I'll give my bona fides up front: I am a longtime TNC reader, first-time commenter, working comedian in the Bay Area, and sexual assault survivor. The rape joke issue is old hat to women in standup -- the idea that 'rape jokes' are an edgy or unique category of comedy is belied by the fact that just about EVERY comic I know, male or female, has at least one in their repertoire. I have one about the casual use of the word 'rape' in other cultural contexts, and another about how I stopped going to church after I got raped by a statue of the Virgin Mary.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, I'm OK with CK's joke, although I also agree with the letter writer.
Much of comedy is about context. There are jokes I tell in San Francisco that might get me run out of a club on the road; there are jokes I can tell in Oakland that I can't tell in San Francisco, and vice versa -- maybe 'can't tell' is overstating the case, but different jokes work in different contexts.
I've told jokes about race in San Francisco that have made me feel uncomfortable and irresponsible when an all-white audience laughs, because I wonder if they understand everything that's going on underneath the punchline. Similarly, CK's joke can probably play well in some areas, and leave him walking off the stage feeling like he just gave cover and comfort to rapists in others. This is the nature of comedy; audiences are not universal and we can't control for what they'll bring to a show.
That being said, thoughtfulness is always important, even in comedy. Comics only become good comics when their jokes are rigorous and well-tested -- it sounds completely antithetical to everything about comedy, but where CK and Morgan differ is that cruelty isn't a punchline. It can be part of a punchline, but there has to be something SURPRISING about it. Jokes operate on surprise. Although I agree with the letter-writer about rape culture, it is nonetheless improper in polite society to offer such open justification about rape; to most people it's surprising to actually hear, even if it is something lurking in all kinds of cultural shadows, even if some people will find literal validation of their own evil within it.
Conversely, ranting about gay people just isn't that surprising in many places, particularly in TN. I heard from a few friends who saw Morgan's show in SF and said that he did the same bit and got laughs -- maybe because in San Francisco, hearing an over-the-top anti-gay rant is surprising. In most of the country, however, that's not true.
Oh, and to the folks justifying Tracy Morgan by saying they heard he was just 'working out' new material: no, he wasn't. Comics 'work out' new material at open mics -- even the biggest names swing by open mics to drop new jokes -- and tiny clubs in New York and LA where they're amongst other comics who can critique them. They DO NOT work out new material whilst on national tour in front of audiences who have paid top dollar to see them. Being a comedian might seem like a barrel of monkeys, but it's a professional craft and performance like any other.
What I like about this comment is that it points to the fluid nature, across geography, of comedy. But there's also a fluidity across time.
I was, early on, extremely offended by Chis Rock's "Niggers vs. Black People" routine. I read it through an overly-political lens, which, I now think, says more about me than about the joke. My sense was that Rock conveniently papered over the ease with which black people are turned into "niggers" and vice versa. It struck me as ghetto snobbery. (I can't find the video, but I believe that's what Rock called it himself during a 60 Minutes interview.)
I now think it's a rather deft exploration of a real tension that exists among black that is tied to class, but shouldn't be understood as such. No one resents crime more than the people who live with it regularly. I also think that it was riff on the kind of tensions that virtually all people exhibit. Talk to some old heads in Chicago and they'll insist that the early black folks who came up during the Great Migration were of a better stock--hard workers, employable etc. The folks who came up in the 50s were the criminals, the unskilled and the layabouts.
It's also exhibited in white people's own tension over identity reflected in slurs like "white trash" or "redneck." I don't know much about Jews, Latinos and Asian-Americans, but I'd be shocked if it wasn't, in some way, there among them too. In short, far from denigrating, I thought the riff was incredibly humanizing in that it showed black people struggling with the same sort of identity problems that plague all groups.
Politics has an important relationship to art, but its a bad idea to read it as rote political theory. Did the act reflect some of Rock's actual feelings? I'm sure there's some of him in there. But that's the beauty of it. "I love black people, but I hate niggers," says something about us, perhaps something not so pretty, and yet beautiful. It certainly reflected some of my own frustrated private thoughts.(I really related to the "Can you kick my ass?!?!!" at the end.)
I understand why Rock stopped performing that joke--it feels like a riff made for a house full of black people. The trouble is that it's quite funny, and humor evinces little respect for our boundaries. Though I wish it were different, I can't say that I offer my full, unvarnished thoughts on black people here. I give quite a bit. But to coin a phrase, this is not a safe space for me or anyone else. We are family--but we kinda aren't.
When President Obama left, I stayed on at the National Security Council in order to serve my country. I lasted eight days.
In 2011, I was hired, straight out of college, to work at the White House and eventually the National Security Council. My job there was to promote and protect the best of what my country stands for. I am a hijab-wearing Muslim woman––I was the only hijabi in the West Wing––and the Obama administration always made me feel welcome and included.
Like most of my fellow American Muslims, I spent much of 2016 watching with consternation as Donald Trump vilified our community. Despite this––or because of it––I thought I should try to stay on the NSC staff during the Trump Administration, in order to give the new president and his aides a more nuanced view of Islam, and of America's Muslim citizens.
Long after research contradicts common medical practices, patients continue to demand them and physicians continue to deliver. The result is an epidemic of unnecessary and unhelpful treatments.
First, listen to the story with the happy ending: At 61, the executive was in excellent health. His blood pressure was a bit high, but everything else looked good, and he exercised regularly. Then he had a scare. He went for a brisk post-lunch walk on a cool winter day, and his chest began to hurt. Back inside his office, he sat down, and the pain disappeared as quickly as it had come.
That night, he thought more about it: middle-aged man, high blood pressure, stressful job, chest discomfort. The next day, he went to a local emergency department. Doctors determined that the man had not suffered a heart attack and that the electrical activity of his heart was completely normal. All signs suggested that the executive had stable angina—chest pain that occurs when the heart muscle is getting less blood-borne oxygen than it needs, often because an artery is partially blocked.
Tucker Carlson’s latest reinvention is guided by a simple principle—a staunch aversion to whatever his right-minded neighbors believe.
Tucker Carlson is selling me hard on the swamp. It is an unseasonably warm afternoon in late January, and we are seated at a corner table in Monocle, an upscale Capitol Hill restaurant frequented by the Fox News star. (Carlson, who typically skips breakfast and spends dinnertime on the air, is a fan of the long, luxurious, multi-course lunch, and when I requested an interview he proposed we do it here.) As we scan the menus, I mention that I’ll be moving soon to the Washington area, and he promptly launches into an enthusiastic recitation of the district’s many virtues and amenities.
“I’m so pathetically eager for people to love D.C.,” he admits. “It’s so sad. It’s like I work for the chamber of commerce or something.”
“No… it’s a magic potty,” my daughter used to lament, age 3 or so, before refusing to use a public restroom stall with an automatic-flush toilet. As a small person, she was accustomed to the infrared sensor detecting erratic motion at the top of her head and violently flushing beneath her. Better, in her mind, just to delay relief than to subject herself to the magic potty’s dark dealings.
It’s hardly just a problem for small people. What adult hasn’t suffered the pneumatic public toilet’s whirlwind underneath them? Or again when attempting to exit the stall? So many ordinary objects and experiences have become technologized—made dependent on computers, sensors, and other apparatuses meant to improve them—that they have also ceased to work in their usual manner. It’s common to think of such defects as matters of bad design. That’s true, in part. But technology is also more precarious than it once was. Unstable, and unpredictable. At least from the perspective of human users. From the vantage point of technology, if it can be said to have a vantage point, it's evolving separately from human use.
The preconditions are present in the U.S. today. Here’s the playbook Donald Trump could use to set the country down a path toward illiberalism.
It’s 2021, and President Donald Trump will shortly be sworn in for his second term. The 45th president has visibly aged over the past four years. He rests heavily on his daughter Ivanka’s arm during his infrequent public appearances.
Fortunately for him, he did not need to campaign hard for reelection. His has been a popular presidency: Big tax cuts, big spending, and big deficits have worked their familiar expansive magic. Wages have grown strongly in the Trump years, especially for men without a college degree, even if rising inflation is beginning to bite into the gains. The president’s supporters credit his restrictive immigration policies and his TrumpWorks infrastructure program.
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A new report explores why those who benefitted from Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion supported the man who promised to reverse it.
Here’s a question that’s baffled health reporters in the months since the election: Why would people who benefit from Obamacare in general—and its Medicaid expansion specifically—vote for a man who vowed to destroy it?
Some anecdotal reports have suggested that people simply didn’t understand that the benefits they received were a result of the Affordable Care Act. That was the case for one Indiana family The New York Times described in December:
Medicaid has paid for virtually all of his cancer care, including a one-week hospitalization after the diagnosis, months of chemotherapy, and frequent scans and blood tests.
But Mr. Kloski and his mother, Renee Epperson, are still not fans of the health law over all. They believed that it required that Mr. Kloski be dropped, when he turned 26, from the health plan his mother has through her job at Target — not understanding that it was the law that kept him on the plan until he was 26.
The polymath computer scientist David Gelernter’s wide-ranging ideas about American life.
Last month, David Gelernter, the pioneering Yale University computer scientist, met with Donald Trump to discuss the possibility of joining the White House staff. An article about the meeting in TheWashington Post was headlined, “David Gelernter, fiercely anti-intellectual computer scientist, is being eyed for Trump’s science adviser.”
It is hard to imagine a more misleading treatment.
By one common definition, anti-intellectualism is “hostility towards and mistrust of intellect, intellectuals, and intellectual pursuits, usually expressed as the derision of education, philosophy, literature, art, and science, as impractical and contemptible.”
Here is the exchange that I had with Gelernter when I reached out to ask if he would be interested in discussing the substance of his views on science, politics and culture.
Neil Gaiman’s remarkable new book has triggered a debate about who, exactly, owns pagan tales.
Myths are funny. Unlike histories, they are symbolic narratives; they deal with spiritual rather than fact-based truths. They serve as foundations for beliefs, illustrating how things came to be and who was involved, but they’re often sketchy about when or why. There’s a brief scene from Neil Gaiman’s new book Norse Mythology that does a remarkable job of capturing just this: the wonderfully nebulous sense of being in illo tempore—the hazy “at that time” of the mythic past. It begins, as many creation myths do, with “an empty place waiting to be filled with life,” but in this instance some life already exists. There’s Ymir, whose enormous body produces all giants and, eventually, the earth, skies, and seas. There’s Audhumla, the celestial cow, who licks the first gods out of blocks of ice. And there are three brothers—the gods Ve, Vili, and Odin—who must devise a way out of this timeless nowhere:
Rescuing the world’s most precious antiquities from destruction is a painstaking project—and a Benedictine monk may seem like an unlikely person to lead the charge. But Father Columba Stewart is determined. Soft-spoken, dressed in flowing black robes, this 59-year-old American has spent the past 13 years roaming from the Balkans to the Middle East in an effort to save Christian and Islamic manuscripts threatened by wars, theft, weather—and, lately, the Islamic State.
“Given what’s happened in the last years since the rise of ISIS, it’s very clear that things are really endangered,” Stewart said. “It’s imperative to make sure that these manuscripts are safe, because we don’t know what will happen to them.”
All in all, the United States has already set more than 2,800 new record high temperatures this month. It has only set 27 record lows.
Most people handle this weather as the gift it is: an opportunity to get outside, run or bike or play catch, and get an early jump on the spring. But for the two-thirds of Americans who are at least fairly worried about global warming, the weather can also prompt anxiety and unease. As one woman told the Chicago Tribune: “It’s scary, that’s my first thing. Because in all my life I’ve never seen a February this warm.” Or as one viral tweet put it: