good Business Father’s wee scion is the target of the joke. He is not. He is the delivery system — he serves as the contextual and exploratory underpinnings for the real target of the joke.
The deleted tweet read as follows:
“Barron will be this country’s first homeschool shooter.”
At first glance, it is maybe forgivable that you’d take this line to have portrayed the Bejeweled Cherub as a villain, positing that he is now in that adorable pre-rampage phase of his development. But you’d be wrong. The TARGET of this joke is the unremitting awfulness of the boy’s father, the towering weirdness and isolation of how the boy will grow up, and the reality that this is the only nation that may be depended upon to build mass shooting monsters with such grisly and distressing frequency.
Any competently crafted joke (and in this regard, Katie is without question an accomplished craftsperson) arrives with expectations of its audience — to have adequate cultural reference in order to comprehend it, the adroitness to follow it through pivots/sharp turns, the resilience to withstand any cognitive dissonance it might instill. To receive a joke is an act of interpretation — it demands that you function like a UN translator, making idiomatic leaps, unspooling the speaker’s intent in real time.
The failing here, and the source of the friction, is one of interpretation, not in the joke itself. Was the joke in questionable taste? Depends on who you are. The idea that there is anything like a universal standard for such assessments is ridiculous. The work of the satirist must dwell in that frontier at the edge of the permissible — inherent in this business of limits-testing lies an imperative; it holds within it the requirement that the satirist act as our scouting party, that they are our cartographers, riding well out past our current borders of custom and propriety. The map of our culture is enlarged when we develop a tolerance for the uncertainty bred by these forms of exploration.
And if you claim to lead an enterprise that traffics in satire (which on rare occasion is what SNL provides, but more frequently squeezes off a sequence of shapeless and overlong parcels of despair punctuated by a dismaying abundance of sax) then you must not only be prepared to draw fire for the occasional overreach (even, as happens here, one that takes place off the clock and not on your factory floor), you must go further — you must be prepared always to jealously defend the pathfinders in your employ.
It is not merely that Mr. Michaels has failed in his duty to defend Ms. Rich, it is that he has done so preemptively, he has dropped to his knees without having been asked. Like the omega of the pack, he presented his tender belly even before the fangs of his attacker came out. It is not within our power to compel Mr. Michaels to belatedly develop fortitude, it is possible for us to exert pressure upon him. And, as he has already demonstrated that his susceptibility is quite vast, I say we put the screws to him.
It is less about Katie, though I believe she has been wronged, it is about the principle — the generalissimo in the White House has demonstrated repeatedly that he is a thin-skinned thug who lashes out indiscriminately where he feels the sting of monkeyshines real and perceived — we, the citizens on this map of our culture must stand with our pathfinders. Or our map will constrict. And, if we permit it to continue unchecked, we will live on a patch of territory the size of a washcloth. A boring, inoffensive, toothless, stupid washcloth.
So since Mr. Michaels, who occupies a position of sufficient prominence and influence to have stood his ground, caved like a punk-ass chump. Don’t be a punk-ass chump, don’t join him in that fetid cave of cowardice.
On social media, use the hashtag:
Skittish shitbirds like Michaels are exquisitely, excruciatingly attuned to the weight of public opinion. Let’s pummel him ours.