- “Cancel culture” and that dumb SNL guy.
- The new Brad Pitt movie!
- The best meme that’s ever been meme’d.
- Yet another update in the streaming wars.
- The biggest press release double take ever.
We as a society are doomed unless male comedians can be racist without criticism or consequence!!!
At least, that’s the lesson that is being screamed at me on Twitter in the wake of Saturday Night Live’s firing of comedian Shane Gillis, of whom videos surfaced showing him telling blithely racist jokes that caused controversy not even hours after he was announced as a new cast member on the sketch show. (That his jokes traded in boring, retrograde stereotypes of Asian-Americans was all the more cringe-inducing given that SNL had just made history hiring its first-ever Asian cast member alongside Gillis, Bowen Yang.)
Gillis’s jokes were outwardly racist. They weren’t jokes about racism, or satire about race, or illuminating truths about the marginalized. They were racist jokes, and quite bland ones at that. People were pissed. Then people became pissed that people were pissed. Censorship! McCarthyism! Worst of all: Cancel culture!
“Cancel culture” is a phrase that’s been lobbed often this past year, as an impulse toward outrage is ever-amplified by the megaphone of social media. But what the hell does it even mean?
At face value, the term refers to what is perceived as a reflexive, unfair ruthlessness. In a society that is increasingly concerned with being politically correct and “woke,” there is no tolerance of anyone whose words, attitudes, or behavior do not adhere to those mores. And as those ideas are most often ascribed to people who hold liberal values, it is often alleged that this applies to anyone who speaks or does anything that works against a utopian lefitst ideal. In other words, say something that upsets a “snowflake” and you’re fired.
In that version of “cancel culture,” we’re a lynch mob of Red Queens, hysterically policing social media for problematic people, screaming “off with their heads!” anytime we encounter an idea we don’t like.
But like many phrases and ideas in 2019, this one has been appropriated, bastardized, and misused to the point of not only betraying its original definition and its usefulness in checking the actual repercussions of reactionary censorship, but in fact has become almost meaningless.
Now, “cancel culture” isn’t a diagnosis of a concerning trend that has become prevalent in recent years: Celebrity says something eyebrow-raising, ensure that the celebrity never works again! No, it’s morphed into an excuse used by those who wish to justify or endorse the very words and behaviors that are being flagged as offensive in the first place.
You see, consequences are not “cancel culture.” Just as entitlement is not a rationalization for offensive behavior.
It would take too long to list all the recent controversies involving celebrities who said something alarming enough to detonate social media outrage: Scarlett Johansson defends Woody Allen, Dave Chappelle mocks Michael Jackson’s accusers, Lara Spencer shames male dancers, a Queer Eye host rails against his critics, some Real Housewives are caught being casually transphobic.
Some of these celebrities apologized. Some didn’t. All were likely forced to consider the impact and the responsibility of their words, amid outcry and, in many cases, calls for them to lose their jobs. But none of them were fired. Shane Gillis, however, was. Is that a symptom of cancel culture?
Gillis is a prime example of what is really happening, and how that reality is being skewered. No one, at least not the rational among the cultural critics, is denying Gillis’s right to make his jokes, no matter if they are racist and no matter if they are, above all of that, woefully lame. But just because Gillis has a right to make those jokes doesn’t mean he has a right to a bigger platform from which to make them.
A job on Saturday Night Live is not owed to anybody. It is arguably one of the highest-profile gigs in comedy. Fans, audiences, and critics are right to expect some sort of responsibility or awareness, a certain standard, from those who are given that platform. They are right to be upset if it comes out that one of those benefactors has a history of espousing racist views. Gillis, in turn, had a right to respond to those who were angered. His response didn’t satisfy those critics, nor did it satisfy his employer. So he was fired. That is how jobs work.
SNL is a major platform. Johansson, the highest-paid woman in Hollywood, has huge outreach when she speaks for a magazine cover story. People expect a certain sensitivity from a woman who hosts Good Morning America. Dave Chapelle is being paid $60 million for his Netflix comedy specials. Of course the content of those specials is going to be subject to scrutiny. What the hell else is he being paid for?
Use comedy to ask difficult questions, to provoke. But also listen when these things cause a reaction.
Resulting consequences and consideration are not “canceling” someone. We have indeed entered an era of lunacy in which there are people who demand nonsensical repercussions for the whiff of a lack of political correctness. But crying “cancel culture” any time a person is asked to atone for or justify something they said? That ain’t it.
In Ad Astra, Brad Pitt gets in a gunfight with moon pirates. Later, he wrestles a feral space monkey with his bare hands. He also commandeers a rocket ship on its way to Neptune after sneaking on board during its launch.
It’s always funny how easily someone can make any movie seem ridiculous when reducing it its oddest details and plot lines, and it doesn’t get much odder than these isolated scenes in Ad Astra. The truth is that the film, out Friday, is shockingly quiet, as far as movies set in outer space starring Brad Pitt and featuring moon pirates go. In fact, crazy as those plot points sound, it couldn’t be centered around a more commonly explored and recognizable topic. Ad Astra is about an astronaut with daddy issues.
On the one hand, there is nothing more laughably endemic of Hollywood’s circle jerk of straight white guys than an indie film director getting $100 million to write a movie about a man working through existential issues with his father while in actual space. On the other hand, you know what? Brad Pitt is great in this movie. It’s very pretty, too!
There was an outright hullabaloo after the release of Pitt’s other film this summer, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. In it, the 55-year-old stud takes a break from his wry smiling and sardony to climb on a roof and take off his shirt, revealing the kind of abs that make the weakest among faint from thirst. Yes, he looked, as they say, EXTREMELY HOT!!!
But I came to a sobering realization while watching his quiet, contemplative performance in Ad Astra. The abs, the naked torso, that V thing at the waistline of his low-rise jeans: Even with all that, I’m never more attracted to the man than when he is sad, silent, and moody—as he is, almost relentlessly, in Ad Astra. What does it say about me that I prefer Sad Brad to Abs Brad? My therapist and I will have an answer for you shortly.
I do not know what makes some memes funny, so funny that they can be employed ad nauseum and they make you laugh each and every time, while the appeal of most others burn fast and bright.
That said, Hustlers star Keke Palmer’s “sorry to this man” monologue is the funniest thing I have ever seen. I love it. I won’t stop loving it. I will be sorry to this man until my dying day.
NBC announced this week that its streaming service will launch in April 2020, feature reboots of Battlestar Galactica, Saved By the Bell, and Punky Brewster, and be called Peacock. That all sounds...fine, should you decide to add the streaming service to your roster. Speaking of, allow me to list the slate of current and upcoming streaming services to which you can subscribe:
Apple TV+, Amazon Prime Video, Disney+, HBO Max, Netflix, CBS All Access, Hulu, Starz, Showtime Now, HBO Go, ESPN+, The Criterion Channel, Quibi, Peacock, The Criterion Channel, YouTube TV, Shudder, BET+, Sling TV, Philo, fuboTV...
Anyway, you asshats all complained about cable. Now look.
Fox announced this week that its new head of talent relations is Lisa Simpson. Not the cartoon character, an actual woman named Lisa Simpson. At Fox! This amuses me.
What to watch this week:
Downton Abbey: It’s so nice!
Ad Astra: Not bad astra.
Where’s My Roy Cohn?: The story of the man who made Trump a monster.
Emergence: My favorite broadcast drama of the fall.
What to skip this week:
Rambo: Last Blood: “An orgy of death.” —The New York Post