Tagged: Larry Wilmore

Martha Thomases: Pedophilia Means What?

Once again, we seem to be having the problem of defining what we mean when we use the terms “free speech,” “censorship” and “political correctness.” The problem is embodied by alt-right critic, Milo Yiannopoulos. My pal, Mindy Newell, alluded to it here. Since she wrote that, there have been some new wrinkles to the story.

Mr. Yiannopoulos is the latest in a long line of bitchy queens. This homophobic stereotype is one of my favorites, and has been since before I knew what homosexuality was. Paul Lynde was my first exposure. Later, I would enjoy the (now terribly dated) film The Boys in the Band, feeling really daring and bold to attend such a movie in 1970 Youngstown Ohio. By the time I actually met out-of-the-closet queer people, I was predisposed to think them all brilliant… which, I think, is a form of homophobia, but more well-intentioned than most.

Milo takes the bitchy queen stereotype to its logical, self-loathing conclusion. He makes incredibly gross racist and misogynistic statements, and then, like Ann Coulter before him, insists he is only kidding. His attacks on Leslie Jones incited his fans to barrage her with racist insults and even death threats on Twitter, and he insisted he couldn’t be racist because he has a black boyfriend.

At least since Howard Stern (and certainly well before him), straight white men have insulted people who are not straight white men and then screamed about censorship when some of us didn’t like it. They claim to be the inheritors of Lenny Bruce and George Carlin, although unlike those heroes, they tend to make fun of the powerless and not the powerful. If you find Stern and his ilk funny, I’m happy for you. We need more laughter. I just don’t think it takes courage to piss on poor people.

Yiannopoulos is the queer variation of this type. With Breitbart News, he found a home that indulged him in his bigotry. He used his platform to build a fan-base. And he used his fan-base to build an outrage machine.

This reached its peak when a group of college students rioted outside a hall where Yiannopoulos was scheduled to speak. For public safety reasons, the college canceled the event. A martyr was born.

There are very few people in this world as insufferable as a newly radicalized college student. I know — I’ve been one. I set an impossibly high standard for political purity, and angrily castigated anything that didn’t measure up. I would not compromise with anyone no matter what the reason, because any compromise would be a betrayal of my pristine ideals. And if you didn’t share my ideals in exactly the same level of intensity and with the same priorities, you were part of the problem.

I don’t think I’m such a purist anymore, although some might still find me to be insufferable. I don’t regret it. Being passionate about my issues not only gave me a sense of purpose, but also a way to understand, in time, people who felt strongly about different things. I wouldn’t be the person I am today if I had not been that person in college.

If the 1975 version of Milo had been invited to speak on my campus, I would have demonstrated against him.

However, I wouldn’t have rioted. I’m non-violent. In general, I’m against the destruction of property. There are times when I think it can be worth it — pouring blood on draft files, for example. However, in this case, and so many others, rioting only succeeded in making Milo a martyr. Rolling Stone’s Matt Taibbi nailed it here when he said “A favored tactic is to direct his audiences toward some overemotional sap who has made the mistake of calling for him to be banned, at which point he triumphantly declares himself a champion of liberty, and his enemies censors and authoritarians.”

Our Tweeter-in-Chief backed up Milo, threatening to cut off federal funds to the university. Milo got a book deal from Simon & Schuster. Milo was everywhere on television. He was scheduled to speak the keynote address at CPAC, the conservative political action committee.

This didn’t happen in a vacuum. Roxane Gay pulled her book from S&S in protest. People debated about whether it was effective to boycott the publisher or if this might end up hurting authors more than a corporation.

Friday, as Mindy noted, Milo was on Real Time with Bill Maher on HBO. To his credit, Maher includes a lot of conservatives on his talk show. Unfortunately, when he does, he often lets them run the conversation, perhaps because he doesn’t want to seem to be rude to them. In the Overtime segment (presented online), Milo again took over, this time insisting that Leslie Jones is illiterate, that people who disagree with him are stupid, yada yada yada.

Luckily, comedian/writer/producer Larry Wilmore was there to show him how a real adult argues. Watch the clip. It’s brilliant.

I miss seeing Larry Wilmore on my television every day. Please, someone, bring him back.

Over the weekend, a conservative group found videotape of Milo talking about how great it was to have sex with 13-year old boys, especially for the boys. He stated “…there are certainly people who are capable of giving consent at a younger age. I certainly consider myself to be one of them… Pedophilia is not a sexual attraction to somebody 13 years old, who is sexually mature. Pedophilia is attraction to children who have not reached puberty. Pedophilia is attraction to people who don’t have functioning sex organs yet who have not gone through puberty.”

This was the last straw, or the smoking gun, for some of those who hired him. Simon & Schuster cancelled his book contract. CPAC cancelled his speaking gig.

Milo says his words were taken out of context. Milo says that he was making a joke. Milo says that he is being censored. But here’s the thing: No one is entitled to book contracts. No one is entitled to speaking gigs. If you write a book and it gets published, you are not entitled to talk-show appearances.

As Roxane Gay said, “This is yet another example of how we are afforded the freedom of speech but there is no freedom from the consequences of what we say.”

Martha Thomases: Oh, Larry Wilmore. We Hardly Knew Ye…

Larry Wilmore

Sad now.

Yesterday was the last episode of The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore.

(Note: As I write this, there are still three more shows. I’m going to assume that, if something newsworthy happens on-air between my deadline and publication, my editor will let me revise this accordingly.)

The Nightly Show replaced The Colbert Report, Stephen Colbert’s Comedy Central show a few months, before Trevor Noah took over The Daily Show from Jon Stewart. Both Wilmore and Noah had been featured correspondents on The Daily Show, as had Colbert a decade earlier.

I love Jon Stewart. He is the man my mother wanted me to marry (even if he’s a decade younger than I am). I also love Stephen Colbert. He’s really, really smart and he can sing. I was sad when they were no longer hosting their own fake-news shows.

It was gutsy of Comedy Central to give their most successful hour to two relative unknowns, both men of color. If you don’t believe me, look at who else hosts television news shows, fake and otherwise. You’ll be blinded by the white.

I like Trevor Noah. Because he’s not an American, his perspective is very different from what I’m used to hearing. He’s not even European. From South Africa, Noah’s point of view, his entire frame of reference, is completely alien to me (although I took two semesters of African history in college, I’ve forgotten almost all of it). Therefore, when I hear him tell a joke about American politics, the surprise I feel from the way he sees it adds to my laughter. There were weeks when he didn’t have a single white person as an interview guest, and no one said anything about it.

The show has problems, of course. Noah’s interview skills could be better. I’m sorry that Jessica Williams left, even though she’s going to have her own show and make more money. Mostly, because they inherited The Daily Show format, it’s taking them too long to find their own rhythm.

I love Larry Wilmore much much more. He’s really sharp and smart. He’s nerdy enough to know super-heroes and science. Watching the show, I want to know if he would consider dating an old Jewish woman.

His contributors (especially Francesca Ramsey and Mike Yard) took a while to grow on me, but now I love them.

Some critics have said that the panel portion of the show (when a guest star and two contributors sit with Larry and discuss The Issues Of The Day) never gelled for them. I like it. Sure, it often features rappers I never heard of before, and I want to interrupt and give my opinion (extra difficult since I usually record it and watch the next day). That’s okay. That’s how conversations work. Watching the panels, I feel like I’m having conversations with people I don’t know, on their own terms.

My favorite parts are not funny, but revelatory. For example, Larry Wilmore complains about Bill Cosby a lot (he still hasn’t forgotten, as he often reminds us), but what he’s mostly enraged about is that fact that nobody believed he was a rapist until a man http://hannibalburess.com said something about it. I’m not one of the dozens of women violated by Cosby, but I felt validated when Wilmore said that.

Comedy Central said that The Nightly Show never got the ratings it needed. The Daily Show is also doing less well than it was before Jon Stewart left. Is this racism? Are millennials (the target audience) more resistant to getting their fake news from black people than we thought?

I don’t have the statistics to demonstrate whether this is true or false. I just have sadness that there is no more.

In the meantime, black-ish, for which Wilmore is executive producer, remains hilarious.

John Ostrander: Pop Culture Politics

Stgw_90

“Chicago is not the most corrupt American city, it’s the most theatrically corrupt.” Studs Terkel.

Seducation of the GUnWith due respect (and a lot of it) for the late, great Studs Terkel, I think the Chicago city council has been supplanted by the Congress of the United States for political theater and corruption. As an old Chicago boy and fan of political theater, I was fascinated this week as the Democrats in the House of Representatives staged a sit-in in the well of the House, led by the venerable civil rights leader (and graphic novel author) John Lewis, to protest the refusal of the Republican leadership to even permit a vote on two very small and very specific gun control issues.

House Speaker Paul Ryan dismissed the sit-in as a “publicity stunt.” Well, duh. That’s what a sit-in is, a publicity stunt to draw attention to a specific problem. Ryan himself has done a fair share of publicity stunts so I don’t know what his problem is. It’s all part of political theater.

I think there was more to the Democrats’ ploy that a mere desire to shine C-Span’s cameras on themselves. It was triggered by the shooting in Orlando at the gay nightclub that left 49 dead and 52 wounded. The House had its moment of silence to honor the dead for the 16th time of these type of events and that was going to be it. No gun control legislation was going to be even brought up for a vote, let alone passed, and the Dems snapped. They protested, they staged a sit-in to dramatize the situation and they got attention.

Why didn’t the GOP leadership simply allow a vote? I have my own theories. I doubt that the Dems would have allowed a simple voice vote; it would be a roll call and each representative would have to be tagged as they voted. For the GOP, atsa no good. Estimates say that 90% of the electorate are in favor of simple gun control measures so the representatives who voted against it would have to justify that vote to displeased voters.

They also don’t want to vote for any gun control measures. The National Rifle Association gives good money to Congresspersons to keep that from happening and they have issued stern warnings of what they would do to any Congressperson who did vote for gun control legislation – any gun control legislation. Translation: we’ll pour money into the campaign of someone to unseat you. We will make sure you lose your job. This is more important to them than doing their job. More than ever, Mel Brooks’ line in Blazing Saddles as the governor of the state resonates: “Gentlemen, we must protect our phony baloney jobs.”

Not to say that the Dems were completely in the right. One of the simple measures was “no fly, no buy” – meaning that if you are or were on a no-fly list (and thus, presumably, suspected of terrorist ties) at any time, you should not be allowed to buy a gun. However, I watched Larry Wilmore on The Nightly Show voice his problems with that. He has some of the same problems that the ACLU has – it’s too easy to get on the list, too little evidence has to be shown, it’s too hard to clear yourself and get off the list, it appears to unfairly target people of color, and it violates Constitutional freedoms including the right to due process.

It’s too bad because “No fly, no buy” is the sort of simplistic jingoistic catch phrase that works so well with the American public. We don’t do well with more nuanced declarations. Easy to say, easy to remember, and you don’t have to think. That’s ‘Murrica right there, that’s what that is.

To my mind, however, the real issue is not the specific legislation but the larger issue of how no meaningful gun regulation is possible because the NRA won’t hear of it. That’s the underlying frustration that led to the sit-in. Even though 90% of Americans want some kind of laws passed (according to many polls), they can’t even get discussed in the House and they sure won’t get passed in the Senate.

Just keep in mind that this Congressional version of Big Brother has one thing in common with the TV show – in the fall, they can get voted out.

John Ostrander Gets The Lead Out

Larry Wilmore

Let’s get it right, hmm?

I was watching The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore as I usually do. I’ll watch Colbert depending on who he has on but, in general, I’ve been watching The Nightly Show. I know, I could tape one and watch the other later but the reality is I just don‘t get around to watching the taped show.

I like Wilmore and did when he was “Senior Black Correspondent” on The Daily Show. He’s been sharp and timely… most of the time.

On Tuesday night, Wilmore did a segment on the water situation in Flint, Michigan. Flint has been a hard-luck case for quite a while, often trading with Detroit the title of the murder capital of America and usually high on the list of the most dangerous cities in the U.S. They’ve also been broke for a lot of the time, teetering on bankruptcy such as Detroit went through. Michigan’s governor, Rick Snyder, appointed an Emergency Financial Manager.

EFMs, as they are known, have broad powers that supersede those of the elected officials. They can void contracts, sell off assets, and ignore the mayor and the city council. Citizens who have elected their politicians bare stuck as long as the EFM is in charge. The elected officials can’t do anything. Michigan voters thought this undemocratic and, through referendum, repealed the law authorizing it in 2012. Less than two months later, the Republican dominated legislature re-enacted it with a referendum busting addition and the Republican governor, Mr. Snyder, signed it. All of which was a great big “fuck you” to the Michigan voters.

Please note: I live less than a half-hour away from Flint, and a couple years ago I lived even closer.

Flint had been drinking clean water supplied by Detroit but that got cut off. It cost too much and EFMs like to find ways to economize. The new plan was to take water from Lake Huron but that would take three years to implement so, short term, it was decided to get water from the Flint River. Flint spent a couple of million updating the local water processing plant but the Flint River was far more corrosive than the water from Detroit. A simple additive costing $1990 a day would have corrected that but that, evidently, was a cost that the Power(s)-That- Were didn’t want to pay or felt was unnecessary.

Flint has a lot more lead pipes in homes and lead solder in the city’s water mains. The Flint River leeched a lot of lead from the pipes and passed it on to the citizens of Flint. That can have, and already has caused, permanent and enormous damage to the brain, especially in children. It will create massive learning disabilities and behavioral problems that will last a lifetime and cannot be cured. And they’ve been drinking this toxic water for two years without any choice or alternative, despite warnings that were posted about a year ago.

Wilmore covered the crisis in a Tuesday night segment and he did a bullshit job of it. He made it look like it was the fault of the citizens of Flint (the segment was called “The Larry People vs Flint”; clever but misleading). No mention was made of the role of the EFM or Governor Rick Snyder’s played in all this. Wilmore seemed appalled by a quote from the mayor of Flint citing ‘the democracy as we have it”. Larry, that means that the EFM was making the decisions, not him. Oh, and by the way, that was the former mayor, not the current one, that you quoted.

How bad is the situation? The National Guard is now handing out bottled water and faucet filters; the state has declared the situation an emergency and the President has declared Flint a disaster area. This means your tax dollars will go into fixing it. Snyder says he wasn’t really aware of the situation until October 1, but there is some question about that. There were warnings that were downplayed or ignored. The people of Flint were told the water was okay by both the governor and the then mayor of Flint when it was not. Snyder’s administration has been slow in taking steps to correct the situation.

Look, I get it – The Nightly Show is a comedy-news show. You’re a comedian, Larry, and not a reporter, but you’re also a social commentator. The situation is no joke. You did a lame fake interview with contributor Mike Yard pretending to be a Flint citizen when you could have been getting more of the facts out. The roles of the governor and the EFM weren’t mentioned, and that’s the real story here.

The Daily Show’s Trevor Noah also covered the story two days later and he did a slightly better job but he also missed Rick Snyder’s role Does it matter? There’s a lot of people who have cited The Daily Show and The Nightly Show as their principle source of news so, yes, you need to get the story right and not chop it to fit whatever joke you want to make.

Jon Stewart, as he left The Daily Show, admonished us all that “If you smell something, say something.” Well, I’m smelling something.

You didn’t keep it 100 percent, Larry. The segment was weak tea.

For a good and informative article on the Flint water crisis and the EFM, you might read Michigan’s Emergency Manager Law: What it is and Why You Should Care by Chad Phillips. And the Detroit Free Press is doing extensive coverage on this crisis. You can find them at http://www.freep.com/. Rachel Maddow has also been regularly covering the situation on her show. She can be found at http://www.msnbc.com/rachel-maddow-show.

Martha Thomases Eats Worms

wormeater

More than three weeks ago, I twisted my knee somehow in a manner that causes it to continue to hurt. A lot. I happened to have a doctor’s appointment that day, and she told me to rest it, take anti-inflammatory medicine, and drink a lot of water.

Which I have. Well, “resting” is a relative term. It’s hard to rest one’s entire leg and still get around the city and do what needs to get done. I put a brace on it. Still hurts.

When I’m in pain like this, I can’t exercise. And when I can’t exercise, I lose my main opportunity think deep thoughts about comics or anything else. I just want to sit on the couch and eat worms.

Anyway, here’s some randomness. Remember, no one suffers like I do.

The New York Comic-Con has come and gone. I went for a few hours on Thursday, and even though it was the middle of a work-day, the place was so crowded that it was impossible to move anywhere. The line for the ladies room in the press area (which requires a special badge) was a half-hour long. I shudder to think what it was like on Saturday.

It was lovely to see my friends – as I left the brand-new subway station, on line to register, at booths, in artists’ alley – and I had a great conversation with the guy hyping The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore (which is awesome and you should be watching it). I didn’t get to any panels that day or any day because my knee throbbed just thinking about getting through the crowds that made the hallways impassable.

So I didn’t get to see this. I wish I had. This is the nerd experience I most crave. The rest of the throngs can go see stars log-roll each other at over-hyped TV and movie panels. Let me listen to Paul “The Frother” Krugman talk about Star Trek.

Last year I discovered the Crazy Eight Cartoon Festival and I had a great time. You can read my brilliant insights here. It’s happening again tomorrow. If you are in the New York area, I can’t recommend it highly enough. If I get back in time from my other nerd-quest this weekend, perhaps I’ll see you there.

Very few people have raved about about My Friend Dammer more than I have. I’ve given it away to dozens of people to show them the complex insights and emotions possible in the graphic story format. So you can imagine my excitement to get a galley copy of Derf Backderf’s new book, Trashed, in my Harvey Awards gift-bag.

Trashed is the story of a crew of garbage collectors in a small Ohio town, with lots of data about the environmental impact and long-term costs of our throwaway culture. Derf was a garbage collector a few decades ago and, though he says the story isn’t autobiographical, his experiences lend a gritty (and smelly and sticky) authenticity to his tale.

Although it’s not as emotionally engaging as Dammer, this book is still an amazing accomplishment. Backdoor presents not only an environmental education, but insights into the American class system that are all too rare in any medium. That he does it with humor and grace and affection makes it that much more impressive.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, my knee hurts and I need to yell at some kids to get off my lawn.

Note: I don’t have a lawn.

John Ostrander: Handicapping the Stewart Sweepstakes

jon stewartThe day after Jon Stewart announced he was leaving The Daily Show, he plaintively asked his audience, “Did I die?” Lots of people are bemoaning the fact that he’s going, myself included. His show has been the counterpoint to the bilge spewed by Faux News and he’s been wonderful at showing the absurdity in politics.

Yes, he and I share very similar viewpoints on most topics and, while I’ve seen him skewer the Left, he’s more likely to skewer the Right and that’s just fine by me. He’s a comedian doing a fake news show; he doesn’t have to be “fair and balanced.” He simply has to have a consistent point of view and express it with wit and humor. However telling the point, he needs to get a laugh. That’s what he does. It’s what he is supposed to do.

However, The Daily Show must go on. Craig Kilbourn sat in the same seat before Stewart and someone else will come after him. The trick for Comedy Central is to bring in someone who won’t alienate the current audience while making the show their own. They have to be the head Jester while at the same time be the straight man (or woman) for the group of loons that are or will be the “reporters” on the show. (How many of the current team will stay after Stewart leaves is beyond my guess.)

Lots of people online have been giving odds on this candidate or that one. Whoever wins the slot will have a tough job. Lots of people will not like whoever comes next because they simply won’t be Stewart. Any changes that are made will be suspect by some because, again, they’re not Stewart. I might become one of those people myself.

Let’s explore for a moment who won’t be replacing Stewart. At one time, it would have been Stephen Colbert but now he’s replacing Letterman. John Oliver replaced Stewart for three months while Stewart was taking a sabbatical and did a good job. However, he’s at HBO with a show of his own and I don’t think contractually he can come back even if he’s so inclined.

Will Comedy Central go with someone who is already on the show? Jason Jones has filled in for Stewart and was, I think, surprisingly successful. Partner him with his wife Samantha Bee and you could have a very interesting format and show. Both of them are fearless and shameless (especially Bee) but I don’t know if either of them are material for the anchor’s chair on a regular basis.

I think it’s very possible Comedy Central will pick someone who has had experience on SNL as the news anchor for Weekend Update. The most interesting name I’ve heard mentioned is Amy Poehler. Her own show, Parks and Recreation, has just wound up and she has the background and chops for the job. I know there’s a lot of pressure to have a woman or a minority take Stewart’s place; there’s no one else on late night who is like that.

Except one. Larry Wilmore who used to be The Daily Show’s “senior black correspondent” has taken over Colbert’s spot following Stewart as the host of The Nightly Show. Yes, he just began his run in January but Stewart isn’t leaving until July or maybe December (it hasn’t been yet determined). Wilmore has shown himself to be sharp, funny, quick witted, and a good interviewer. He’s a good host.

If Wilmore went to the The Daily Show, that leaves a vacancy on The Nightly Show but I think that slot would be easier to fill. Jason Jones and/or Samantha Bee would kill in that position. Or scrap the current show and bring on something else; doing a sports show with the same sensibilities as The Daily Show might work very well.

The longest shot to replace Jon Stewart would be… Jon Stewart. In this scenario, he comes to his senses and changes his mind about leaving. Yeah, I know – not going to happen. A guy can wish, can’t he?