How refreshing the sound of a top-flight celebrity fearlessly shrugging off the idiocy of political correctness! The other day, on CBS This Morning, an interviewer pointed out to Jerry Seinfeld that most of the guests he's had on Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee, his online series on which he has automotive tête-à-têtes with fellow practitioners of the stand-up art (and the occasional just-plain-funny person), have been white males. “Oh, this really pisses me off,” replied a bracingly honest Seinfeld, who plainly saw where his fatuous interlocutor was headed. After a bit of back and forth, the comic spelled out just how he feels about the application of this kind of absurd bean-counting to matters of entertainment: “People think it's the census or something. Its got to represent the actual pie chart of America. Who cares?...I have no interest in gender or race....It's anti-comedy...It's PC nonsense.”
The attacks on Seinfeld for these purportedly insensitive remarks began materializing almost at once. A contributor to the Gawker website, who sneeringly called Seinfeld a “maker of comedy for and about white people,” represented him as having indicated that he “isn't interested in trying to include non-white anything in his work” and that in his view “any comedian who is not a white male is also not funny.” Having read the entire Gawker article, I strongly suspect that this characterization of Seinfeld, far from being deliberately deceitful, was in fact an honest reflection of the author's utter inability to grasp the concept of colorblindedness. Charging Seinfeld with “downplaying the work” of all nonwhite comics, the man from Gawker made a point of demonstrating his own PC purity: comedy, he proclaimed, “should represent the entire pie chart of America, and the glorious, multicolored diversity pie should be thrown directly at Jerry Seinfeld's face.”
The funnyman also came under fire for a Canadian woman named Maya Roy, who, writing in the Huffington Post under the headline “Seinfeld's Racist Comments Make Him the Joke,” accused him of “whitewashing New York” in his 1990s sitcom – only to chide him, in her next breath, for featuring on various episodes of that show “heavily accented Chinese food delivery boys” and an “inept Pakistani entrepreneur, Babu Bhatt,” among others. To nonwhite viewers like herself, railed Roy, these nonwhite characters “only existed to make 'whitey' feel superior.” She contrasted the nonwhites on Seinfeld with Indian-Canadian comic Russell Peters and Korean-American comic Margaret Cho, both of whom, exulted Roy, “use humour to mock racists and homophobes, and make life just a little more bearable for the rest of us.” (Yes, indeed, they are moral scolds, which is surely part of the reason why I, for one, find both of them excruciatingly unfunny.)
Half a century ago, an America in which people don't have an interest in gender or race was Martin Luther King's dream – the vision around which Americans of every color, eager to see their country live out the meaning of its creed, rallied enthusiastically. Today that kind of thinking is condemned as bigotry. Today a sitcom that doesn't seek to mirror the population pie chart risks being called out for racism or sexism. Today a show that permits itself to include black or Chinese or Pakistani characters who, far from being role models and pillars of virtue prove to be every bit as hapless, goofy, mendacious, and/or self-absorbed as the white characters is by definition guilty of hate speech. Today, according to the PC sentries at the gates of American culture, comedy should exist not to amuse us by (among other things) treating received opinions with indifference and even irreverence but, on the contrary, to promote The Proper Values, as determined by, well, people like Maya Roy and the man from Gawker. Its focus should be on chiding the evil souls who harbor prejudice and providing comfort and affirmation to the virtuous innocents who are the objects of that prejudice. In other words, comedy, in this age of victimhood, of group identity, and of ubiquitous therapy, should succor the victims, go out of its way to affirm the unconditionally positive contribution of minority groups (especially those favored by multicultural dogma) to the wonderful mosaic of American society; it should serve, without exception, a psychically healthful, wholesome, and therapeutic purpose, while of course never doing anything that might stand the remotest chance of hurting or offending those who have already (in the PC view) been hurt or offended too mightily.
Even Time Magazine – yes, it still exists – piled onto Seinfeld after his comments on CBS, running a piece in which one Lily Rothman (a self-identified playwright and backpacker who studied at Yale and the Columbia School of Journalism) did her share of tsk-tsking about “the homogeneity of [the] guests” on Jerry's webseries – guests, mind you, who have ranged from Jay Leno to Howard Stern, from Carl Reiner to Colin Quinn. Ms. Rothman's inability to view these performers as a remarkably diverse crew only serves as a salutary reminder that for some people, melanin would appear to be the only measure of difference. Color, in short, is all. It's this kind of illiberal thinking that once was recognized as a genuinely serious threat to true liberal values, and that today, in the corridors of American cultural power – including those at Time – is, perversely, the very essence of what goes by the name of liberalism. Ms. Rothman concluded her harangue by expressing the hope that “public pressure” would force Seinfeld to enhance his show's “diversity.” Not so many years ago such a sentiment would have been widely recognized as ignoble, despicable – indeed, totalitarian. No more.
If anything is striking about this incident, it's not the attacks on Seinfeld – who only a few months ago, by the way, said on Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee that his “Mount Rushmore” of stand-ups would consist of Richard Pryor, Bill Cosby, George Carlin, and Don Rickles (two blacks, two whites). No, the attacks are just the usual multicultural claptrap. What was striking – and gratifying, and heartening – were Seinfeld's original remarks about “PC nonsense” – which, considering that they came from a man who is still the top-earning comedian in the U.S., raised expectations that the growing impatience of influential cultural figures with the poisonous influence of political correctness may yet help bring an end to the madness.
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