Monday, August 30, 2010

"My First Kerfuffle"

Well, now.

After six hundred and sixty-something posts –

A mini controversy on the old blogeroo.

I don’t want to make a big deal about it, but I gotta tell ya, I’m a little excited. I was beginning to lose hope that I could ever say anything that would stir up the passions of the readership. The responses I do get, which are always welcome, are intelligent, interesting, encouraging and often educational. But rarely do I feel my corresponders to be legitimately up in arms.

Now, it’s finally happened.

Six comments, I received. Hardly an avalanche, by but for me, that’s a near “heart surgery” level of response.

Okay, one was from a regular reader who likes to hitch a ride on my blog and tell, often quite funny, stories of his own. But the other five…the precious other five…

Those were actual comments.

Have I ever deliberately tried to be provocative on my blog? Not really. I just tell the stories that come to me. Being “deliberately provocative” reminds me of the sketch my brother and his then writing partner Lorne Michaels once wrote for a Canadian radio show.

They were parodying a radio call-in show. The “Topic of the Day” was: “The Wheat Bill – Yes or no?” Remember, this is Canada we’re talking about.

Not a single person called in, the listeners being unable to muster any excitement about the Wheat Bill, yes or no. So little by little, in an effort to generate callers, the show kept changing the “Topic of the Day” in an increasingly more “red meat” direction, to the point where the “Topic of the Day” ultimately evolved into:

“They didn’t kill enough people in World War II.”

The funny part was, they still didn’t get any calls.

So which one of my blog topics aroused my readers such that they felt compelled to write in and voice their views?

Was it my pronouncement that “equal” doesn’t always mean the same?


Was it my adamant refusal to use the phrase “his and her”, as a protest against the destruction of natural rhythm of writing?

I believe I got nothing on that one.

Was it me, being so out of step with current entertainment that my favorite movie comedy remains The Court Jester, from 1955?

That could explain my modest following, but there was no direct assault on my comedic proclivities.

So what was it, already? Which incendiary topic triggered this astonishing groundswell of passionate comment writing?

It was my post about stoning.

I take full responsibility for the uproar. That’s what you get when you work close to the edge. The heat comes with the territory: Lenny Bruce skewering cultural taboos. George Carlin, and his seven dirty words. And me, daring to make light of a punishment no longer practiced anywhere but in Afghanistan. And maybe a couple of other places.

The responses were “across the board.” One, untroubled by the subject matter, complimented my comedic approach:

“Fiendishly clever stuff…”

wrote Joke, in a three-word and three dots effusion of praise.

Viagra Online wrote in:

hahaha thank you very much for such hilarious story I have not laughed this way in so long, the story made my day, who wrote it by the way? I think it’s a little master piece.

“a little master piece.” I like that. Though I could have done without the “who wrote it by the way?” crack.

Dimension Skipper jumped in with some humorous musings of their own:

“Would misdemeanors require ‘pebbling’? Or at least sand in the shoes for irritation?”

I love praise. And Dimension Skipper caused the corners of my eyes to crinkle. I was in a fine mood to that point. Then came the hard stuff.

Miles sent me this:

This post was amazingly disturbing. There is nothing funny about stoning, it is a horrible, disgusting practice. It’s like saying there’s something humorous about murder. What the hell Earl?

This would be your classic “some does, and some doesn’t” situation. Both Miles and I agree that stoning is a horrible, disgusting practice. Finding humor in the matter?

“Some does. And some doesn’t.”

And then, there’s Greg Morrow. Greg took my post seriously which I love; it’s way better than being written off as frivolous and dispensable. Greg took me to task for my assertion that people who are committed to cultural diversity believe in it only up to a point, and then they go “Feh!’”, everyone “drawing the line”, but just doing it in a different place.

Greg writes:

I typically take a respect for diversity to mean that one does not consider another culture’s practices wrong because they are different. They might be wrong for other reasons. E.g., stoning is wrong for pretty much the same reason lynching is wrong, all xenocultural/autocultural origins aside.

One does not have to give up one’s moral sense of critical judgment when one embraces diversity.

As you see, Greg makes a distinction between a behavior that’s “different” and a behavior that’s “wrong.” To me, they’re the same thing, distinguished only by degree. A “wrong” behavior is a “different” behavior that, for you, elicits a gag reflex of overpowering revulsion.

Second, equating stoning with lynching is itself a “xenocultural” response. Lynching is illegal. Stoning, to the culture that engages in it, is not only socially accepted, it’s the legally prescribed punishment that that culture metes out for serious transgressions, like, in the recent cases, adultery and eloping.

Third, which is a lot for such a short comment:

One does not have to give up one’s moral sense of critical judgment when one embraces diversity?

With all due respect, Greg, I believe one does. That “moral sense of critical judgment” comes from your culture, not theirs. They don’t think they’re doing anything wrong.

Well, will you look at that? An entire blog post, responding to your comments. I believe that’s a first.

Keep ‘em comin’. The comments, the questions and, of course, the compliments. Whatever you want. This is big fun for me.

It fires up my brain cells. And it gives me something to write.


PG said...

This 'moral equivalency' thing makes for some very interesting 'challenges' (a euphemism tossed around to cover for impossible or ridiculous tasks) when teaching high school, especially English.
Everything has to be put in some kind of historical context (ie. in the olden days they didn't believe in pre-marital sex as a recreational activity) which is nigh impossible, given that nobody studies history anymore so the kids haven't a clue about any time earlier than the day they were born.
There is also a lot of tippy-toeing around sensitive issues like cultural differences. While it might be ok for some girls to give sexual favors in the school parking lot, due to their cultural heritage, others might be executed by their male relatives for dishonoring their families by even looking at boys. This makes 'group work' difficult for the teacher to organize, let me tell you.
I was taken to task a few years back, for pointing out the Tiger Woods thing when he first played at the Augusta club that still discriminated against women. It was thought that he, of all golfers, should stand up to discrimination of all kinds. Others felt that he was too young or that he shouldn't have to shoulder that burden, being 'just an athlete', not a moral guide. Even though it was a big thing in the NYTimes, and illustrated a very interesting point of irony, among other things, once you filled in the stuff about the civil rights movement, I was, instead, accused, by a black student whose father personally played golf, of being racist for questioning a black person's right to play golf!
Which I didn't. At all. The fact that she skipped a lot of classes, like the one on irony, and kinda missed the point was beside the point.
The other kids of her race and gender thought she was out of line, but even that didn't stop the Principal from over-reacting. I 'got off', by the way, but not before a lot of ruffling of outraged feathers and a warning to stay away from such 'teachable moments' in the future.
Of course, the double irony is how old Tiger eventually played out his attitude towards women a few years later.
Keep 'em comin' Earl.
My morning catnip.

Joke said...

Well, it WAS fiendishly clever.

Somewhat less clver but more (to me, delightfully) fiendish is the way in which you naturally parried the thrusts of those taking you to task for making light the things you did.

Mind you, I am unencumbered by a mindset that requires to embrace diversity. I accept diversity pretty well. But to embrace it means yielding, even temporarily or partially or both, my moral bearings.

Which, frankly, I am not in the mood to do. So, I look at diversity with a generally benevolent eye, until someone starts doing something diverse that happens to harm someone else (or, punish someone out of proportion to a given misdeed) and then I get all xenoculturally excited and say "um, no, that's barbaric and quit it."

That's just the way I am.

MikeAdamson said...

Whenever I see a reference to your brother I can't help but think of Baffin Island.

Love the blog.

Gary said...

Hard to believe it took over 660+ posts to find controversy.

Used to be I thought any subject was fair game for the comedian/writer. A few months ago I saw the movie, "The Stoning of Soraya M.", which removed stoning as a subject of comedy from my perspective. The movie trailer is at If you can watch this movie and still find humor in stoning, I'll be surprised.

You assert that “moral sense of critical judgment” comes from your culture, not theirs. They don’t think they’re doing anything wrong." That's a partial truth. The ones in power - the men - don't think they're doing anything wrong. The majority of the population, however, has little or no power. Most choose to ignore the reality in favor of their own survival.

From the original comments, I still stand with Miles: "What the hell, Earl?"

For the most of us, this topic will quickly fade. But for those still at risk, it will never be funny.

Watch this movie. It may be the best movie you've seen in years.

Kathryn Hartog said...

Earl, I never noticed how lonely you were. But we're here now. It's all going to be okay.

Jocelyne said...

I didn't say anything when I read it, but I thought that post was as funny as it was disturbing. I shared it with my colleague at work, and she agreed that the absurdity of it all was quite comical... yet serious. It left us very conflicted... but in a good way.

George Freeman said...

Was that "The Hart and Lorne Terrific Hour"? It followed hockey and was seldom allowed a complete hour.

MetDeZachteG said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
MetDeZachteG said...

(that was mine. i accidentally hit the wrong button at first)

Ha. I'm just in here because a friend of our mutual friend Dimension Skipper (who is a friend via an old Steely Dan community that has now gone extinct, the Yellow Book or the Sign In Stranger book over at Under the Banyan Trees) came to the Rumpus Room saying she was reading your blog entry (something DimSkipper had enticed her to do even though she is busy as hell trying to take as many as snapsnots possible and tell all she can about what she likes about America for her overseas friends and East coast relatives in her very own Amen Corner of the cyber universe) and then was blown out of the Santa Clarita marina (if they'd have one she would) when she read you mentioned our dear friend!

Since I am all the way in Belgium and Dutch and we do get to see some of the shows and TV-series you worked on on the better networks or the BBC, I would like to say thank you to Dimension Skipper for sharing his fav bloggers and people with us and you for acknowledging his humor and fine human being-ness!

joke said...

At the risk of exacerbatin' the kerfufflification under which burden you must labo(u)r these days, I must stand by my original comment.

It was, and remains, fiendishly clever stuff.

Two things:

1- Things that are WILDLY unfunny, sacred even, can serve as a springboard for humor. Especially if that humor is used to show or emphasize the absurdity of that something.

Let's take the stoning issue.

We all seem to agree that stoning is bad. So, right there, common ground.

We can all further agree that Earl believes stoning is bad. So far the consensus thing is working pretty much as designed.

What I took from that particular blog entry were two things:

1- That stoning is bad and, as something bad, deserves (among other things) to be skewered.


2- That there is a mindset that, through its inconsistent gaps in logic, makes allowances for cultures where stoning is the rehabilitation protocol of choice.

It is that mindset, I believe, which the good and noble Earl was particularly targeting (since we are all in agreement, by acclamation, that stoning is bad) since it seeks to occupy the Moral High Ground but it dissolves in a shower of flaming splinters when anything even remotely resembling rigor is applied thereto.

Fiendishly clever stuff and, as the grandson of Spaniards, I will take a cape and pointy-jabby things with frilly ends (as is my cultural prerogative) to anyone who disagrees.

Greg Morrow said...

Hi, Earl! Thanks for responding!

I tend to take a moderately absolutist approach to morality. That is, right and wrong have at least some independence of the person or culture making the judgment. This is the position of a lot of religions, although I got mine from superhero comics. ::rimshot::

So, for me at least, embracing diversity means not caring that this person in front of me doesn't eat pork, or wears ugly tights over hairy legs and doesn't drink or dance, or whatever; those are things that differ culturally, but which do not really have any sort of absolutist moral rightness or wrongness.

But stoning, for example, is morally wrong in an absolute sense, and cultures that consider it legitimate are wrong. I do not thing that this judgment in any way impairs or limits my commitment to respecting diversity.

I also do not think that there are very many pure relativists in the world, people who would approve of all cultural norms regardless of their repugnance simply because they're normal for a particular culture. So from that perspective, what I was circling around before was an argument that you were presenting a straw-man image of diversity.

Diversity is largely a response to a world in which behavior that was different was in fact considered wrong, or at least weird and strange and would get you blackballed from the Lions Club. Because that world made second class citizens with reduced opportunity out of everyone who wasn't a white Christian man. Accordingly, we are vastly better off with an embrace of diversity and an understanding that one's value is not capped by one's ethnicity, religion, gender, etc.

But that's still not the same thing as giving assholes a pass on stoning people to death.

(If I were a comedy writer, there'd be a walk-off joke here!)