Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Kathy Griffin's Words to Live By: Lighten Up... or Suck It

This may be almost old news by now, but I don't care. I love Kathy Griffin and while I don't always agree with everything she says, I do think some people are overreacting on this one.

By now you may have already seen episode 4 of this season's My Life on the D-List, in which Kathy went to Washington, D.C. in order to promote support for overturning Don't Ask Don't Tell (if not, you're behind, hurry up and watch it now). In it, she made a crack about Cosmo's favorite naked senator, Scott Brown, that has everyone up in arms.

Griffin has gotten criticism on this one from both sides - from right-wing conservatives to liberal feminists - but honestly, I don't see what the huge deal was. Feel free to disagree with me (in fact, I'm sure a lot of you do, and that's okay). This is just my personal take on it and I'll explain why...

But first, in case you missed the joke itself and only read about the "aftermath", here's a clip:

JOHN KING, CNN: That’s excellent.
KATHY GRIFFIN: -who is a Senator from Massachusetts-
KATHY GRIFFIN: -and has two daughters that are prostitutes.
KATHY GRIFFIN (VOICE OVER): And now, a brief message from Bravo’s legal team: Scott Brown’s daughters are not prostitutes. We now return you to our regularly scheduled negativity.
In case you need a little background on why this topic even came up, Kathy was in Washington, D.C. to help support the repeal of Don't Ask Don't Tell. The gimmick of that particular scene was that Kathy was completely ignorant about politics (semi-true) and needed some "experts" (King and Bash) to give her a crash course "study session". They held up pictures of various political figures and Kathy jokingly showed off her ignorance.
“Remember when the Republicans tried to get that nutbag Sarah Palin to sound credible before the vice presidential debates? They had a board and ran flash cards to teach her the tough stuff, like there is both a North and South Korea. Well, that’s sort of like what John and Dana did for me.”
I have to admit that when I watched that scene, I laughed. Not because I think it's funny to call people prostitutes, but because I got the joke.

When I think of Scott Brown the first thing I think of is his January 2010 acceptance speech. (Okay, okay, that's the second thing... the first thing is Cosmo's obsession over his fictional "abs of steel" but the acceptance speech is close behind). You know what I'm talking about right?
"As always, I rely on Gail's love and support, and that of our two lovely daughters. So I want to thank Ayla and Arianna for their help as well. Just in case anyone who's watching throughout the country, yes they're both available."

The whole ESC remembers talking to each other about the oddness of that speech way back when it happened (we also wrote a blog about Glenn Beck which referenced it) so that's why Kathy's joke made me laugh. If I didn't know anything else about Scott Brown except the contents of that speech, my immediate reaction to his name/photo would be "the guy who said his two daughters were available." So of course, Kathy Griffin, being as awesome as she is, took it further into an outrageous joke (because, well, that's kinda her thing) and referenced him as the guy who "has two daughters that are prostitutes".

Now Kathy has gotten a lot of slack over that joke - which she loves, no doubt - for a variety of reasons. Some feel that it was unfair to target Brown's daughters, some feel that Kathy was slut-shaming them, some feel that she was mocking sex workers, some feel that the joke was just inappropriate and tasteless.

Scott Brown has made a statement in response to the joke:
“People can call me any name they want, but families are off limits. I love my daughters Ayla and Arianna very much, and any parent would be proud to have them as children. Kathy Griffin and Bravo ought to be ashamed of themselves.”
Ah, the hypocritical families are off limits defense yet again. Now I do agree that it's shitty for politicians and the media to attack or mock the children of public figures... but this isn't exactly the same thing.

The point of Kathy's joke wasn't that Brown's daughters are prostitutes or sluts; Ayla and Arianna weren't the target of the joke at all. Scott Brown himself is the butt of the joke; the humor comes from Brown's own exploitation of them in his speech. Okay, maybe "exploitation" is too strong a word to use in regards to what was probably just meant to be a cheesy joke or off-hand comment, but I'm drawing a blank on another word that would make more sense - other than "creepy sexist weirdness" - to describe a U.S. senator "offering up" his daughters on national television, even in jest. (Even Cosmo took a brief break from their endless fawning coverage of Brown to admit that they "couldn't help feeling a little mortified" for his daughters after that comment.) Also, let's remember that Brown's daughters are both grown women, not say, a 13-year-old girl being called a dog on TV.

The View's Elizabeth Hasselbeck, of course, had something to say about it:
ELISABETH HASSELBECK: It's actually not really funny, and I know his daughters actually, and they're anything but that, and they –

JOY BEHAR: It's a joke, Elisabeth. It's just a joke.

HASSELBECK: Well no, no, no, no, no! We've always said politicians' kids are off limits. If someone went around calling Barack Obama's two girls prostitutes, people would be up in arms. [...]
HASSELBECK: You defend your daughters against scum who comes after them, and calls them someone like a prostitute.

BEHAR: Are you calling Kathy scum now? Are you calling her scum?

HASSELBECK: If someone called your daughter a prostitute, would you think they'd be scum? I'd call someone scum if they called my daughter a prostitute.

BEHAR: I know my daughter is not a prostitute, so it's funny to me. [emphasis mine]
Interestingly enough, Hasselbeck is outraged at the thought of Brown's daughters being jokingly called prostitutes, but she didn't seem to have any concerns about her own slut-shaming of other people. How about when she criticized Erin Andrews for wearing not-that-risque outfits on Dancing with the Stars, even going so far as to joke about the fact that Andrews was therefore somehow to blame for being a stalking victim. (And then she supposedly lied about calling her to apologize). Of course, Brown's daughters are "anything but that" so they deserve defending. But I digress...

The whole "if it was Obama's daughters" thing is ridiculous. Both sides of the political spectrum love to play the "if it was Obama" game, but sorry conservatives, it's never going to work in your favor because it's your side that's better known for its sexism and racism. (Not saying that the left is immune from that kind of thing, because obviously they aren't, but just that the right can be pretty damn hypocritical about it.) In this case, the comparison just doesn't work. First of all, they're little kids - Sasha is only 9 and Malia is 12- so that kind of joke would probably cross the line, no matter what the back story was. But more importantly there would be no back story. As of yet President Obama hasn't made any "my daughters are available" cracks on television so there wouldn't be any context to make such a joke.

And then there's the "someone like a prostitute" line. There's something rather interesting about the fact that the outrage isn't necessarily just over the fact that Kathy joked about his daughters... but the specific content of the joke itself. She called them prostitutes, which apparently is the most horrible thing you can possibly call someone's daughters. I don't love the idea of people throwing around the words "whore", "hooker" or "prostitute" as insults or attacks. (Now that's not to say that I think Kathy meant to insult or attack Brown's daughters, because I don't. We have already covered this.) I'm not going to pretend that I know she thinks of prostitutes in a super-awesome pro-sex-workers kind of way... I have no idea how she feels about the sex work industry.

But it's pretty clear from the reactions to her joke how some people feel about sex workers.

Representative Barney Frank described her comment as “wholly unfair and inappropriate" and a "completely unfair attack.” Hasselbeck is outraged at the idea of her daughters even being called someone like a prostitute. (What does that mean anyway, a slut?) During the same segment, Whoopi Goldberg actually said that if someone made a joke like that about her daughter, she would "beat their ass". (Kinda funny considering that she has repeatedly defended Mel Gibson, who is on tape calling the mother of his child a whore and much worse.) Would there have been this kind of outrage if Kathy had joked that Scott Brown's daughters were dentists or ballet dancers or models or garbage collectors or waitresses? Of course not.

Here at Evil Slutopia, we feel pretty strongly about sex-workers rights and are very much against slut-shaming (obviously) so we wouldn't be down with the joke if we truly felt that's what it was. I've already said it, but I'll say it again... We have to remember that Kathy's joke has absolutely nothing to do with Brown's daughters in actuality. That is, she's not actually calling his daughters prostitutes or comparing them to prostitutes. She's not commenting on any of their past or current behavior, on the way they dress, on their sex lives or dating histories. She's not. The joke is about the fact that Brown made a stupid, creepy, sexist comment about his daughters. The joke is about that comment; it's NOT about his daughters.

She's not slut-shaming Scott Brown's daughters, if anything she's pimp-shaming (I'm totally gonna trademark that phrase) Scott Brown. But even more so, she's calling out the media for not having a sense of humor. Kathy explained the joke on a recent episode of The Joy Behar Show:
Look, here’s the deal. The genesis of the joke, like, does anybody remember that the night he was elected, he made a joke – he was clearly making a joke – saying, "By the way, my daughters are available." And then, the Washington press beat up on him saying he was pimping out his daughters. So, on My Life on the D List, we actually had some real, you know, Washington insiders showing me, like, 15 pictures of people on the Hill, et cetera, and my joke was I didn’t know who they were. So they showed me a picture of Sonia Sotomayor, and I say, "Oh, the maid from Will and Grace." There’s the joke. Then they show me Scott Brown, and I go, "His daughters are prostitutes," meaning, like, word association. So people got their panties in a bunch.
I think Brown's joke about his daughters being available was inappropriate and kinda sleazy, so I'm not shocked that Kathy would choose that to poke fun at. Was it the most hilarious thing she's ever said? No, but I still laughed. Was it tasteful? Of course not. Was it appropriate? Maybe not. But this is Kathy Griffin - tasteless and inappropriate is pretty much what she lives for. We also have to remember that SHE'S A COMIC. She's not a politician or a journalist. Her job is to be funny and yes... in appropriate.

I'm not suggesting that everyone has to agree with me or think the joke was funny or become a fan of Kathy Griffin. I just think we need to acknowledge that this was not a malicious comment. Kathy may say some pretty mean things about some people, but this wasn't one of them. Kathy responded to Hasselbeck calling her "scum":
"Now I have to send Elisabeth Hasselbeck two muffin baskets because she confronted me when I was a guest on the show two weeks ago and then this morning she called me 'scum'. I have to send two baskets because as a comedian, I'm loving it. [...] The bottom line is, lighten up!"
Kathy also quoted the great Bette Midler: "Fuck 'em if they can't take a joke." Either that, or they can just SUCK IT.

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