A hard case for free-speech advocates

February 21, 2021 • 12:30 pm

If you read this site even cursorily, you’ll know that I’m pretty much what they call a “hard-liner” on free speech. That is, I adhere to the Constitution’s First Amendment, which (with important exceptions) stipulates that the government cannot prevent you from speaking as a citizen. The exceptions, as carved out by American courts over the years, include harassment in the workplace, false advertising, defamation (deliberately lying with intent to harm), speech intended and liable to create imminent violence, and so on. I can’t think of a single form of speech that the courts haven’t already dealt with that should be prohibited. I don’t adhere to European blasphemy or “hate speech” laws, for instance: I think that Holocaust denialism should be allowed and that people should be able to say “gas the Jews”, so long as there aren’t Jews, a gas chamber, and an angry mob at hand.

Moreover, I go further, arguing that even private organizations should go as far as they can in allowing the kind of speech permitted by the First Amendment. For example, I think all colleges should adhere to what public colleges and universities must already adhere to: First-Amendment freedoms.  Facebook and Twitter, as far as they can, should do likewise. Nevertheless, I recognize that in some cases private organizations can and should be able to restrict speech. It wouldn’t do, for example, for a business to allow its employees to hurl racial slurs at customers.

So here’s a hard case for me, one that gave me pause. It involves a Canadian comedian, Quebecois Mike Ward, making fun of a disabled kid as part of his act. For that, Ward is now facing judgment by Canada’s Supreme Court. Click on the screenshot to read. 

The article notes that Canada, like the U.S., has pretty broad speech laws, but it also has “hate speech laws” against “identifiable groups” and, at least in Quebec, a “right to dignity”. In the case of the disabled kid, Jérémy Gabriel, these rights came into conflict. The minority group in question is the disabled, and the dignity attacked was Gabriel’s, as comedian Ward made fun of him in his act.

About a decade ago, the comedian Mike Ward, of Quebec, mocked the voice of a well-known disabled teenage singer in a standup routine, roasting him for being off-key, making fun of his hearing aid and calling him “ugly.” But he said he had defended the boy to others because he would soon die. When the teen didn’t die of his illness, the comedian joked, he tried to drown him.

Here’s Gabriel’s disability:

Mr. Gabriel has Treacher Collins syndrome, a rare congenital disease characterized by skull and facial deformities. He was born deaf and received a hearing aid implant at age 6. At age 8, he captured hearts across Quebec after singing the national anthem at a Montreal Canadiens hockey game. He went on to meet Celine Dion in Las Vegas, serenade Pope Benedict XVI at the Vatican and write an autobiography.

Gabriel is thus a public figure, which to some makes him less immune to mockery. I have to admit that Ward’s comedy crossed the line for me, as I don’t find it funny at all. It’s mean-spirited. But that’s a different question from whether what he said was illegal. Remember that comedians often cross the line to make a point. Sarah Silverman, Lenny Bruce, and Dave Chappelle are just three. Chappelle, in fact, often goes after other black people, like Jussie Smollett, using the n-word, and that’s legal in the U.S. (the piece on Smollett, at the link, is also very funny). Silverman, I believe, has made fun of the aged, and perhaps the disabled. A lot of American comedy would, it seems, violate Canada’s “hate speech” and “right to dignity” laws.

The mockery of Gabriel was part of Ward’s act that also went after other folks:

Mr. Ward, a stand-up comic who has twice won “comedian of the year” in a prestigious Quebec comedy award show, has appeared on television internationally, and is known for his trenchant comedic style. In 2008, his joke about a 9-year-old girl who was abducted spurred death threats against him.

The Supreme Court case took root in 2010, when the comedian used his act to make fun of people in Quebec seen as being above criticism, and targeted celebrities like Celine Dion. He also targeted Mr. Gabriel and, among other jokes, made fun of his hearing aid, calling him “the kid with the subwoofer” on his head. The show was performed hundreds of times between 2010 and 2013, and disseminated online.

And Gabriel said that he was harmed by Ward’s mockery:

Mr. Gabriel, now a 24-year-old political science student in Quebec City, said in an interview that the comedy routine — and the raucous laughter it provoked — destroyed his self-esteem during difficult teenage years when he was already grappling with being disabled. As a result of the routine, he said he was bullied at school, and became depressed and suicidal, while his parents were crushed. He said that after his complaint against Mr. Ward, he also received death threats from the comedian’s fans.

“You are already dealing with prejudices when you have a disability and the process of self-acceptance is even harder when you are a teenager,” he said. “It became a thousand times harder when people were laughing at the idea of me dying. I felt like my life was worth less than others.”

I don’t doubt that Gabriel experienced harm as he describes. But bullying by others was not the intention of Ward, so this isn’t equivalent to the comedian harassing him personally and repeatedly. Further, Ward was a public figure, and making fun of public figures is a regular trope of comedy. Usually it’s not for a disability, but remember that Trump, in his inadvertent Presidential comedy act, made fun of a disabled reporter and was not prosecuted.  If one went after Justin Trudeau in a nasty way—and one could!—it could deprive him of his “right to dignity,” even if Trudeau was not a member of an “identifiable group.”  But perhaps if someone in Newfoundland made fun of Quebecois, that would be a “hate crime.” I don’t really know how it works in Canada.

At any rate, 9 years ago Gabriel’s family filed a complaint against Ward for breaching the human rights code of Quebec, and the commission found Ward culpable for breaching Gabriel’s dignity, ordering Ward to pay him $35,000 (Canadian) and his family $7000. Ward appealed, and the appellate court upheld the decision except for eliminating the damages given to Gabriel’s family. Ward then appealed to Canada’s Supreme Court, which has heard the case and will rule soon.

Note that other comedians have equally odious aspects of their acts, none of which I think should be illegal:

In the United States, Lenny Bruce was labeled a “sick comic” for his expletive-laced routines, and in 1961 he was arrested on obscenity charges in San Francisco. His defiance helped to clear the way for other iconoclastic comedians.

In France, the comedian Dieudonné M’bala M’bala has been repeatedly charged with violating anti-hate laws. He is widely associated with an inverted Nazi salute known as the quenelle. In 2013, he lamented that a prominent Jewish journalist had not died in “the gas chambers.”

As a secular Jew, I find that disgusting bigotry, but it’s not and shouldn’t be illegal.

Canadian comedians are upset, of course, because if the Supreme Court upholds the verdict, it puts comedy on a slippery slope. Remember, the offense Ward committed wasn’t hate speech, but the “right to dignity.” In my view, nobody has a “right to dignity”—at least, not a right to immune from mockery, which is what that right appears to comprise. Once you define a “right” in that sense, there’s no stopping anybody from bringing lawsuits. It would be the death of substantive comedy.

Granted, Ward’s making fun of Gabriel was reprehensible. It served no comedic purpose that I can see, and was mean spirited. And yes, it did harm Gabriel, but I don’t think that Ward intended the bullying and threats to ensue.

Ward may be found guilty under Canadian law, but he wouldn’t be under American law. And, in my own judgment, though what Ward did was vile and not in the least humorous, that’s what people have said about comedians like Lenny Bruce for years. A nasty and uncalled-for joke, for sure; speech worthy of censorship and punishment, no. Not in my view.

Another interview with Titania McGrath

January 13, 2020 • 12:00 pm

Titania McGrath, who is actually comedian Andrew Doyle, goes on Fox News—who else would have him?—to talk for 26 minutes about Titania McGrath, Her Wokeness. You can hear the show by clicking on the screenshot below

Some of the stuff you might know from the talk by Doyle I posted before, but there’s also new stuff here, too.  One is Doyle’s reaction to Ricky Gervais’s “comedy” monologue at the Golden Globes, where he was host. I’ve put the monologue below, which didn’t go down well at all with the privileged audience who took themselves quite seriously.

Another is that Titania is writing another book—for children! Have a listen.

Gervais’s comedy was really biting, and I pretty much liked it, as did Doyle. You can see why.  My favorite line is this: “If you do win an award tonight, don’t use it as a platform to make a political speech. You’re in no position to lecture the public about anything. You know nothing about the real world. Most of you spent less time in school than Greta Thunberg.”

He also goes after Apple, Amazon, and other corporations. You can be sure that he won’t be hosting this, or any other similar show, in the future.

 

 

Titania McGrath pwns The Independent

December 11, 2019 • 12:00 pm

This Independent article by Liam Evans (click on screenshot below; I’ve also saved it in the Wayback Machine here), is a strongly worded piece by an apparently woke person of color offended by “reactionary comedy”, with the tirade supposedly triggered by a Fin Taylor show that included an anti-#MeToo sketch called “When Harassy Met Sally”.  (This appears to be a real sketch by Taylor.)

A few quotes from author “Liam Evans”:

Satire is a powerful tool. Tyrants have always feared ridicule, because there is nothing more likely to undermine authority than the sound of derisory laughter. But male comedians like Taylor taking pot shots at women who have had the courage to speak out can hardly be described as “punching up”. As a comedy aficionado, I’ve seen a disturbing rise in this kind of victim-bashing on the circuit over the past few years. It’s got to the point where I have to research the acts on any given lineup very carefully before booking a ticket.

. . . “Alt-right comedy” might sound like an oxymoron, but the immense popularity of internet “sh*tposters” such as PewDiePie and Sargon of Akkad has persuaded some comedians that there is money to be made from belittling social justice.

Speaking as a person of colour in an irredeemably racist culture, I’m sick of being accused of hypersensitivity by straight white men who are blind to their own privilege. What makes them believe that comedy should just be for them?

The hallmark of a good satirist is the ability to expose the follies of the powerful and the corrupt, not to embolden them at the expense of those of us who are already marginalised.

After decrying Ricky Gervais and Dave Chapelle, “Evans” goes on:

Perhaps it’s time for the comedy community to reflect. Danish comedian Sofie Hagen has successfully toured with “reduced-anxiety” performances in which all toilet facilities are gender-neutral and audience members can contact her in advance if they have particular needs.

The success of Hannah Gadsby’s game-changing masterpiece Nanette has also proven beyond doubt that woke comedy is commercially viable.

And yet the likes of Gervais, Chappelle and CK still fail to recognise that they no longer have to rely on shock tactics to appeal to a modern audience. As role models to a new generation of comics, they have a responsibility to be mindful of the damage they can do to an already divided society.

I would go so far as to argue that some of the jokes I have heard on the comedy circuit of late constitute actual hate speech.

. . .The battle for equality will not be won by activists alone. We all need to play our part. Sometimes this will mean risking the accusation of being a “prude” or a “killjoy”, but this is surely a price worth paying.

Such tactics are designed to silence us, to make us feel ashamed for standing up for those who might not be able to stand up for themselves.

It takes an astonishing degree of entitlement to claim the right to free speech without accepting the consequences of one’s choices. In a country poised on the brink of a far-right resurgence, is a cheap laugh really worth the risk? The kind of jokes that reinforce negative stereotypes and normalise bigotry should no longer be tolerated in our society. This really isn’t too much to ask.

Okay, so we have a humorless Pecksniff decrying free speech and “alt-right comedy” as instantiations of “hate speech”. It also includes the word “woke.” It sounds a bit like Titania McGrath, doesn’t it? Or does it? After all, often Titania’s satire works because it’s very close to the real thing, if not indistinguishable from it.

Well, it’s certainly Titania, who apparently has tricked The Independent. Here’s what “she” said (Titiana is the alter ego of Andrew Doyle), and if you go to the original article, her “coincidence” is true.

So how did a reputable newspaper get fooled by someone who doesn’t exist? Probably because Titania’s hoax was ideologically compatible with the editorial view of The Independent, and claimed to be written by a “person of colour”. Shame on them for not doing their fact-checking! Tip to newspapers: always verify the existence of a new author, or any author!

Because The Independent is likely to pull the piece, I archived it at the link above.

h/t: Al

Is the Pope Catholic?

March 18, 2019 • 1:30 pm

Here’s a video from the British comedy game show QI (“Quite Interesting”) about the official title of the Pope Francis. It turns out that it’s not “Pope”. Further, you’ll learn that THE POPE IS NOT A CATHOLIC! In fact, the man who is officially the Pope is also NOT a Catholic. Listen and learn.

h/t: Michael

Accusations of cultural appropriation gone wild: Canadian comedy club bars white comedian with dreadlocks

January 16, 2019 • 12:30 pm

Canada has always been a rival to the U.S. for ludicrous behavior by the authoritarian Left, but now our northern neighbor has taken the prize. As the Montreal Gazette and The Toronto Star report (click on the Gazette screenshot below), well, the headline tells it all:

Zach Poitras, the comedian shown in the photo below, was barred from performing two shows, one at (I’m not making this up) the “Snowflake Club” and the other at the Coop les Recoltes. This is solely because Poitras sports dreadlocks, as you see below:

From the Monreal paper:

The Coop les Récoltes is a bar but also a solidarity co-operative created by the Université du Québec à Montréal’s Groupe de recherches d’intérêt public, a collective that deals with social and environmental issues.

The establishment confirmed its decision to exclude comedian Zach Poitras in a message posted on its Facebook page.

Poitras was barred from performing at the Snowflake Comedy Club and He refused to comment on the decision.

In its online explanation, the co-operative defended its mission to be “a safe space, free from any link to oppression,” and described cultural appropriation as a form of violence. [JAC: There goes “comedy” in that safe space!]

“We will not tolerate any discrimination or harassment within our spaces,” they wrote. The group argues that cultural appropriation is when “a person from a dominant culture appropriates the symbols, clothing or even the hairstyles of persons from a historically dominated culture.”

JAC: The Facebook page adds that only oppressed groups can experience this kind of cultural appropriation, which is also construed as actual violence. That’s palpably absurd hyperbole.

This part of the Facebook post sounds weird, but that’s because it’s apparently automatic translation from the French:

For a person from a historically dominated culture, see his culture being appropriate, that is to say, diverted or emptied of its meaning, capitalized, fetishized, etc., is violence. After decades of colonialism, slavery and cultural genocide where the people of black have been persecuted and forbidden to practise their culture, wear their clothes and their hairstyles (we are thinking here of the English settlers who prohibited yogis from practicing their spirituality, Black women forced to shave their hair or to indigenous people whose spiritual practices and rites have been banned by the Canadian state in an explicit objective of assimilation), it is a slap in the face to see that this is why a group has been persecuted , another group can take it without problems or consequences.

To those who speak of cultural exchange, we would like to recall that an exchange is made on an egalitarian basis between people from different cultures, that is, when there is no power report involving the domination of a culture.

These paragraphs are why I call this kind of ideology “authoritarian Leftism.” There is a simple assertion of what is right and wrong, with debate not allowed. Some questions are beyond discussion, and if you try to discuss them, you’re a racist or a bigot.

More from the Montreal Gazette:

The posting says the co-op understands that Poitras’s intention isn’t racist, but adds the hairstyle “conveys racism,” adding that “cultural appropriation is not a debate or an opinion,” but rather “a form of passive oppression, a deconstructive privilege and, above all, a manifestation of ordinary racism.”

Greg Robinson, a UQAM professor specializing in black history, compared the situation to a larger interpretation of the concept of “black face,” which saw white performers darken their faces to portray black people.

“White people would dress as black people to mock them,” he said. But Robinson added that even when the intention wasn’t to mock but rather embrace or immerse one’s self in a culture, it’s still necessary to be careful.

“It’s like the N-word — black people can use it in their community, but when someone from outside uses it, even if they want to be like black people, there still remains an aspect that is rooted in history.”

The Coop Les Récoltes did not reply to requests for an interview.

These people, as well as Dr. Robinson, are way, way off the mark. As Wikipedia notes in its entry on “dreadlocks”, this hairstyle has been worn for millennia:

The ancient Vedic scriptures of India which are thousands of years old have the earliest evidence of jaata/locks which are almost exclusively worn by holy men and women. It has been part of a religious practice for Shiva followers.

Some of the earliest depictions of dreadlocks date back as far as 3600 years to the Minoan Civilization, one of Europe’s earliest civilizations, centred in Crete (now part of Greece). Frescoes discovered on the Aegean island of Thera (modern Santorini, Greece) depict individuals with braided hair styled in long dreadlocks.

In ancient Egypt, examples of Egyptians wearing locked hairstyles and wigs have appeared on bas-reliefs, statuary and other artifacts. Mummified remains of ancient Egyptians with locked wigs have also been recovered from archaeological sites.

During the Bronze Age and Iron Age, many peoples in the Near East, Asia Minor, Caucasus, East Mediterranean and North Africa such as the Sumerians, Elamites, Ancient Egyptians, Ancient Greeks, Akkadians, Assyrians, Babylonians, Hittites, Amorites,
Mitanni, Hattians, Hurrians, Arameans, Eblaites, Israelites, Phrygians, Lydians,
Persians, Medes, Parthians, Chaldeans, Armenians, Georgians, Azeris, Cilicians
and Canaanites/Phoenicians/Carthaginians are depicted in art with braided or plaited hair and beards.

True, most whites who wear dreadlocks became aware of them because the hairstyle is popular among modern blacks, but that hairstyle has been appropriated time after time, with black dreadlocks being only the most recent instantiation of cultural borrowing that goes back to India.

More important, wearing dreadlocks is not at all like blackface and certainly unlike the word “nigger”— tropes and words historically used to mock and denigrate black people.

In contrast, dreadlocks, like nearly all instances of cultural appropriation I’ve seen and reported about, are worn by people because THEY LIKE THEM and admire that aspect of another group’s culture.  In what respect, exactly, is it racist to wear dreadlocks? Am I being racist when I go to a Chicago soul food restaurant, or buy ribs, in a place where all the other patrons are black? I don’t think so: I’m enjoying part of another group’s culture. Am I supposed to avoid such places, or pay some kind of verbal homage to the oppression of African-Americans? Isn’t it enough to enjoy another group’s food in their company?

The argument that it’s okay to culturally appropriate so long as the borrowing is from a “dominant” group not only makes no ethical sense, but runs into its own problems. How do you rank groups as being more or less oppressed than yours? Are Asians lower on the oppression scale than Europeans? I’m told that in some places in Asia, Europeans are regarded as inferior, so does the ethics of cultural appropriation depend on where you are?

What the comedy club in Montreal is doing is not only ridiculous, but is a prime example of virtue signaling: making a gesture to trumpet your own ideological purity, but a gesture that has no effect on society and no mitigation of injustice. 

In fact, as I’ve argued before, the more cultures borrow from each other (in respectful ways, which is the case nearly 100% of the time), the more they’ll come to understand and appreciate each other. Saying, “we’ll punish you for wearing dreadlocks” just enforces otherness and cultural segregation.

I wonder if there was this kind of outcry when Justin Trudeau visited Canada and wore Indian clothes (something I do when visiting as they’re more comfortable, and also a sign of respect for local culture). Yes, I know people made fun of Trudeau et famille, but did the Outrage Brigade come out? Was he prohibited from entering Indian restaurants?

This is the brand of social-justice warriorism that we must combat, for it has the opposite effect of what is intended. The fact that the “cultural appropriation” meme is spreading is due simply to people being afraid to criticize this kind of nonsense for fear of being called racists.

O Canada!

h/t: Stephen

Godfrey Elfwick writes for the Spectator again!

December 16, 2018 • 1:45 pm

I presume that the Spectator knows that Godfrey Elfwick, like Titania McGrath, is a fake name for a spoofer of the Authoritarian Left. Indeed, I think it likely that Godfrey and Titania are the same person. Now the Spectator has published yet another funny piece by Elfwick, a piece that masquerades as a serious attack on comedy. Click on the screenshot below to read it.

Elfwick, starting with the odious “don’t-offend-anyone” contract (rather, a “Behavioural Agreement” that the University of London offered the comedian Konstantin Kisin, doesn’t defend Kisin. Rather, as a good satirist would, he calls for the death of comedy itself.  An excerpt:

I am literally shaking with rage at the thought of a room filled with people mocking the need for safe spaces. It’s like encountering hundreds of micro-aggressions all at once, like tiny paper cuts embedding themselves into my crevices. The first time I saw that clip [JAC: it’s below], I zipped myself into my portable isolation chamber and ate nothing but tinned pineapple until the fear subsided.

It’s time for us to admit that comedy is a problem. For too long comedians have got away with making light of issues using the flimsy excuse of it being their job to make people laugh. Like ‘free speech’, comedy is now a far right dogwhistle. The Internet is filled with unregulated and dangerous comedy. Laughter has become a weapon, with sharpened japes and poisoned memes its ammunition.

For a while now, the wokest and most progressive of us have forgone humor. Hannah Gadsby being the first to perform a brave anti-humor show on Netflix, setting the bar as low as possible when it comes to not making people laugh. In the US, they made the decision to remove Roseanne Barr from the Roseanne show which stripped it of all traces of toxic wit, thus saving people who may have otherwise been mentally scarred by a stray wisecrack. It’s been cancelled now of course, but that only proves that the far right is scared! They fear our refusal to take a joke. They quake at our ability to find the most innocuous one-liner offensive.

Elfwick then presents his “anti-comedy” schtick, which distorts some old comedy chestnuts to push social justice. Have a look at the article, and let’s hope that Godfrey and Titania will be with us for a long time.

Here’s Kisin doing a real comedy routine about the UoL “agreement”; this is the clip that made Elfwick shake with rage. Be sure you watch the whole thing, and notice that the UoL agreement itself is a source of great mirth to the audience.

 

The death of college comedy: University of London tries to get comedians to sign “behavioural agreement” form stipulating that they won’t mock anything

December 12, 2018 • 9:35 am

Real comedy is dead, at least in American and UK colleges and universities. This has already been recognized by comedians like Jerry Seinfeld and Chris Rock, who refuse to do standup shows at colleges because the outrage culture prevents them from doing the kind of edgy comedy they prefer. Now, to avoid a comedian offending anyone, a college—the University of London (UL)—has asked a Russian-British (and Jewish) comedian to sign a “behavioral agreement form”, shown below, so he wouldn’t offend anyone. (See coverage at the Times of London, PJ Media, and elsewhere).

Apparently the University of London, or at least the student UNICEF on Campus organiation at UL’s School of Oriental and African Studies sent the following proposed agreement to five comedians they asked to perform at a benefit for UNICEF. (They were asking these comedians to perform for free.) Read it! One recipient, Konstantin Kisin, shared the document on Twitter.

The document is unbelievable. (In fact, one reader sent it to me and assumed it was a joke. When I told him it wasn’t, he was flummoxed.)

UCL apparently wants squeaky clean comedy that doesn’t make people squirm, doesn’t bring up topics that makes students feel “unsafe”, and doesn’t make fun of anything, including religion and atheism. Only “love, joy and acceptance.”

Imagine the comedians who wouldn’t meet these standards, starting with Lenny Bruce and extending through Red Foxx, Chris Rock, George Carlin (remember how he mocked religion?), and Sarah Silverman, to mention just a few. Good comedy is about more than making us laugh, more than Bob Hope with his bland jokes and onstage golf club: it can break the boundaries of acceptable thought to make us think. Comedians like Lenny Bruce, Chris Rock, and Sarah Silverman are liberals, yet they’d be banned because their acts stimulate the brain.

Kisin put out another video saying he’d perform a “woke” comedy act elsewhere, but I’m betting it was hilarious in its avoidance of offense:

As an update, reader William sent me this appropriate statement from Stephen Fry:

h/t: Grania

Comedy wildlife photo awards

November 19, 2018 • 2:30 pm

The Comedy Wildlife Photography awards are a reliable source of animal LOLs (I posted last year’s winners here). Now this year’s awards are out, and D|Y Photography presents the finalists. Here seven to whet your appetite, but I’m sure I’ll miss some of your favorites. Go over and see the rest.

© Jonathan Irish/The Comedy Wildlife Photography Awards 2018

 

© Shane Keena/The Comedy Wildlife Photography Awards 2018

 

© Sarah Devlin/The Comedy Wildlife Photography Awards 2018

 

© Muriel Vekemans/The Comedy Wildlife Photography Awards 2018

You already know the caption for this one!

© Maureen Toft/The Comedy Wildlife Photography Awards 2018

 

© Luca Venturi/The Comedy Wildlife Photography Awards 2018

 

© Luca Venturi/The Comedy Wildlife Photography Awards 2018

 

 

“When did liberals become the fun police?”: Bill Maher’s Halloween video

October 31, 2018 • 2:30 pm

Here’s a 6½-minute segment on Halloween from Bill Maher’s latest show, which covers offense culture, snowflakes, Republicans, wokeness, and many other topics of interest (and humor). The part about cultural appropriation of costumes, which is great, begins at 3:05.  I like the whole thing, though.