Tagged: Kathy Griffin

Martha Thomases: Friends, Americans, Countrymen…

There comes a time, Constant Reader, usually on a Sunday afternoon, when I start to look at a few news sites to see what might interest you this week. Not just interest you, but provoke a reaction from me that might interest you. That’s because I love you, Constant Reader, and I want you to be amused… nay, more than that, I want you to live life to the fullest.

Especially as that life relates to comic books.

Some weeks, there are lots of stories from which to choose. Some weeks, there are very few. And some weeks, like this one, there are interesting stories that don’t seem to have any comic book relevance at all.

In fact, the only story that interests me at this moment, in terms of popular culture and the joys and stresses it can bring to us is this one about the Public Theater’s production of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar that is part of its free Shakespeare in the Park at the Delacorte Theater http://www.centralpark.com/guide/attractions/delacorte-theatre.html in New York’s Central Park. As so often happens with productions by the Public Theater, and productions of Shakespeare plays throughout the centuries, Julius Caesar has contemporary political overtones. In this case, the play is staged to suggest certain similarities between Caesar and our current president. As you may know, if you passed your high school English literature classes, Caesar is assassinated.

Right-wing commentators were appalled and denounced the production, accusing it of promoting violence against the President. As a result, Delta Airlines and Bank of America pulled their support for Shakespeare in the Park.

And then, as if to answer my prayers, comic book writer Nick Spencer chimed in with his opinion. The story has a comic book hook! It’s appropriate for this column!

I don’t know Nick Spencer, nor am I particularly a fan of his work. I think it’s kind of adorable that he thinks readers who don’t want to buy his work is somehow parallel to corporate sponsors reneging on commitments they made, citing political reasons for an excuse, but, sure, if that makes him feel better, I’m happy for him. That he thinks his work is comparable to Shakespeare makes me think he may have been over-praised as a child.

Let me be clear: Delta Airlines and Bank of America are entirely within their rights to refuse to fund work with which they have problems. This is not censorship, just as advertisers pulling their sponsorship from Bill O’Reilly’s show was not censorship. Depending on the specific terms of these specific contracts (about which I know nothing), they should be able to do with their money as they wish.

In this case, however, I think they are being stupid. And I’m not the only one. That links to an editorial in the New York Daily News, which, for the record, endorsed Mitt Romney in the 2012 election.

Julius Caesar is a play about an assassination. It is about a leader who overreaches in his quest for power, and the reaction (and over-reaction) to his actions. It has been performed for centuries, and, frequently, audiences have remarked about its relevance to their particular political moment.

In my high school English literature class, we read the play, discussed it, and I don’t remember anyone interpreting it as advocating assassination as a solution to problems. I was at an Episcopal boarding school, where I would guess that most of my classmates and many of my teachers were Republicans, yet we did not disagree on this point.

This has also not been the interpretation of other productions of this play, including a recent one that imagined Caesar as an Obama-like figure . I don’t recall any calls for a boycott of that version.

Some people compared the Public’s Caesar to Kathy Griffin’s recent posting of a photo of her holding a prop of a bloody Trump head. I guess they are alike in that they upset a particular demographic, but I don’t think there are similarities beyond that. Griffin’s photo was, in my opinion, a stupid and graceless bid for attention. It did not engage in any discussion of any issue. It made no statement other than that Kathy Griffin sees herself as a fighter against Trump. I believe she had a right to post that photo, but I also think it added nothing to our national conversation about this administration.

That’s not the case with Shakespeare. The plays have lasted for centuries because they continue to reveal new things about human nature and human society. And, in this case, they bring a little more Corey Still into our lives, which is always a good thing.

John Ostrander: Crossed Lines

So, Bill Maher crossed the line and got himself into hot water. Given the nature of his HBO show, Real Time, and his own proclivities as a satirist, maybe he should just have a hot tub on stage instead of a desk. It would suit him in many ways.

Recently, as part of an interview, Maher jokingly referred to himself as a “house ‘N’ word.” No, I’m not repeating the actual word here for a few reasons. A) I don’t want to pull a Maher; B) I don’t like the word. I won’t pretend I’ve never used it; I threw it around a bit as a kid in 1950s Chicago along with the “c” word, the “f” word, the “mf” and others of that ilk because I knew they were bad words, naughty words, and I was trying at those moments to pass myself off to my self and my friends as a naughty boy, as a bad boy. Didn’t use those words around my family, my parents, or the nuns; I would have been a dead boy if I had. I haven’t used the “n” word as an adult; not since I learned the history of the word, the harm in it.

I know that the “n” word is used by African-Americans and I know that’s different; there’s a cultural aspect to the use that doesn’t work with someone who is white. There’s a menace when that happens; a whole history of racism and bigotry packed into it.

However, I do have a question. Can I, as a white male writer, ever use it in the context of a story? When I was writing The Kents (my historical Western featuring the ancestors of Clark Kent’s adoptive family), I had characters who could have and perhaps should have used that word. I couldn’t bring myself to do it so I adopted a similar word as a replacement only to learn later that this word was perhaps more offensive.

I ran up against the same problem with Kros: Hallowed Ground. It’s set during the Civil War and the word would have been used. At first, I was inclined to use it but I had long talks with my partners, Tom Mandrake and Jan Duursema. They made the point that the word was jarring when you came across it and that it might well offend some of our backers, black and white. In the end, I agreed we shouldn’t use that word and didn’t.

The question still remains for me; can I as a white male writer justifiably use such a loaded word?

There’s the Mark Twain example who made prolific use of the “n” word; one of his great characters in Huck Finn is “N” Jim. I know there are versions of the book in which all the “N” words have been removed. I’m not nuts about that. There is a term “Bowdlerize” which denotes going through a text, especially a classic, and removing words and/or terms deemed offensive or not suitable for children and people easily offended. That raises my writerly hackles.

Still, the question persists – can a white male writer legitimately use the “n” word or the “c” word or any other words of that ilk? I don’t know. I’m still searching for that answer and I suspect I won’t find a definitive one.

Maher, for his part, realizes he went too far and did apologize for it. He devoted a considerable part of his show this week in a discussion of the term, repeating his apology. Ice Cube, among others, explained why the word is objectionable in ways that might expand our understanding of the situation.

However, there have been those who have called for him to be fired. I understand that Sen. Al Franken canceled a scheduled appearance on Real Time this week. Franken was formerly a comic, sometimes an edgy one, but he’s cutting no slack here.

Both Maher and Kathy Griffin (who got herself in trouble with a photo holding up a severed head of Trump) make edginess part of their routines. The edge, however, is not well marked and at times the only way you know where it is is when you’ve gone over it. And, at times, you’ll go past it at 100 mph.

To say the “N,” if you’re white, is never right. As a writer, as a white male writer, can I ever write it? I don’t know and until I have a clearer answer, I won’t. I may never get that.

Life would be simpler if it just came with a clearer book of instructions. Something simple and easy, in clear black and white.