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Our Political-Culture Problem in Miniature



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I know, from watching Saturday Night Live about three decades ago, that the quality of the sketches drops off significantly after the first 45 minutes. But there was one sketch on tonight’s installment that was so bad that it really stuck in my craw. It was about a small group of women who have a jewelry party: The only male present at their get-together is the new boyfriend of one of them, and he is quickly revealed to be a “men’s rights activist” who opposes “equal pay for women” and holds rallies to shut down Planned Parenthood clinics. The group then turns on him, denouncing him as a physically unattractive man, a poor lover, a villain, and a loser. He leaves the party in disgrace.

There are so many problems with this that I really don’t want to take the time to parse them all. Suffice it to say that the creepy misogynist who opposes abortion just because he wants to keep women down is the left-wing P.C. equivalent of the equally bogus right-wing P.C. cliché that feminists are shrill, physically unattractive, and driven into their ideology by resentment at their failure to get men. Of course, in the case of every P.C. stereotype (whether it’s the P.C. of the Left or the Right) there are some individuals who conform to that stereotype. There are some pro-life activists who are misogynists who resent women’s equality; there are some pro-choice feminists who are shrill and motivated by resentment against men. But as broad-brush generalizations, both of these are, in my experience spanning almost five decades now, false.

Most readers will at this point expect me to denounce the SNL sketch because it expresses a political opinion different from mine. Nope: That’s totally fine with me. The day I can’t laugh at a joke by Rush Limbaugh or Jon Stewart or P. J. O’Rourke just because I don’t happen to agree with the political point of the particular joke is the day I will have to give up and register myself as “Humorless Person, Class A.” No, what really annoys me about that sketch is that I don’t remember there being any jokes in it. I am, among other things, a feminist and a pro-lifer, and I’m okay with people telling jokes about feminists and pro-lifers. But when you have an attack on any group, and don’t include any actual, you know, jokes, then what you’re left with is not a comedy sketch but merely an act of verbal aggression and ritual humiliation of the unpopular Other (in this case, the men’s-rights anti-abortion guy). As such, it of course deserves my protection from censorship, because I’m a First Amendment absolutist; what it does not deserve is my respect.

The irony is that I rarely watch SNL, and made an exception tonight only because I am a fan of Lena Dunham, who was the host and appeared in this sketch. I think that she is, in general, quite winsome, and that her persona on the TV show Girls is a 21st-century female twentysomething version of Charlie Brown: someone who is a loser at the game of life, but who is endearing because she has a self-deprecating sense of humor and “keeps on keeping on.” This sketch was the equivalent of Charlie Brown deciding one day that he’s had it with losing, and rushes off to beat up the only kid in school who’s less popular than he is.

I have already devoted a great deal of space to what is, after all, a single lame sketch from the back half of a comedy show. But I make no apologies, because of such things is a culture made. Prolonged exposure to this sort of material will serve only to deepen liberals’ belief that conservatives are mean misogynists — and to convince conservatives that liberals really are narrow-minded, illiberal bullies.

NB. I have so far watched only the first season of Girls (on DVD). I recently got HBO again for the first time in years, so I could watch our own Charlie Cooke brave the lion’s den of the Bill Maher show. I’ll soon be watching the Girls episodes I have missed, in the hopes that they live up to the standards of the first season.



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