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.”


  1. I think Amanda Palmer may be a bit too... subtle for the internet generation. (Imagine how well Swift's modest proposal would have gone over on Twitter.)

    Then again, I don't understand the concept of ironic hipsters doing things ironically anyway. It ummm... leaves me feeling slightly befuddled. So it's probably all a bit too subtle for me. ;)

  2. serial, agreed. And twitter is a lousy medium for discussing ideas.

  3. Also, Making the taboo sacred also makes free-speech martyrs and victims of people who say despicable things.

    @SB and Will, both: Heck, it's not just Twitter's fault. I taught A Modest Proposal to some night school college classes a few years ago and at least half of the students didn't get it. They thought Swift was despicable.

  4. Yeah, I know. "A Modest Proposal" caused that kind of reaction among a lot of readers when it was originally published, too. *grin* I just think Twitter would amplify the effect nicely.

  5. In all fairness to the high school kids, tone is a hard thing to get in writing that is not of one's own era. Also, given that "Let's throw a woman into a lake and if she doesn't drown, she's a witch and we'll kill her and if she does drown, oh well' was considered a perfectly reasonable position by Swift's contemporaries, it is hard to know where to draw the line between satire and practical suggestion. At least people are being fed by the Modest Proposal. All witch torture provided was public entertainment.

    I think I knew it was satire when I first read it, so I don't know how I would have taken it had I gone in blind, but it doesn't seem so unreasonable not to get it at first.


  6. "high school kids" -- if that's a reference to my night school class, no these were adults, mostly mid-career -- late 20s to 50s in age.

    (If you were referring to something else, apologies...)

  7. (CC was probably referring at least partly to my use of the term "internet generation" since that implies younger people. I actually consider the "internet generation" to be anyone in their thirties or younger although the internet didn't get particularly mainstream until the late nineties.)

  8. Nah, it's just that I read it in class in high school, so I assumed other people reading it in a class were in high school. My bad for assuming.


  9. Nah, that's not ironic; it's a non-sequiter. Like Alanis Morrisette's song "Ironic" isn't really ironic; it's just a series of bummers (which is itself ironic.)

    Now, if AP had said "You shouldn't use product placement unless you donate all the money to something ironic, like the communists."* then that would have been ironic. And hilarious too.

    *Yes, I'm quite aware that Communists have done a lot of horrible things too, thanks. It still would have been funny, though it would have been funnier during the Joe McCarthy years (and much braver as well.)

  10. You could consider it absurdist humor. (More popular amongst the British than in the US, on the whole.)

    On the other hand, I think it works pretty well as irony if I consider the comment in a more general way. Ironic product placement is ironic in and of itself if you assume that anyone who would use it doesn't actually approve of the product they're advertising or the corporations that produce it. (That is, they're selling a product they don't actually like by making fun of it.) The irony is then redoubled if they use ironic product placement to sell a product they don't approve of and then give all of the money they've raised to an organization they also don't approve of. (And what could be easier to disapprove of than the Klan?)

    Basically, the whole setup benefits the "evil corporations" that the ironic hipsters can supposedly see right through. Ha ha ummm... ha. (Of course, it's also possible that I'm completely misunderstanding what she was Twitting... er- Twittering.)

  11. I'm not clear on if the fact that Beyonce co-starred in the video, so it would at least partially be a black artist giving money to the KKK was part of the joke, or if Palmer just forgot she was there.


  12. I suspect that was part of the joke. Not part of the joke I'd get just from reading the tweets, though, since I'm totally out of the loop on pop music. Folk, country, blues, heavy metal even, but not pop. I've got no idea who any of these people are without looking them up. :)

  13. Hmmm....Beyonce being in the video is a pretty thin reed for an "ironic" mention of the Klan. After all, Lady Gaga is the star, and the Klan wasn't exactly known for harming white women. (unless AE was thinking of Madge Oberholtzer, and I doubt she was.)

    So yeah, if the joke was "You should never use a capitalist tool (like product placement) unless you mean to donate all the money to something that's against capitalism (like the communists.)" then it would have been ironic, like saying "You should never take a job as a stripper--unless you need to raise money for your Purity Ball."

    As it stands, it's just silly--and problematic, especially to those who've been victimized by the Klan.

  14. Blue, *I* have been victimized by the Klan. We couldn't get fire insurance because word was out they would burn us down. Whether they were the greatest factor in Dad's decision to move away, I don't know, but they were huge.

    I still say it's right to laugh at the Klan.

  15. Because ideologues read with no shades of meaning (and i don't mean you, Blue!), I should add that I'm not saying my situation was the same as any black person's then. But I am saying we got death threats, and I got beaten and spat on, and Dad showed me where the shotgun was because we expected a visit that never came. I think I get to stand on the side of the room where the victims of the Klan are.

    Which, in case Sparkymonster still hasn't done her research, includes whites who were killed.

    Yeah, this is a pet peeve. But it's really not directed at you.

  16. Are there any groups that are known specifically for harming white female pop singers?* Other than the paparazzi...

    *Figured I might as well be more specific than "white women" since I barely consider myself to be in the same species as Lady Gaga much less the same social grouping.

  17. "Life is a comedy to those who think and a tragedy to those who feel."
    -somebody famous said that, but I'm too lazy to look it up.

    No offense taken, Will: I see what you mean. I did see your entry on AE's tweets, but I decided to reply on this one since that's where I made my first statement.

    Yeah, I know she was kidding. Yeah, I know she didn't really mean it. Yeah, I know it's a joke; I just didn't think it was particularly funny. And, like I said, it isn't really ironic: just silly.

    CHEKOV: We'll be near Klingon territory, sir. Close enough to smell them!
    SPOCK: Smell cannot be detected in space, Ensign.
    CHEKOV: I was making a little joke, sir.
    SPOCK: Yes, Ensign: a very little one.

  18. @serialbabbler;

    LOL! Not specifically white women pop singers, no. However, since one of the Klan's biggest messages was "We're protecting the sacred purity of the white women!", you could probably stretch that to cover pop singers, even those who are happy to show their sexuality is their own, thank you very much.

    That's why the Madge Oberholtzer case was such a huge blow to Klan in the 1920s; it's kinda hard to argue that you're defending the "sacred purity of the white woman" when your most powerful leader abducts and rapes one so violently that she swallows poison to escape him. Now that's ironic.*

    *Yeah, I know I'm a buzzkill, but it's not funny either.

  19. I think if she'd gone with the communists as her ironic group, she wouldn't have made her point in the larger context of the twitter-sation.*

    Anyway, my idea of humor is Tom Lehrer's "Poisoning Pigeons in the Park" so I'm pretty sure I have no room to speak when it comes to whether or not people should make questionable jokes.

    *Er, that's what you call a conversation on Twitter, right?

    (And I don't have a buzz so that's fine.)

  20. @serialbabbler,

    LOL! Well, YMMV. I'm not sure what you call a conversation on Twitter, but if I did get into one, I'm sure I'd get Twitterpated. ;-)

    (And I don't have a buzz so that's fine.)

    ROTFL. Well, one of Anita Blake's opponents is a vampire named Buzz (Buzz?) so maybe you could borrow him. *

    *Right now, I'm fighting off the flu, (the especially lovely kind that empties Kleenax boxes and makes you feel like your throat's been cut,) so I've been catching up on various vampire media while I'm recuperating. Right now I'm in the middle of "Buffy: Season Five" where Buffy goes all Rikki Tikki Tavi on the giant cobra. Thanks for recommending it, Will and Emma!