Friday, February 22, 2013

"Bitches be crazy"

A while ago, I mentioned that Simon Rich had written one heck of a misogynistic humor essay for the New Yorker. The well-known problem with misogyny intended as humor is that there's no way to call it out without learning that one is a humorless feminist for not laughing along. More on that in a moment. In any case, I'd kind of forgotten about this, until I was out walking Bisou, listening to this week's live-taped Savage Lovecast. Special guest, Simon Rich. Reading one of the stories from his new collection. And which one? The very same one as had been in the magazine, the one about God having a girlfriend. She works in fashion, she's gossipy, needy, diet-crazed, and doesn't like it when he works late at his job, which is creating the world in six days, and thus kind of a big deal. But she's all, why don't you spend more time with meeeee, because that's how the ladies get, y'know? A stale set-up, with an original conceit. But because that's how it goes when one walks a dog in the middle of nowhere, I kept listening.

Anyway, re: laughing along, I probably did some of that, but I'm fully capable of laughing if put in front of an old episode of "Two and a Half Men." The bad-sitcom chuckle. Put me on an airplane and the bar drops lower still. Because of this character flaw, I can laugh at a joke about how women enjoy "lo-cal yogurt," just not in the same way as I laughed when Sarah Haskins mocked the yogurt-as-woman-feed phenomenon.

(This is all of it a separate phenomenon from appreciating great art that happens to have been created by a bigot, or that expresses bigoted views, an issue that itself needs to be divided between an understanding that everyone from back-in-the-day would fail at modern-day political correctness and a possibly different standard for that which is contemporary/recent. Rich is obviously talented, but this is not the kind of literature where that sort of thing applies. Contemporary literature where you are compelled to at least temporarily overlook bigotry, to me, means some kind of new insights or style or something. I could go on, but will save that line of going-on for my dissertation.)

This was my typically longwinded way of saying that there was that story, on a podcast ostensibly about being at the cutting edge of gender-and-sexuality awareness. Which seemed just odd. A term like 'heteronormative' doesn't even begin to describe the piece. And yet, not odd - very much of a piece with Savage's frequent portrayal of women as prim or naive killjoys. Savage reacted to the story/essay thing by asking Rich if, after reading this story (part of an anthology dedicated to said girlfriend), the author's girlfriend still performs oral sex on him. (Savage-speak for, 'she hasn't left you yet?') As in, Savage got that it was insulting, but what he did with that knowledge perhaps wasn't so helpful.

The podcast also included the usual advice component, and near the end, there was a question from a woman who knew she was a lesbian but wanted a second kid, and wondered if it was OK to stick around with her husband and only come out after having said child. Easy answer: no. But Savage answered instead with some enthusiastic, "Bitches be crazy," adding that when "bitches" want a baby, they're crazier still.

Here, I'm afraid my ridiculously low bar for finding something bad-sitcom amusing wasn't even met. I may have cringed slightly on account of Savage's painful attempt at sounding young and hip (even if he was possibly riffing off a Stephen Colbert routine?), or his ironic pose as a straight-guy misogynist, which we of course know is hilarious because Savage is gay and enlightened and does so much good (and he does!). Was it supposed to be OK within the context of a live performance that included a female dominatrix demonstrating something that must have made more sense not in podcast form? Whatever it was about, the "bitches be crazy" ending was just gross. But yes, it fit with the choice to have Rich read "Center of the Universe."

More thoughts on what this all means soon, perhaps, when the haze of the head-cold lifts, or bring yours to the comments.

4 comments:

Moebius Stripper said...

The well-known problem with misogyny intended as humor is that there's no way to call it out without learning that one is a humorless feminist for not laughing along.

I love this way around that connundrum, though I'm not sure I'd necessarily have the presence of mind to apply it on the spot.

I have had occasional success, when told I'm humourless, with explaining that part of having a sense of humour is being able to tell the difference between things that are funny and things that aren't, and that "bitches be crazy" is an example of the latter. Occasionally I'll elaborate at length about how unoriginal such humour is. The "joke"-tellers generally seemed taken aback, as "you have no sense of humour" is expected to be a conversation-ender, and they're certainly expecting to have their senses of humour challenged.

Petey said...

"Contemporary literature where you are compelled to at least temporarily overlook bigotry, to me, means some kind of new insights or style or something"

That's just about the size of it. David Mamet is cool despite the generally reactionary nature of his art cuz he's so damn good. (Oleanna as primary example.) OTOH, Neil LaBute, not so much.

In the arts, you can get away with anything if you do it right. Which is pretty much how it should be, iMHO. But, hell, I like Ezra Pound and Leni Riefenstahl, so what do I know?

"I'm fully capable of laughing if put in front of an old episode of "Two and a Half Men."

The soft bigotry of low expectations. As Michael Gerson fully understood, Two and a Half Men and The Nanny form the axis of television evil. Lena Dunham justifiably frowns at you...

Phoebe said...

Moebius,

It's funny that the article you link to mentions "Shouts and Murmurs," considering that was where Rich's story appeared. I see how a sarcastic 'how hilarious' could work as a retort to genuinely humorless sexual harassment, but Rich here is not sidling up against anyone in a copy room. He's written/performed a clever story whose misogyny won't be immediately obvious to every audience. One couldn't tell Rich that he's so clever, he ought to get into the New Yorker, what with his having already, alas, done just that.

So how does one respond to something like Rich's story? That seems more difficult, because, while it's totally possible to use literary analysis (or common sense) to show why the story's altogether rude, analysis of a joke is announcing one's self as humorless.

Petey,

Lena Dunham's not looking at me, so I can enjoy Fran Fine in peace.

Moebius Stripper said...

Ah, good point...when the comedian in question has already been validated by major publications (or Dan Savage), it's a lot harder to challenge their work on aesthetic grounds. And, as you say, arguing that humour is sexist tends not to win any converts. I've had the most success with dismissive responses along the lines of "eh, that kind of thing was funny the first thirty times I heard it," but 1) that doesn't address the real problem, and 2) it packs less of a punch when it's obvious that, eg, major networks and publishing houses still find such things funny.