Thursday, December 15, 2011

It's Not Just Antisemitism

I have a hard time with much comedy because comedians have a tendency to prey upon historically marginalized people for a cheap laugh. In many cases it does not seem problematic to the comedians because they are buoyed by their own privilege. Sometimes comedians know damn well that they are being offensive but then claim that they are shock jocks and people need to learn to laugh at themselves.  This is of course yet another example of their privilege. I rarely watch comedic routines with my kids because of the aforementioned factors but decided to give Jeff Dunham a try after he was recommended. 

The minute I saw Achmed The Dead Terrorist, I knew that we would be having a conversation.

Transcript starting at  5:50
Achmed: Two Jews walk into a bar
Jeff: No, no, no
Achmed: What, you don't let Jews into your bar? You racist bastard
Jeff: What I mean is I don't want racist jokes in my act
Achmed: Oh okay, how about if I kill the Jews?
Jeff: No
Achmed: I'm kidding. I would not kill the Jews. No, I would toss a penny between them and watch them fight to the death. Yes, yes, I did the same thing with two Catholic priests but I tossed in a small boy. Yes, yes, and the winner had to fight Michael Jackson.
Jeff: Achmed
Achmed: Yes
Jeff: Achmed you cannot tell jokes like that
Achmed: Why not? I'm killing so to speak.
Jeff: You can't tell jokes like that.  It offends people
Achmed: I'm dead what do I care?
There is much wrong with Dunham's Achmed the Dead Terrorist routine.  The entire bit is absolutely 100% Islamophobic and racist.  As I was watching, I was squirming.  I focused in on the above bit because this is what quickly became and issue in my household.

Days after viewing Dunham's comedy routine, the kids kept mimicking him, and finally I had to tell them to stop, because his jokes are racist, as well as sexist (note: the above video is only a small snippet)  Destruction did not understand why I was so upset, because as far as he was concerned, the only people Dunham had been mean to are Jews, and so hey, no big deal right.

I think my eyes popped right out of my head.  I don't think that we have ever had a conversation about antisemitism, and so to be fair to my son, his ignorance was completely and utterly my fault. This kind of negative characterization led to over 6 million people dying in concentration camps.  It is my opinion that the moment we agree that dehumanizing people is okay, we set the foundation for oppression and genocide, and this is why we cannot accept routines like Dunham's as harmless little fodder.

I told him that the characterization of Jews as cheap came from the fact that they were restricted from participating in many trades, and so they took up working with money.  This means that society limited their access to gainful employment, and then further stigmatized them for working in one of the few fields that was made available for them. The idea of the cheap, money grubbing Jew is set up specifically to further denigrate an entire group of people. 

Years ago, when I first watched Schindler's List, I knew that it would be a movie that I watched with my child, and I think that the time has finally come. I know that it will be difficult for him to watch, but if he can so cavalierly state that nothing is wrong with Antisemitism, then I have not done my job to educate him properly.  Sometimes, in situations such as this, the best thing to do is to give evidence of exactly why something is wrong. I say this because what Destruction saw was the audience laughing and having a good time, and so to him it seemed harmless.  The only way to counter such an assertion is with the cold hard truth.  I want him to understand that this is not just mommy making too much about something, this is something that absolutely causes harm.

I think what disgusted me about this is that John Dunham stood there and used a puppet to tell his hateful joke.  Of course he said that it was wrong, but he clearly didn't truly acknowledge this, because he went ahead and told the joke anyway. He is not the first comedian to take this approach,  Don Imus is famous for having his characters say offensive things. As far as I am concerned, if you know that something is offensive to say, and say it anyway, it  is even more hateful because it acknowledges that a wrong is being done and that speaker simply does not care. What more evidence can there be of privilege?  Unlike my son, Dunham cannot use ignorance to cover his language.

I have learned one thing from this experience, before I allow my children to watch a comedian again, I will sit down and watch his routine by myself to ascertain whether or not it fits with our family values.  I made my children a promise to raise them to be socially aware individuals, and so allowing things like this to pass is simply unacceptable from my point of view.  I don't want to shelter them, but I do want them to grow with a respect for all people, regardless of their race, sexuality, gender, class, ability, age, or culture.  Our family mantra is all people matter, and perhaps if more people thought like this, there would be less individuals willing to sit there and laugh at the dehumanization of others.