You may or may not know who Patton Oswalt is. He’s a stand-up comedian and actor who’s been around for about 25 years and has done various things you might have seen. He played a recurring character on King of Queens. He did the voice of the rat in Ratatouille. He starred in a Sierra Mist commercial. He’s currently a regular on a sitcom called A.P. Bio, and he’s the narrator on The Goldbergs. He keeps busy, and some of the stuff he’s done has been pretty good. He also hates Republicans and anybody else who disagrees with him about politics, and over the weekend he made a really amusing joke about it that I just know you’re gonna like.
Ladies and gentlemen, the comedic stylings of Mr. Patton Oswalt.
Anne Frank spent 2 years hiding in an attic and we’ve been home for just over a month with Netflix, food delivery & video games and there are people risking viral death by storming state capital buildings & screaming, “Open Fuddruckers!”
— Patton Oswalt (@pattonoswalt) April 18, 2020
Hundreds of thousands of people liked that joke, so it must be good.
There’s a lot to unpack here, as the kids say. Or three things, at least. So let’s get to it.
- Patton Oswalt is not Anne Frank, so he’s right about that. Oswalt is a millionaire, so the past five weeks haven’t been too bad for him. As he notes, he’s been spending his free time at home watching Netflix and playing video games while getting food delivered. He can afford to do that for the foreseeable future. Good for him. He’s made a lot of money in show business, earning what the market dictates, so he’s comfortably insulated from the reality that a lot of Americans are facing right now. I don’t begrudge him a single penny of his earnings, because this is America, and more than anything we value mediocrity. So yes, Oswalt is correct that he has nothing in common with Anne Frank, other than being an acquired taste comedically speaking.
- Most Americans aren’t as well off as Patton Oswalt. Sneering at rednecks is pretty much Oswalt’s brand — see The Heart, She Holler — so it’s no surprise he’s falling back on it in a time of crisis. “Ha ha, look at those dumb hillbillies! What are they complaining about? They just wanna go back to Fuddruckers, which has a funny name and is dumb. Screw them and their stupid, hungry families.” But unlike Oswalt, most Americans can’t count on residual checks from Justified and Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. to get them through the week. They need to work. Just like the people keeping Netflix running need to work, and the people delivering Patton’s food need to work. All that stuff doesn’t just appear before him by magic. People are earning a living from it. They’re feeding themselves and their families by providing those services. It’s not as funny as Patton’s hilarious joke, but it’s true.
- People aren’t just protesting for no reason, or because they want to die of the coronavirus. I earn a very small fraction of what Oswalt does because I don’t rise to even his middling level of “meh,” but I’m fortunate enough to be able to make a modest living without having to leave the house. For now. So in that sense we’re both in the same boat. The difference is that when I see people publicly protesting right now, it doesn’t fill me with contempt. I don’t pretend they’re doing it for no reason. Guys like Oswalt can’t see a world outside their own very limited experience. They can’t put themselves in the other guy’s shoes. It’s a failure of imagination, much like Oswalt’s stand-up act. If those people are “risking viral death,” as he puts it, maybe they’re not doing so just to piss him off or give him somebody to sneer at. Maybe they want to feed their families, even though they’ve never been offered the role of a talking rat in a cartoon. The people who buy movie tickets and use products advertised on network television — in other words, the people who have made Patton Oswalt rich — are actual human beings, no matter what he thinks of them.
I don’t mean to pick on Oswalt in particular too much. I’m sure he’s a nice person when he’s not on Twitter or otherwise performing for his audience. He’s doing what’s expected of him. But this is exactly the sort of attitude we don’t need right now. People are scared and exhausted. They don’t know what to do. Nothing even remotely like this has happened in America for over 100 years, and they have the right to express their opinions about it. I don’t want this virus to spread, but I also don’t want working Americans to starve to death. Both things are bad. Pampered semi-celebrities like Patton Oswalt aren’t doing themselves or anybody else any favors by saying crap like this.
The only people who benefit from this sort of rhetoric are the ones Oswalt hates most: Republicans. If you don’t want millions of people to vote against “arrogant coastal elites,” then stop acting like arrogant coastal elites.
But look on the bright side, Patton. I’m sure you’re a big hit with everybody who just lost their jobs at Fuddruckers.
Update: Patton’s old pal and fellow redneck-hater David Cross said something similarly stupid last month, but at least he had sense enough to apologize. Well, kinda.
Deleting a tweet that, as noted, was insensitive to the millions who are in danger of long-term unemployment but the intent remains: I don’t want millions to die unnecessarily including you and yours. 4.3% of the population dying to “save” the economy is unacceptable
— david cross✍ (@davidcrosss) March 30, 2020
Out of all the outlandish characters Cross has played in his sketch-comedy career, “Millionaire Mocking the Poors for Wanting to Feed Their Families” might be the funniest one.
Update: Robby Soave at Reason.com says it better than I just did: “Celebrities and the Media Shouldn’t Sneer at Coronavirus Lockdown Protesters.”
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