On the Politics of the Easily Offended.

Three events this week have me troubled enough to write.

The first comes from Federal Judge Richard Kopf’s excellent blog “Hercules and the Umpire.” In remarking on the nature of how men react in society to attractive women, he made the following comment:

True story. Around these parts there is a wonderfully talented and very pretty female lawyer who is in her late twenties. She is brilliant, she writes well, she speaks eloquently, she is zealous but not overly so, she is always prepared, she treats others, including her opponents, with civility and respect, she wears very short skirts and shows lots of her ample chest. I especially appreciate the last two attributes.

This comment, written in a post titled “On being a dirty old man and how young woman lawyers dress,” sparked national attention from feminist outlets like Jezebel and eventually gained mainstream media attention. The self-deprecating nature of the piece, completely lost, became an out-of-context message where one remark was seen as “slut-shaming” from a “sexist pervert.” The rationale for such a histrionic response? Someone was offended.

Item two this week comes from Stephen Colbert’s “Colbert Report.” Those who follow Stephen Colbert know him to be a very liberal comedian who parodies Fox News hosts during his Comedy Central show. During a “Sports Report” segment this week on his broadcasts regarding Washington Redskins owner Dan Snyder’s new “Original Americans Foundation” to provide token assistance for Native Americans in an attempt to stop increasing voices for a change in the team’s “racist” name, Colbert said the following:

I am willing to show the Asian community I care by introducing the Ching-Chong Ding-Dong Foundation for Sensitivity to Orientals or Whatever.

That punchline–tweeted by someone running the @ColbertReport Twitter account, was taken out of context by one Suey Park, who then (sadly, predictably), got offended and began a war against the satirist, getting the hashtag #CancelColbert trending and sparking major news outlets to analyze Colbert’s alleged “racism” against Asian Americans. Again, a brilliant bit of thought–this time from a masterful comedian–was met with a tide of outrage, because someone got offended.

Since crazy, just like death, seems to occur in threes nowadays, the latest target of criticism is comedian Louis C.K., who in his Saturday Night Live monologue made the following statement (which I’m trying desperately to get right, apologies to Mr. C.K. if I misquote this jab).

“Our Father Who Art in Heaven.” Where’s our mother? Why do we never hear about her? You have to have a mom, right? All I’m saying is that if Heaven is a place that exists, someone needs to be checking under Heaven’s front porch for a dead body. I’m just saying someone needs to be searching the trunk of God’s car for bleach, rope, and fibers.

The latest moral outrage came from SEVERAL people, who took one minor bit of comedy out of context from a late night comedy show’s monologue–something designed to make people laugh (even uncomfortably)–and sparked a Twitter outrage over Louis C.K.’s “mocking God.” Again, there’s a common denominator here. Someone says something, either in person, on TV, or online. Someone else gets offended. There’s a backlash, and the world has to take notice because someone with a Twitter account never learned the phrase “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.”

I’m calling this new development in our society “the politics of the offended,” and it’s taking our modern discourse down a chilling path. While the Internet is a powerful tool for democratizing speech, it’s also making the denizens of the World Wide Web look like massive crybabies willing to tattle to Mommy over every single perceived slight. Don’t like what someone says? All you have to do is get “offended” by their remarks, and then you’ve silenced them–or obscured the message that person tried to convey. Even if the individual was making a valid, serious point about real, impactful world issues, simply take “offense” to one comment, label that person “racist,” “sexist,” or “ableist” (seriously, I can’t believe that one even exists), or some other term ending with an “ist” and you’ve placed that individual on the defensive.

The politics of the offended now dictates that person faces a rebuttable presumption that they were indeed guilty of the “ist” or “ism” with which you label them, and they must affirmatively prove they were not guilty of said offensive tactic before they can be heard further. Usually, this person against whom you’ve taken offense must “apologize” sufficiently for said remark, take steps to correct their hateful language or speech (in many cases of celebrity, by making a donation of time or money to the appropriate foundation), and maybe even atone for this egregious sin by losing their job or watching their career disintegrate before their eyes. Then–and only then–can they continue to be a willing participant in our society.

Groups who espouse the politics of the offended claim that if you ignore their pleas for justice, you’re ignoring that group’s collective suffering. Calling a transgender person a “tranny” means you willingly turn a blind eye to the countless unnamed who commit suicide or face systematic daily oppression based on their chosen gender identity. Telling a woman that she looks attractive or referring to her as a “lady” is now a means of perpetuating or ignoring the very real discrimination women face based on their sex. Taking comedic pictures of morbidly obese card players’ partially exposed butt cheeks means you’ve chosen to shame someone based on their body image and clothing choices, and THAT makes you a bad person because you’re having a laugh based on things someone “can’t control.”

Before I get flooded with hateful comments about how I’m perpetuating said issues, please realize that I am acknowledging up front these very real problems exist, and that trans people, women, and obese individuals face very real problems in our world. They are horrible problems, and we should be taking affirmative steps to rid our society of issues that plague groups facing prejudice or oppressive conduct. We should all attempt to not just “raise awareness,” we should take action to eradicate the problems and the root causes of said problems. Love, acceptance, and equality should be the standard, not the exception. When you begin using these problems–the real world issues that people face daily–as a platform to elevate your own personal sociopolitical agenda, then you’re becoming part of the problem, not the solution. Your lone voice on a social media outlet carries with it the potential to detract from the very message people are trying to convey.

When you start angrily calling Judge Kopf “sexist,” “slut-shaming,” and a “pervert,” you take away from the very real points he’s attempting to make on masculine identity, perceptions of men, and the way people conduct themselves professionally in the workplace. When you call Stephen Colbert a racist by taking one line out of context from a dialogue regarding a football team’s problematic name, you’re doing Dan Snyder a favor by taking the heat off him and putting it on someone who is trying to advance the cause of equality. When you get angry at Louis C.K.’s mockery of God, you’re missing the point of his humor, which is designed deliberately to make people laugh uncomfortably.

Speaking of Mr. C.K., he made one very valid point last night I’m not hearing certain groups cheer him for:

Women have only had the vote in this country for ninety-four years. That means we’ve only been a democratic nation for ninety-four years. There are women in my building who’ve been alive longer than we’ve been a democratic nation.

A good portion of Louie’s monologue last night brought out some very uncomfortable truths about domestic violence–including why we still say certain articles of clothing are “wife beaters” and consider that parlance acceptable. He pointed out that we’ve got a very real problem in this country where violence against women is seen as okay. I’m surprised feminist groups aren’t cheering him for using humor to point out the very real problems women are facing in the world.

Maybe it’s because we’re all caught up in Louie’s slanderous comments against God.

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