First, of course, members of that "diverse cast" walking off set in protest would seem to suggest that they are not, in fact, in on the joke. Second, though, there's the claim that Ridiculous 6 is a "broad satire of Western movies." Which brings us back to the half-life of Sandler's comedy. Is Ridiculous 6 abiding by, or violating, Poe's Law? Has Sandler earned the right to claim, as Netflix does on his behalf, the moral amnesty of satire?
Sandler's films—the fart-joke-studded comedies, at any rate, that he's best known for—are, of course, ridiculous. But slapstick and satire are extremely different things. With the Ridiculous 6 controversy, the Sandlerian approach to the world—comedy that is smug and self-deprecating at once, comedy that both celebrates underdogs and revels in the cruelties flung at the them, comedy that is accountable to nothing but itself—is attempting to claim the mantle of cultural criticism. Here is a collection of juvenile jokes, the stuff of the tween boys and locker rooms, colliding with a trend that is sometimes derided as "p.c. culture," but that can also be understood more broadly as empathy culture. Here is Sandler's ethic of whimsical sociopathy being forced to reckon with the occasionally inconvenient fact that movies operate society.
The films of Sandler's "ridiculous" genre do, indeed, violate Poe's law. But that's not because they're offensive. It's because they're insipid. Billy Madison and Happy Gilmore and Grown Ups and Jack and Jill ... these films give no indication that they are self-aware or remotely critical of the subjects they take on. They may deal, if tangentially, with serious topics—race (Blended) and gay marriage (I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry) and, um, the Arab-Israeli conflict (You Don't Mess With the Zohan)—but they lack evidence of the intellectual infrastructure that is a basic requirement of satire.
Compare Sandler's stuff to the work of, say, Louis C.K., whose jokes take on sexism and entitlement and complicated ideas of privilege and the lack of it. Or to the work of Key and Peele or Sarah Silverman or Nick Kroll or Chelsea Peretti or pretty much any other comedian who's ascendant right now. Their films and shows and sets resonate with the culture. The questions society grapples with collectively—matters of race and gender and class—seem to guide them. There's a sense of animating generosity in their work, even when it involves fart jokes.
And then here is Adam Sandler, making a movie whose costumes don't bother to distinguish between the Apache and the Comanche and whose script involves the direction, "Sits-on-Face squats down behind the teepee and pees, while lighting up a peace pipe."
Last year, the Vulture film critic Bilge Ebiri claimed that Sandler "might be the most important comedian of his generation," attributing the importance in large part to "the Sandler persona’s simmering, nuclear self-hate." As an actor, Ebiri noted, Sandler "plays both the shtick and the heart at the same level of non-commitment"—a tendency that "might be annoying to some (okay, many ... fine, most) critics, but it could be the key to Sandler’s appeal. Maybe it’s what makes him more like the average American."