National Security & Defense

Impromptus: The cruelty of comedy, &c.

I learned something about Saturday Night Live, in the articles about its recent 40th-anniversary special. Maybe I had known it, but forgotten it.

Eddie Murphy, a onetime star of the show, stayed away for years, because he was really mad at it. And he was mad because of a remark made by another SNL star, David Spade.

In 1996, Murphy’s career was at a low ebb. On SNL, Spade was doing a “Hollywood Minute” shtick. A photo of Murphy appeared, and Spade quipped, “Look, children, it’s a falling star! Make a wish!”

The crowd reacted with oohs and ahs and other things. Spade says, “Yes, that’s right. You make a Hollywood Minute omelet, you break some eggs.” (Nice line — and historically aware.) He also said something about taking a joke.

Anyway, this ticked off Murphy in a major way. And at last I get to my point.

Isn’t that what Saturday Night Live does? Make fun of people? Isn’t that the show’s bread and butter, or comedy’s bread and butter? Making fun of people? Cruelty?

SNL has made fun of George W. Bush and every other conservative under the sun. I think they even made fun of Obama, once. Eddie Murphy has made fun of people majorly and hilariously. I think of a Michael Jackson gag in particular.

I’m going from memory, but I think it went this way: Murphy has a Michael Jackson doll in his hand, and pulls down its pants. There is nothing there, of course. Murphy quips, “Just as I suspected: anatomically correct.”

No one likes to be made fun of. But if you make fun of people for a living? You know? Heat and kitchen, pot and kettle, and all that.

‐Earlier this week, I met a woman from Belarus. We were talking about Lukashenko, the dictator. She said that people are scared even to say his name. I said it was the same with Fidel Castro, for decades. It may be that way still. People point to their chin, signifying a beard. They are too scared to say “Castro.”

The woman from Belarus nodded in recognition. “Same thing,” she said. People in her country signify a mustache, because Lukashenko has a prominent one.

We are lucky to live in a free country. Spare a thought for those who live under tyrants.

‐Outside the United Nations, a woman was yelling through a bullhorn. A Chinese woman. She was saying, “The Chinese Communist Party is evil” — which it certainly is. You can only guess what has happened to her family, friends, and so on.

I gave her a thumbs-up. What more can you do? I also thought of an expression: “the oak and the calf.” That’s how Solzhenitsyn titled his great literary memoir. He alludes to a calf butting its head against a mighty oak, in an attempt to knock it down. The image is supposed to epitomize futility.

But the Soviet Union fell, eventually. Will the Chinese Communist Party? Yes, but when? And how many lives will be broken until then?

Think of this, too: The woman with the bullhorn would be arrested in under a minute, in China. In a democracy, she can yell on.

‐Last summer, I published a piece called “Living Not by Lies.” (That’s a Solzhenitsyn expression: “Live not by lies.”) The subtitle was “A gathering of the anti-Communist tribes.” What did that refer to?

The 20th anniversary of the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation, in Washington, D.C. To read my piece, go here.

One of VOC’s activities is the collection of testimony on videotape — survivors’ testimony. Here is the testimony of Dániel Magay, a Hungarian. A Hungarian American, actually. The video is seven minutes long. You will be interested, I think, when you have the time.

I don’t like the music — music meant to enhance the video — but that’s my taste. Videomakers and others these days are terrified not to have music. They are afraid that words (and images) aren’t enough. But I digress . . .

Magay was born in 1932. After the war, when the Communists seized power, his family was expropriated, and otherwise abused. Dániel’s ticket was fencing: He was good at it. He joined Hungary’s national team.

In 1956, the Olympics were down in Australia. The Games began just after the Hungarian Revolution, and its crushing. Magay, like many of his teammates, never went home. He went to America (with a gold medal, by the way).

Years later, he was able to obtain his father’s file — the file the Communists kept on him. His friends were spying on him — as is so common in totalitarian countries, where people are scared, and threatened.

Anyway, the video is valuable, like all the VOC videos, and the organization in general.

‐Earlier this month, I reviewed a recital by Janine Jansen, the Dutch violinist, and Itamar Golan, an Israeli pianist. I would like to quote the last paragraph of my review. There is a reason, I promise.

I’d like to end with a kind of footnote — something out of left field. It may be my paranoid imagination, but I think I have noticed, in the last few years, that the nationality of Israeli musicians is omitted from their bios. It is not omitted from Golan’s. You might say there’s no escaping that name. Still: Good for him. 

Okay, I would now like to publish a little e-mail. I have a nervy and wonderful friend, in the great state of Texas. She writes,

Thought of you today at the grocery store. I was getting couscous from the bulk bin. It was labeled “Middle Eastern Couscous.” I knew it was Israeli couscous. So I filled my bag and on the tag wrote the bin number. And “Israeli Couscous.”

Very well done.

‐I am newly in love with Dorothy L. Sayers. A friend of mine, who is an authority on her, has sent me excerpts from “Are Women Human?” This is an address that Sayers gave in 1938. Have a taste:

What is repugnant to every human being is to be reckoned always as a member of a class and not as an individual person. A certain amount of classification is, of course, necessary for practical purposes . . . What is unreasonable and irritating is to assume that all one’s tastes and preferences have to be conditioned by the class to which one belongs.

Have another taste:

Few women happen to be natural born mechanics; but if there is one, it is useless to try and argue her into being something different. What we must not do is to argue that the occasional appearance of a female mechanical genius proves that all women would be mechanical geniuses if they were educated. They would not.

One more taste, and a brilliant one:

I am occasionally desired by congenital imbeciles and the editors of magazines to say something about the writing of detective fiction “from the woman’s point of view.” To such demands, one can only say “Go away and don’t be silly. You might as well ask what is the female angle on an equilateral triangle.”

Would Dorothy L. Sayers, in contemporary America, be stoned? And I don’t mean high or intoxicated.

‐A little language? Okay. In a blogpost the other day, I said, “You know what I’m talmbout?” That last word is a mash-up of “talking about.”

A reader writes, “Jay, I will give you a kindred word, which will be helpful to you: nawmsayn. ‘Do you know what I’m saying?’”

Very helpful. Excellent.

‐Let’s end with a little music. For a review of La donna del lago at the Metropolitan Opera, go here. The review is published at The New Criterion. The opera is by Rossini. And I’ll see you soon.

Thanks much.


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