Wednesday, May 31, 2017

the Kathy Griffin flap

This pic has been making the rounds:

That's comedienne Kathy Griffin holding the beheaded-in-effigy noggin of Donald Trump. The image has apparently caused a titanic backlash, with people yammering about how it's in poor taste, and with others loudly declaring Griffin's image to be an actual threat against the life of the current president.

Personally, I find Kathy Griffin hilarious, and I don't see how any serious and/or sane person could ever construe her admittedly tasteless photo as an actual threat against President Trump. Griffin has apologized profusely since the backlash occurred (an interesting philosophical question is whether she would have apologized had there been no backlash), but it could be that the damage to her career has already been done.

I think Griffin was well within her free-speech rights to be photographed in this way, and I'd like to share whatever drugs the people who think Griffin is actually threatening the president are on. I should also note to any conservative readers that Griffin, while a flaming liberal herself, has spent much of her standup-comedy career skewering fellow liberals. She has been positively brutal, for example, in her mockery of Oprah Winfrey, a frequent target of her scorn. Griffin has, in many ways, been a living counterpoint to celebrities and their detached-from-reality lives. Go listen to some of her routines if you haven't already done so. Griffin, who is fully aware she's no beauty queen, has adopted the critical pose of the down-to-earth, dowdy Everywoman who shakes her head incredulously at the passing Hollywood scene, and she is utterly merciless when it comes to taking celebrities down several pegs. Because Griffin is a liberal, it's unsurprising to see her expressing ill will against Trump (although it wasn't long ago that Trump was himself a New York liberal—a fact that current liberals conveniently forget), and doing so in the extreme lefty manner that we've all become familiar with, especially since last year's election (none of this violent rhetoric is new: you'll also recall liberal jokes, and even films, about the fantasy assassination of George W. Bush).

The argument I'm hearing from the conservative side, though, has to do with hypocrisy: imagine if a rightie comedian had appeared in a photo holding the severed-in-effigy head of Barack Obama. The left would have been in a self-righteous uproar. This is true, of course: the left would indeed have been outraged, and I think conservatives are right to point out that leftist outrage is often selective (although interestingly, Chelsea Clinton has openly denounced Griffin's photo). That being said, the same standard applies, and in my opinion, the left would have had little to be outraged about had an Obama effigy appeared. It's just free expression, after all, and not a serious threat to the life of the president.

But rational discussion of issues like these seems to be beyond the mental capacity of many people these days. To sum up my position: Griffin's photo is plenty tasteless, but I don't seriously believe she's actually threatening President Trump. I disagree with much of Griffin's liberal platform, but personally find her to be a hilarious and talented standup comedienne who has performed a public service, over the years, by raking fellow celebrities over the coals in an effort to keep Hollywood humble.

I'm morbidly curious to see what becomes of Griffin now, after this incident. Some folks on the right believe this spells the end of her career, but I don't think so: such sentiments are mere wishful thinking. Griffin is bouncy and resilient, and I expect her to skewer herself, after this flap, just as hard as she's skewered her fellow celebrities.

UPDATE: Styx weighs in:

UPDATE 2: this issue isn't really worth deep exploration, but if you're interested, there's a body-language analysis video on YouTube that discusses how sincere Kathy Griffin was in her videoed apology. Let me spoil it for you: not sincere at all. But you knew that already, didn't you? I doubt Griffin likes being in a position where she's obligated to apologize, so her video was, obviously, mostly pro forma.

UPDATE 3: the ever-serious and always-theatrical Stefan Molyneux weighs in.

UPDATE 4: a very different perspective from mine is here.


ricstef said...

It's not that she is actually threatening the president, but her stunt is a threatening act in itself. Such a graphic display could certainly incite others to consider taking action themselves--maybe not even against the president. There are certain limitations to free speech and incitement to violence is one of them.

Kevin Kim said...

That's an interesting point, but it seems to be in the same spirit as "video games incite violence," an argument I find unpersuasive. If certain images and actions "trigger" certain people, it's because those people are predisposed to be "triggered." To say otherwise is to agree with the PC line that we must avoid being offensive because people have no control over their own actions—an argument I've heard from the left regarding, for example, cartoonists who lampoon Islam. "Drawing Islam-mocking cartoons is a sure incitement to violence," the PC crowd argues. I don't buy it. I don't buy the blame-the-victim attitude that arose after the Charlie Hebdo massacre, in which lefties basically claimed that those cartoonists deserved what they got, and what they got was inevitable. It's as if these people don't believe in human freedom and responsibility, which is the problem whenever we talk about "triggering" language at all. And I don't buy the PC line in Kathy Griffin's case, either. If someone looks at Griffin's photo and decides to behead President Trump ISIS-style, such an act is on that person's head, not on Kathy Griffin's. There is no inevitable chain of causation leading from Griffin's image to actually beheading Trump, any more than there's an inevitable chain of causation leading from drawing Muhammad parodies to the mass murder of French cartoonists. In both cases, there is choice.

The right should avoid the hypocrisy of double standards: it should not mock the left for using "triggering" language, then turn around and talk about how people might be triggered by Kathy Griffin. Either triggering is a legitimate concept, or it isn't. I say it isn't. I say that, in those moments when we get pissed off and our emotions take over, it's because we've chosen to allow that to happen. We're morally responsible for our actions, even when we're sick in the head, and even when we're overcome with rage. If we're free, then we're responsible. If there's choice, then certain actions, like violence and murder, aren't inevitable. And I'm not willing to constrain someone's free speech just because some random person might be inspired to commit a violent act. That's the PC way. No, thanks.

And lest anyone think there's some sort of contradiction in saying certain people are "predisposed to be triggered" while also saying that people have free choice, I'll note in my defense that I've long argued (especially in the context of depression and suicide) that human freedom does not disappear when mental illness (or any other cognitive/emotive force) appears on the scene. Human freedom works in and through our compulsions, which means you can't fall back on your compulsions as an excuse for your bad behavior. You're still morally responsible, even when you're sick. Saying "Kathy triggered me!" doesn't cut it. That's the same excuse as that age-old moral dodge: "The devil made me do it."

My two cents, anyway.