Last Sunday, after a very nice brunch, a friend of mine – someone I’ve known for some years who has proved to be a very good friend indeed, and is a hard-working, big-hearted, very nice gay guy – this friend of mine felt the urge to tell a joke which he warned was in really bad taste and just awful, but he simply had to tell us.
It was a Sarah Palin joke and I won’t repeat it here. In fact, I won’t repeat it ever, even to support the following argument, because it really is hateful. Suffice to say it’s one of those “What’s the difference between…?” knee-slappers that involves, among other things, using Palin’s baby Trig, who was born with Down Syndrome, to take a vicious swipe at the former governor.
During the Bush administration, especially the second term (even though his father also served as president, the term “Bush administration” will forever only refer to “W”), certain commentators referred to the level of hysterical vitriol leveled at the president day after day as “Bush derangement syndrome”. I think a similar thing has happened with Sarah Palin. A lot of people – Left and Right – are disliked, hated, unappreciated or loathed, but once in a while someone comes along the mere mention of whose name causes otherwise rational, intelligent people to start looking like some cartoon character whose top is about to blow: in addition to getting red in the face and spluttering incoherently, you half expect to see real steam coming out their ears, or from a factory whistle that pops out the top of their heads.
Such is the case with Sarah Palin (for whom, by the way, I don’t have any great love). I think the pleasure derived from the attacks on her is based on the fact that said attacks (and they are attacks, not criticisms of her policies, or analyses of her positions) give the attacker a sense of moral and intellectual superiority. But I would venture to say that if you asked any of these people why they hate her so much, the answer would be about as cogent and insightful as “Well, I mean… Jesus! She’s… you know, she’s an idiot! She’s a f---ing idiot!"
Of course. That explains it.
There are plenty of people I actively dislike, and not just politicians. There are public figures of all sorts who cause me to cringe, wince and shake my head: Flo the Progressive Insurance pitchwoman. I don’t know why (the cartoon makeup, maybe?); Will Ferrell, whose comic genius eludes me; that guy on the Food Network with the spikey hair and the "dude" persona who's old enough to know better… I could go on. But none of these people causes me to act as though I’ve skipped a few shock treatments at my local psych ward. So I don’t understand the depth of hatred for this woman. Never will.
But the other thing that disturbed me about the joke my friend told was the fact that a defenseless, handicapped infant was used as a punchline. (Full disclosure: my younger brother was born with Down Syndrome and he’s an angel. ) So, yes, I was hurt and offended on a very personal level: the word “retarded” figured prominently in the punchline as well. I guess it just seemed to me that someone like my friend, an intelligent gay man, should know better. After all, aren’t we the nice, kind, misunderstood, persecuted minority who believe, along with masses of other smart, kind, intelligent people, that calling names is hurtful, hell even hateful? Isn’t this just the kind of meanness that contributes to the climate of hate that’s lately been on so many minds?
Now, having reached this point it occurs to me that maybe I’m making too much of this. After all, living as we do in an era when practically anything you say will offend somebody, I’m increasingly of the opinion that the offended, in many cases, should just deal with it, let it go, and get on with it. Instead we get lawsuits and calls for ramped-up “hate speech” legislation. Why do the offended get all the attention?
Bottom line: my friend's joke offended me. It made me angry for a moment and left me fuming for a day or so, wondering whether I should call or email him to let him know how I felt, and maybe give him a lesson in sensitivity.
But I didn't, and I won't. Life's too short and the older I get, the more I need to pick my battles. I'll wait for something to come along that truly warrants a good fight, and simply accept the fact that my friend was a little misguided on this one and guilty of not much more than really bad taste.
And move on.