Tuesday, 13 March 2012

Life unworthy of life? To Doug Stanhope and Louis CK maybe.

"Most of the greatest evils that man has inflicted upon man have come through people feeling quite certain about something which, in fact, was false." — Bertrand Russell

Bravery is a word that is over used at times. There are times when it’s use is totally justified of course. Soldiers, doctors, single parents, those facing a terminal illness, people living through a natural disaster like a Tsunami or through a man made horror by attempting to save others like the firefighters of 9/11. Victims of racist or homophobic or disability hate crimes viciously beaten but refusing to be broken.A disabled child repeatedly bullied but still having the courage to brave school everyday.

Where I struggle with the term brave or indeed fearless, is when it is used to describe some comedians.

Stand up comedy certainly enhances lives. I’ve written before about how laughter is a crucial gift in a difficult life. It formed a love letter to those comics who choose wit over cruelty and make life better.Comedians who choose their targets carefully who decide to diminish the powerful people (that need reminding that they are human and often incapable) are using satire and humour well.

All of us suffer at the hands of politicians. From the most vulnerable losing benefits and in many cases the will to live because of it to the uber rich, asset rich, cash poor whingers - bemoanng the 50p rate of tax and the horror of the mooted mansion tax.

Policy framed to disenfranchise needs puncturing with skill and intelligence and there are many who ably do this. They are actually brave in my opinion because speaking out against the government or religious oppression can be a fast track to career suicide. Like it or not the men in grey are all powerful.

For the majority of comedians though it’s very much a first world career. It’s an option and a choice like anything. Wise comics are the first to decry what they do and are humble about it. They know they are 21st Century court jesters removed of their shoe-bells but still the servants of the court of public opinion.

But some really do suffer from their own self importance and pass through a self-awareness barrier with breathtaking arrogance. These guys and they are predominantly men suddenly deem their every word, their every joke, their every target as being suitable because they decide them to be.

Louis CK and Doug Stanhope fit this idea quite well for a section in their stand up shows which obstensibly and thus popularly target the pantomine villain de jour Sarah Palin.

I’m no fan of this politican but the point at which the political rallying becomes completely devoid of either satire or humanity is the point at which they shift from political objectivity to disability objectifying. Because to these two white, male, middle aged and much admired “brave men” the target of their ridicule is reserved for Palin’s son who has Down’s Syndrome.

In Louis CK’s case he encapsulates his brand of social Darwinism in a bit he does on in the Opie and Anthony Show.


On the show footage is played of the “R” word campaign. A young man with learning disabilities is interviewed talking about how the word retard makes him feel. This brave comic can be heard (at 1 hour 6 mins) ridiculing him whilst he is speaking and with his buddies in the studio they call him a retard repeatedly. Later in the show Louis CK refer’s to Sarah Palin as having a “retard making cunt”. (at 1 hour 12 mins) http://www.youtube.com/verify_age?next_url=/watch%3Fv%3DqD-UC0eXVGE

In Doug Stanhope’s case he takes it a little further if any further boundary pushing were required and talks about Palin’s son as a retard and a spastic. In his case he refers to Palin directly when he says “threw that spastic out of that ‘Tard (retard) launcher cunt of yours” here (at 4 mins 52 seconds) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KdFJ-hFFdI8&feature=youtu.be
Speaking later he made the point that his words had been taken out of context and that he was in fact in character. Yes he was for some of the routine but certainly not for all.

All this is purile and childish and utterly irrelevant to political debate. If anything their tantruming elicts sympathy for Palin and her family, due to their undisguised loathing of learning disabled people in general and Palin’s son in particular, in my opinion.

Far from making a left wing atheist point they seem to speak to the very heart of of right wing extremism and it’s almost a rallying cry to the Eugenics so favoured by fascists.

Where politics misses in terms of rallying- stand up comedy can pick up the slack. Hate speech against disabled people can be peddled and repeated and seen as acceptable because big stars with huge numbers of fans made it ok. They made it acceptable and they made it normal.

These ranting speeches full of hatred may parade themselves as attacking a politician but Louis CK and all his buddies are not from the targeted groups. They may have the right to speak freely but this is a hollow victory given the numbers of disabled people targeted by this language everyday. 

The physical abuse that follows verbal abuse is held back only by society deeming this type of action utterly unacceptable.  Louis and his mates are making that self control seem archaic. Making justifiable targets out of learning disabled people is the accomplishment of the bully not the intellectual.

To target disabled people,to make stereotypical jokes, are pursuits as dull as they are wrong. This immediately renders them unfunny to anyone with knowledge and understanding of disability and indeed the vast range of ability of disabled people. To speak with cruelty is of course the choice of anyone but to speak with demeaning certainty which is predicated on a falsehood of ignorance is wasting everyone's time. Life unworthy of life, as a concept, applied to the living, has been used before.

He who is bodily and mentally not sound and deserving may not perpetuate this misfortune in the bodies of his children. The völkische [people's] state has to perform the most gigantic rearing-task here. One day, however, it will appear as a deed greater than the most victorious wars of our present bourgeois era.”  Adolf Hitler- Mein Kampf