Significant political events are sometimes foreshadowed by unusual, but seemingly trivial events. In the lead up to the American revolution the colonists suddenly developed an aversion for tea. During the War in Algeria a curious battle was waged between French counterinsurgents and the FLN over women’s veils. “The strategy was implemented through elaborate mass unveiling ceremonies, radio and cinema propaganda, women’s circles, mobile health teams, implementation of the female franchise, and a progressive reform of Muslim family and marriage law.”
Of course none of it was really about tea or the veil itself. Both articles had simply become symbols of the greater struggle for cultural and political supremacy. So when Greta Van Susteren declared she would boycott “the Radio and Television Correspondents Association Dinner” to protest against a “comedian” who “uses filthy language about women…..yes, the C word…and yes, even to describe a woman candidate for Vice President of the United States” was it really about comedy or even sensibility? Or are we watching the rise of the first of many litmus tests which indicate which side you’re on.
No, we’re not talking about Bill Maher, who is apparently the work-safe dispenser of what certain audiences find funny. The comic in question is Louis C.K. Susteren writes:
Here is a sample of what he said about Governor Sarah Palin and you tell me whether any member of the media should sit in the crowd while he speaks to them:
Louis C.K. says of Palin: “her f*** retard making c***” and “the baby that just came out of her f**** disgusting c***.”
To Palin: just “stick your t** in its mouth and shut up.”
And here is more: ”…her f***** retard making c****”
Need more to convince you? Here is what he says on twitter:
“I want to rub my father’s c*** all over Sarah Palin’s fat t***”
By the way, there is more, lots more.
A lot people are probably going to tell Greta to “unclinch”, “loosen up” or “stop being so square”. They might point out that such dinners have often been ribald and irreverent. They may even find documented instances of Greta watching movies or attending clubs at which worse language has been used.
Certainly if Louis C. K. wants to do his routine in certain clubs and people pay to watch him, what business could it be of anyones? So Greta, why so suddenly sensitive?
Maybe because Fluke and Limbaugh and Maher and Palin have made a comedian not just a comedian. And certainly there is something disquieting about radio and television personalities who perhaps only hours had finished articles condemning Rush Limbaugh as a misogynist should sit down to hear Louis C. K.
Maybe because obscenity is no longer about the politeness any more than than it was about tea or a piece of cloth over a woman’s face in Algeria. It’s become about what badge you’re going to accept. What symbol you’re going to wear. About which side you’re on. Badges have been assigned through history to groups of differing political status. The most famous was the yellow Star which Nazis forced Jews to wear. Less known is the patch which Muslims made Copts wear in the 10th century. Normally you would do anything not to wear these tokens for they marked you as belonging to the outer circle.
What should really get the ruling elites worried up is when people start wearing these badges of opprobrium on their own initiative, just as when people stopped drinking tea even when they preferred it. One supposes it is an honor and symbol of acceptance to be invited to the dinner that Susteren now refuses to attend. But perhaps Greta, far from being the last to express her dudgeon is only one of the first. The easy tolerance that once characterized social interaction has become more and more brittle. In time it may break down. What does it mean?
Who knows? But maybe we’re about to find out.