Sunday, March 28, 2010

what's declared taboo is made sacred, plus What's wrong with Harvard?

Amanda Palmer tweeted, "ironic product placement is only ok if you take no money & beyond that give all the income to something ironic. like the Klan." Since then, the haters have come down, saying that joking about the Klan is taboo because the Klan did horrible things.

But taboos only exist in the context of sacred thoughts, and I believe nothing is sacred. If Amanda Palmer makes a joke that shows she thinks giving money to the Klan is wrong, more power to her.

When I was young, there was a TV show about a German POW camp called Hogan's Heroes. There were people then who said you should not joke about Nazis, but
The actors who played the four major German roles--Werner Klemperer (Klink), John Banner (Schultz), Leon Askin (Burkhalter) and Howard Caine (Hochstetter)--were Jewish. Furthermore, Klemperer, Banner, Askin and Robert Clary (LeBeau) were Jews who had fled the Nazis during World War II. Clary says in the recorded commentary on the DVD version of episode "Art for Hogan's Sake" that he spent three years in a concentration camp, that his parents and other family members were killed there, and that he has an identity tattoo from the camp on his arm. Likewise John Banner had been held in a (pre-war) concentration camp and his family was exterminated during the war. Leon Askin was also in a pre-war French internment camp and his parents were killed at Treblinka. Howard Caine (Hochstetter), who was also Jewish (his birth name was Cohen), was American, and Jewish actors Harold Gould and Harold J. Stone played German generals.

As a teenager, Werner Klemperer (Klink) (son of the great conductor Otto Klemperer) fled Hitler's Germany with his family in 1933. ... He defended his playing a Luftwaffe Officer by claiming, "I am an actor. If I can play Richard III, I can play a Nazi." Banner attempted to sum up the paradox of his role by saying, "Who can play Nazis better than us Jews?"
To those actors, being able to joke about people who had done horrible things was part of denying the power of Nazism.

Bobby Sands said, "Our revenge will be the laughter of our children." Don't give power to the things you hate by forbidding them. Desecrate them with your jokes.

2. Because many of the haters are Ivy Leaguers, and the one most linked to in the current attack is from Harvard, I did a little checking on Harvard and free speech. I got:

Free speech again quashed at Harvard - News Features - Boston Phoenix. If you follow the link, be sure to read the second comment, which I love. The short version: Harvard invited someone to be on a controversial panel, then discovered he actually was controversial and withdrew the invitation. Discussions of controversial subjects among the upper class tend to be between people who don't stray too far from the conventional Republican and Democratic position.

Greg Lukianoff: Why The Harvard Law Review Comment Defending Campus Speech Codes Matters notes "despite all the law to the contrary and no less than eight prior decisions ruling speech codes unconstitutional, what some might consider to be the premier law journal in the country published a comment legitimizing campus speech codes. That's a problem because while speech codes have had the law uniformly against them for decades now, as many as three quarters of the universities in the country still maintain unconstitutional speech codes." Harvard is one of them.

I also got a hit for Yale: Greg Lukianoff: College Students Can't Say 'Sissies' Anymore? Yale Goes for Old-Timey Censorship Against F. Scott Fitzgerald Quote.

ETA: Shortened this.

ETA 2: Shortened this more. Precision is hard. As Mark Twain said, “I didn't have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead.”