The fiance and I were watching the DVD version of Steve Carell's charming comedy, "The 40 Year-Old Virgin," the other night. There's a couple of classic scenes in it - one where two black guys try to out-negro each other; and one where two straight guys playing video games try and out-straight each other. Both scenes rested on ethnic or sexual stereotypes, both were un-PC, but both were also completely inoffensive in today's cultural climate. The scenes weren't regurgitating the warmed over prejudices of the past, like a Jay Leno monologue or Adam Sandler's appalling "The Longest Yard." They were playing with them. The writers and actors trusted the audience to be in on the joke, and to realize that the fun they were poking was sharp but not designed to wound. I'd put "South Park" firmly in the post-PC category, as well as Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert and Dan Savage. When Colbert asked me in all seriousness on his show last Tuesday, "When did you choose to be gay?" no one believed for a second that he was anti-gay. Everyone in the twenty-something audience laughed. This is all a great development, and a generational one - a sign that the humor-free PC '90s have melted into something much funnier, much more honest, and yet also inclusive. The other key figure, I think, is Dave Chapelle, a comic genius who has somehow managed to create comedy that is ferociously close to the edge politically and in clumsier hands could be discounted as bigoted or dealing in the crudest of stereotypes. And yet, we're all in on the joke - black and white, male and female, straight and gay, stoner or crackhead. To my mind, it's just a sign of how vibrant American popular culture still is, how the doom-mongers are often wrong, and how a multicultural society can indeed find a way to talk about its internal differences without cloying sensitivity or crude prejudice. Two cheers?
Age discrimination affects us all. Who cares about youth? James Hamblin turns to his colleague Jeffrey Goldberg for advice.