Thursday, June 23, 2011

On Tracy Morgan, Political Correctness, and What's Real. A Note from Neil from Nebraska.

I'm old enough to remember the beginning of the political correctness movement, and young enough to remember thinking what enlightened souls we were all going to be. Of course despite the fact that we often say the PC thing, there seems to be exactly the same amount of hate and animus as there ever was in every part of the world that I can see.

I'm a department head of a very large humanities department. I have a spectacularly diverse faculty; we get together pretty regularly, and are a happy, functional group. Yesterday, in one of the most fiery and aggressive bonfires of indignation I've ever seen, a few of my colleagues were discussing the Tracy Morgan story.

Tracy Morgan, a well known comedic actor, recently came under fire for some horrible homophobic comments he made as part of a stand up routine he was doing in Nashville. People left the club, various organizations called for an apology, and then recently he made a series of apologies for what he'd said.

And I kept wondering. Was he really sorry? Was he joking about hating gay people? And now is he showing his true colors with this apology, with this vow to work with gay and lesbian youth?

And I thought, no, probably not.

He probably is afraid of gay people, maybe even has some distrust or hatred for them, and after his jokes fell flat, he probably decided he wanted to keep his cushy job on 30 Rock, and maintain a fan base which - I guess this must be true - includes some gay people.

But then I also wondered why. Why the outcry whenever a rapper uses a gay slur? Why the outcry when some cracker uses the n word. Do we think that people don't think these things? Do we think that by stopping the language that we stop the idea? That's utter bullshit, isn't it?

I know hateful folks, have some in my family. I have an uncle who used to tell the most racist jokes you ever heard. I remember people laughing a lot at them when I was a kid. I remember people telling him to stop. And now he doesn't say those words, and doesn't say those jokes.

What about him? Is he different? Nope. He hates African-Americans, people from Mexico, and the French. (I don't know if he's met any French people, but they are on the list.)

Listen, I hate some people. I hate obnoxious people who text their friends in the middle of lunch. I have a bit of a hate on for people in workout clothes who sneer at my belly. I find it unfathomable that people are Republicans, and I hang out with very few. I hate people who teach their children that evolution is all made up by atheists and communists.

What are the consequences for this? They're little. I don't have much of a public life. I'm not saying it on Channel 5 in Omaha or whatever. I'm not a celeb. I have extremely little influence. It doesn't come up in my teaching, well, because I don't teach as if my moral compass was the textbook. I actually teach the textbook.

As far as I know Tracy Morgan isn't doing a lot of lecturing to young people, or hiring and firing, and as a comic, I hope that not a great deal of people are looking for morality from him.

So I have to say, who gives a shit if Tracy Morgan hates gay people? I think it's an ignorant opinion. He's ignorant for fearing gay people - if he does. But so what? It's not my life. If Tracy were my pal, his homophobia would have consequences in our relationship. I'd say, "Not cool, Tracy," and I'd avoid being around him.

But am I going to get into a tizzy because somewhere in America someone hates gays or Latinos or Quakers or Humanities profs or people with small dogs or fat people or smokers? No, because I accept that all of those things are true. In the vernacular, I'm just being real about this.

So, public pressure and some notion that his actions were seen as wrong by some people drove Morgan to apologize. What has that done? Is anyone thinking that Tracy has helped us turn the corner? Grow the fuck up.

When Kobe Bryant got fined 100,000 bucks for using a gay slur on a referee, does anyone think that the world was made better by his fine and his apology? Bullshit. He's likely not going to say it on camera again. But you can't tell me that the fine and the embarrassment has changed the way he perceives the world.

So he's an asshole. Aren't there a lot of them?

If you don't like me, and judge me as a fatty, a socialist, an unrepetenant eater of beef and ice cream, then I'd rather I knew what you thought of me, and not get misled by some sort of PC whitewash that misleads me while your real feelings remain hidden.

If Tracy Morgan hates gays, well, that's a shame for him. But shaming him into an apology does nothing to change anything.


  1. I would have bet that I'd hate Neil after this post, but as it went on, I came to agree with some of his points.

    If this is not P.O.W., then that title has no meaning.

    Lots to think about!

  2. But think of the children!

    No, seriously, think of the children.

  3. A hundred bucks says Neil is white, pudgy, and happily ensconsed in a happy heteronormative neighborhood.

    Of course he doesn't see the problem.

    This is the most objectionable thing I've ever seen on this page.

    Fucking disgusting.

  4. When you are the one the hateful language is directed towards you tend to think apologizes and acknowledgment of the pain caused does matter.

    And none of us can see inside of Tracy Morgan, Kobe Bryant, or your uncle and know how they REALLY feel. That's a pointless exercise. Why not focus on actions and words, which are known?

    If this is an example of being a "socialist" in Nebraska, I'm super happy I don't live in Nebraska.

  5. Neil, you are simply the dumbest fucker on the planet, mostly because you think this is all reasonable.

    You are a clueless maggot and I'd pound you to death with a baseball bat if you said this out loud near me.

  6. Neil doesn't understand it because he looks like Rush Limbaugh and likely thinks like him, too. Arrogant, pompous, and fat. Oh, is that rude, Neil, well you just minimized millions with your callous bullshit.

  7. There is something I like about the notion that it's better to know what people think of you, rather than whitewash our language so that our true feelings are hidden behind a fake wall of PC-dom, but I also think people can change. That's something Neil doesn't appear to believe, and that's too bad. I've seen it.

  8. Oh, and what use is it what Prickly Prof said? Is that some kind of object lesson or something? Testing free speech on the page? I think it's horrible, regardless of the context.

  9. oooh, bucky, where do you live that's so great. can you tell us, so us rubes can join you?

  10. I would like to say a few things about this.

    In the aftermath of this stuff -- stuff I'm sure Tracey Morgan believes at some level, but maybe not quite the level of vitriol that went on during his "act" -- well, the aftermath has been amazing. Let's examine what has happened:

    * Tracey has authorized not one, but two letters of apology (big deal, who cares? Still: twice)
    * Tracey has donated big money to three big gay rights groups. If anything, the money will be put to good use.
    * Tracey went to New York and sat down to talk to homeless LGBT kids who had to run away from home because their own parents were threatening (among other things) to "beat the gay" out of them -- just as Tracey's horrifying act recommended. He has put time AND money into this effort.
    * Tracey has begun to be an active force in the move to repeal the Tennessee "Don't Say Gay" Act. He is using his celebrity to raise money and awareness in that hateful legislation.

    What is the sum result of all of this? Tracey has made it clear to a number of people that what might have been just dandy 10 years ago is no longer okay. It's career-killing. And Tracey had to go on the super-offense to save his career.

    It is benefiting the LGBT community greatly. Our representation in GLAAD has been a disaster in the last year, and the number of legal battles over marriage equality has left important projects (like providing shelter to homeless LGBT kids in NYC) on the shelf even as Republican congresses across the US are cutting LGBT funding and repealing hate crime prevention acts.

    The sum of Tracey's horrendous standup bit is that he is basically being forced to become an advocate for gay rights. His monetary contributions, his celebrity, his meeting with kids and raising money to repeal "Don't Say Gay" will end up benefiting the rights of queer people more than the original, un-taped bit hurt it.

    And as a guy whose show has famous gay celebrities and straight allies on it, he will never be able to forget what he did and he will never be able to espouse those hateful, violent images ever again.

    Sorry. On the whole? I call it a WIN.

  11. Wow ... some pretty serious pot-and-kettle moments here.

    Neil didn't say he endorsed what Tracy Morgan said. He didn't even kinda-sorta defend Morgan's right to say what he wants to. In fact, Neil said if he were acquainted with Morgan he would express his DISapproval.

    Instead, he asked a question of whether the PROCESS -- commonly known as political correctness -- only puts a fresh coat of paint over rusty and mostly intractable ideas?

    It does seem peculiar that the largest amount of indignity seems to arise concerning the attitudes and behavior of people who should actually have the least amount of influence over our ideals -- performers and athletes.

    I would agree with Neil that Morgan's apology was probably inspired more by a realization that he was close to losing his meal ticket as opposed to a true attitudinal epiphany.

    It's it ultimate hypocritical irony that Neil is compared to Rush Limbaugh, someone who makes no bones about his hatred and LACK of political correctness but who is considered a major player in shaping the thinking of many. Limbaugh -- and many like him -- are getting rich on making sure to wedge the social divide as widely as possible.

    And what message is sent by the presumptions made about "Neil" -- about gender, race, SES, weight, etc.? Peculiar, to decry the insensitivity of one, you have to stereotype another. Tracy Morgan is 40-something, a New Yorker ... oh, and hey, he's Black ... could we churn out some stereotypes to "explain" how/why he said what he said?

    Yes, it would be wonderful if we didn't have to have these public "interventions," if we all had reached a true and authentic enlightenment. But there is plenty of evidence that we still have a ways to go before that is achieved.

    The public castigation of a comic however doesn't offer us any true proof that HIS mind has been changed. Or, for that matter, if it changed the opinions of many others ... simply read the comments posted in response to the event.

  12. Neil says "Not cool" to Tracy.

    Does that mean's a racist, too?

    Just checking.

  13. Louis C.K. (another stand-up comedian) has a very interesting take on this situation. Here's the link.

  14. Neil, I think if you lived in a country where homosexuals weren't second-class citizens who were not allowed to get married, and where the threat of violence towards them - "beating out the gay" was not very real and present, and where a major political group ("The Family") wasn't supporting the "Kill the Gays" legislation in Uganda, then perhaps your concerns about Morgan's possibly insincere apology might be worth debating.

  15. "I hate obnoxious people who text their friends in the middle of lunch. I have a bit of a hate on for people in workout clothes who sneer at my belly. I find it unfathomable that people are Republicans, and I hang out with very few. I hate people who teach their children that evolution is all made up by atheists and communists."

    Oh, yes, these are very apt analogies - because obnoxious people who text their friends in the middle of lunch are still denied the right to marry in most states, and because there are high suicide rates among teens in workout clothes who sneer at your belly, and because it was only a few weeks ago that we repealed the law requiring evolutionists to either keep quiet about their views or be kicked out of the military, no matter how honorably they've served.

    And you're right - no one should care what Tracy Morgan thinks because no one but Tracy Morgan can possibly know exactly what he thinks, deep down inside. But what he *says* out loud in his act is public, and so is the ensuing discussion.

    The condemnation of his remarks may not change his thoughts or feelings and almost certainly won't change the thoughts or feelings of homophobes (racists, anti-Semites) who will consider Morgan (Michael Richards, Mel Gibson) a victim of political correctness.

    But as Academic Monkey notes, the outcry over career-killer remarks does tend to change behavior. And as the public behavior of more and more people changes, and as certain kinds of remarks become less acceptable in public gatherings, comedy acts, etc., slowly but surely attitudes also begin to change.

    "So he's an asshole. Aren't there a lot of them?"

    Do you really think there is *as much* assholery and intolerance now as there was before, say, Stonewall and the removal of homosexuality from the DSM?

    Maybe the problem is that you can't distinguish the sometimes-fatal assholery of homophobia from the relatively benign assholery of people who text their friends in the middle of lunch.

  16. @szoszolo

    I think the texting example was supposed to be silly, but the smoker/fatty mockery and discrimination is quite real, and if you deny it, then I gotta think you just don't know anyone who's felt society's scorn (and its economic consequences) in those ways. So bully for you. You must have a peachy life.

    I think what I would ask is, don't we have a right to believe what we want? Let's say Tracy Morgan hated gays, said it in a routine, and then when called on it said, "Fuck y'all."

    You mean he can't do that? He can't feel that?

    Sure, it means he probably won't get as much work, and maybe right minded folks everywhere (including Neil above, lest we forget where he actually stands on things - as many in this comment thread have done so ignorantly) will punish him economically.

    But he CAN hate gays, right? I mean, it happens. And people hate smokers. And people hate women, and men, and, well, I can't list everything.

    Sure I may think it's wrong, but if Tracy Morgan hates gays - but isn't actively stopping their marriages or access to health care, education, civil rights - well, so what?

    Oh, and I live in a gay marriage state. The world continues to turn. And if you believe the stats, my state has the highest same sex divorce rate. So who knows?

  17. These acts of contrition, real or not, are important. Hitting the perpetrators in the pocketbook and public shaming makes them and others like them (the less famous celebrities and athletes) think twice before speaking. That means young people hear less of that type of talk. If a kid is never exposed to the idea that you can smack the gayness out of somebody, then that kid will likely grow up never conceiving of the idea. Adults' behavior and how the media reports it can influence young people who are looking for guidance. Over time, it makes a difference.

  18. Hey, Szoszolo.

    So your concerns, LGBT rights, are just way more important than anyone else's.

    And yes, there's every bit as much intolerance in the world, maybe not so much in the LGBT world, but moreso for smokers and fatties (2 of my favorite groups, just because they are so casually mocked by huge numbers of unsympathetic elitists from LA to Croton on Hudson.)

    And I want to second Nick Nick about the fact that MANY people who read Neil's post seem to completely miss how he tells us he feels about this bigotry. If my students read so poorly, I'd go all Strelnikov on them.

  19. Beaker Ben, have you been around 15 year old kids lately. All they say is, "That's gay," all day long. It means nothing to them. It doesn't mean what you or others want it to mean.

    It isn't about Stonewall or marriage rights.

    Language, people, if you can't get beyond it, then I don't know why we're even writing each other about it.

  20. Gunder, my statements are from my own personal experience. Progress is slow but undeniable.

    Just to be clear, shaming isn't the only thing that helps prevent the spread of thsee bad ideas but it helps and it doesn't take an act of congress.

  21. Language, people. It's important. You may think you can get over it, but you're living in denial.

  22. @Mr. Potato: You know where, that's why I told you like Neil.

    @Nick Nick, I think people are reading Neil correctly and responding to what he's saying. Of course Tracy Morgan can hate gays, but what's the point is what he said. It seems like you are saying it doesn't matter what he says because what matters is what he thinks and we can't change that. I don't quite understand your point, that's not something anyone here is arguing.

    Being a smoker is not the same thing as being gay and is a pretty ignorant analogy to make.

  23. Under the First Amendment of the Constitution of United States Tracy Morgan has a right to tell his shitty little hackneyed jokes, and I have a right to heckle the motherfucker from the audience, and I would have. But then, I haven't seen any video or sound recordings of the performance....I did see the "Kramer" Richards racist cuss-out video on WasteO`timeTube - that was just a crappy stand-up act devolving into a slip-fight, and Michael Richards would have been better off quitting and walking off stage (even though that is totally unprofessional in stand-up.*)

    What always bothered me about the USSR was we wouldn't play by our own Goddamn rules, either because of "national security", Stalin's multiple phobias, and other stupidities. There was a Constitution**, but we kept breaking it, especially the Gapists...things like the expulsion of Solzhenitsyn, the Daniel-Sinyavsky trial, etc. made a bad situation worse, and made the death of "acually existing Socialism" a possibility, then a reality. My point is, if we're going to have an arguement about public speech and voicing contrarian ideas, we have to play by the rules of the State.

    * But what the hell do I know; I wanted to heckle Morgan for HIS shitty act!

    ** Actually the Soviet Union had three (1924, 1933, 1977) and we subverted them all.

  24. There is something I like about the notion that it's better to know what people think of you, rather than whitewash our language so that our true feelings are hidden behind a fake wall of PC-dom

    What about "hypocrisy is the tribute vice plays to virtue"?

    Wouldn't, say, black people rather live in a country where people who hate them have to pretend they don't, and are punished if they drag folks to death behind a truck, hang them from lampposts, keep them from voting, or deny them jobs? Or would they rather everybody just let their freak flag fly?


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.