i'd love to stay and chat, but you're a total bitch
there are two different types of blatantly politically incorrect humor. the first kind is deliberately mean-spirited and only funny to bigots. the other kind, while partially gleefully childish, can also make cutting social commentary. the latter is generally used to get laughs because of how "wrong" the root of the joke is, while the former is used to justify that wrongness as correct. generally, a sarcastic tone differentiates the two, allowing a person to say the opposite of what they actually mean or believe. in print, this tone tends to disappear. the danger is that the line between a joke that is clever because it exposes bigotry, and a joke that capitalizes on that bigotry, can be very thin indeed, especially when played too convincingly. see andrew dice clay.
sarah silverman is a prime example of humor that is both very fucked up and very smart. jesus is magic, mostly a concert film with musical numbers and short interludes, is a catalogue of everything wrong with the world today, played with a smile and a straight face to the end of every gag, no matter how horrifying.
"i was raped by a doctor," silverman says. "which is so bittersweet for a jewish girl." this seems to comment on the whole jews/money stereotype, marrying a doctor being a good move for financial security. this puts it in the latter category (revealing this unemotional and offensive way of looking at marriage). of course the mention of rape, just about the worst thing that can be done to anyone, really crosses the limits of good taste, even for lowbrow humor - which is part of the point. it's what makes us sit up and pay attention to the joke, even debate it. silverman seems to know this, delivering her 99.9% deadpan lines with a slight air of self-mocking. never breaking her self-absorbed jewish girl persona, she calls herself into question by asking huffily, "what kind of world is it where a totally cute white girl can't say 'chink' on network television?" well, obviously there should be no such privelege, but she did say it, and it aired. apparently she was told in rehearsal that it was acceptable to use the word 'spic,' but she decided to go further by picking a word they did not approve of. obviously, either word should be equally unacceptable, but finding out what would actually be let on the air reveals something about the different levels of racism (and the thinking behind them) in this country. anyone offended by these jokes without also reflecting on this is missing the point.
i've championed the family guy as a smart, edgy, hilarious show since it was on the first time. it not only takes chances with the subject matter of its jokes, it also usually tells them in such a way that it requires you to think a bit before you get them, especially the dirty ones (when trying to get a boy interested in her, teenager meg offers, "i can't taste salt"). it's a way of getting around television censorship, but is also a way to make reference to all kinds of filthiness without actually wallowing in it. a certain well-known playwright used to do this a lot. sadly, after family guy's triumphant return this year, several of the newer episodes seem focused more on how outrageous they can be instead of what makes them funny. in the years since FG was originally the air, reality tv has upped the ante on what disgusting things people are willing to watch. rather than mocking this as it mocks everything else in the world, the griffins have become almost like a cartoon version of a reality tv family, so horrible i can't believe the quiet little town they live in hasn't kicked them out. a big reason seems to be that the mother figure of lois has stopped being the smart, stabilizing voice of sanity and reverted to the wild ways of her bored teen years. the jaw-dropping,"i can't believe they did that" of past episodes has given way to "i really wish they hadn't gone there." unlike silverman's humor, a lot of the show's newer gags don't teach us anything about our hangups.
then again, maybe they're not supposed to. dj assault is responsible for a song so blunt it's funny, so bad it's good. i first heard the song "yo relatives" when assault himself played it at the adult. afterparty at bar eleven after their show at mercury lounge (which i also went to). a streetwise male voice intones a one-way version of the dozens, spewing out "yo mama, yo daddy, yo sister's a ho." the word "ho" then gets repeated ad nauseam on the beat, which is what takes it to the level of ridiculous parody and thus makes it funny. in other words, it's so over-the-top, it can't possibly be serious. or can it? the rest of the song picks on different relatives, hurling the words "bitch,""gay," and "suck" at them with an equally cold matter-of-fact tone. assault's other songs are similarly offensive but not funny. if "yo relatives" was the only song he'd recorded it would have been perfect; in this greater context, he might instead be either a garden-variety misogynist or using potty-mouth lyrics for shock value. i can't say for sure what he means when he records something like that. i can only know what it means to me when i listen to it.
sometimes an artist just taps into some cultural zeitgeist, collective unconscious, or what have you to deliver something that seems right even though it's wrong. or maybe your relatives really do suck.
the title of this post is a classic line spoken by stewie from family guy.