There is a new trend in American celebrity culture: More and more actors and comedians, made famous and rich from the attention and dollars of the public at large, are using their positions not only to shame their audience but also to bully them.
On the red carpet of the Critics’ Choice Awards, actress and comedian Amy Schumer posed for a selfie with a young YouTube critic who then used the opportunity to make a joke of his own on Twitter. “Spent the night with @amyschumer” the now-deleted tweet stated. “Probably not the first guy to write that #CriticsChoiceAwards.”
Lights Camera Jackson is one in a new breed of Millennial self-made social-media stars. He is the exact kind of celebrity that Barack Obama has embraced in interviews last year (who can forget Glozell?) and as recently as last week.
It was a funny joke. Amy Schumer, for those unfamiliar with her oeuvre, has made a few million dollars off of the same type of joke. She has a show on Comedy Central that features almost nothing but jokes like Jackson’s. And later that night, after she posed for a selfie with Jackson Murphy, she accepted a Best Actress in a Comedy award for her role in the Judd Apatow comedy Trainwreck, about a promiscuous thirtysomething woman who moves from partner to partner because she has unrealistic expectations of monogamy and is afraid to settle down. Last year, Schumer posed in a humorous and clever spread for GQ, in bed with the droids from Star Wars and fellatiating a light saber. And for years on Twitter, Schumer has specialized in smutty humor, exclaiming, for instance, “OMG I’m such a slut!”
What was perplexing to anyone even remotely familiar with Schumer’s brand of comedy was her overly aggressive reaction to Jackson’s tweet. Schumer dispensed her version of celebrity social justice in response, tweeting directly to Jackson: “I get it. Cause I’m a whore? Glad I took a photo with you. Hi to your dad.”
Instantly, Amy Schumer, a powerful celebrity with nationwide name recognition (her distant cousin is future Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer) and upwards of 3 million Twitter followers, put a target on the back of a 17-year-old who has 5,600 Twitter followers and a budding media career.
Schumer has specialized in smutty humor for years, exclaiming, for instance, ‘OMG I’m such a slut!’
Soon after, the usual celebrity-worship outlets picked up Schumer’s response, jumped on the bandwagon, and framed her smackdown of Jackson as an example of rampant cultural sexism. MTV, not exactly the moral center of the entertainment universe, wrote: “Let Amy Schumer Remind You It’s Not Cool To Tweet Sexist Jokes.” The Huffington Post weighed in with “Amy Schumer Turns Sexist Tweet Into Teachable Moment.” BuzzFeed, a website that never passes the chance to hoist a pitchfork in the name of their favorite celebrity, wrote: “Amy Schumer Perfectly Shut Down A Film Reviewer For His Sexist Comment”
Jackson, clearly stunned and overwhelmed by the sudden attention, issued his apology and paid his penance to the mob. Schumer used her celebrity, her fawning BFFs in corporate media, and a social-media-gang pile-on to teach a lesson to a young kid hardly anyone over the age of 25 even knows exists.
Bravo. She sure showed him who the real comedian is here.
#share#Ours is a celebrity-driven media, and the stars write the storyline: The richest and most powerful and glamorous among us, they whine, are in fact the victims of the little people. Schumer fans and feminists will no doubt praise her hectoring, excusing it by insisting that Schumer the person is different from Schumer the performer, and that the former deserves our respect. But Schumer’s slut humor is as much a part of her public personality as is her recent advocacy of gun control — which she broadcast at the behest of her powerful cousin.
And what about the 17-year-old YouTube critic? Can his joke not be a part of his act? Are Amy Schumer–style jokes meant only for Amy Schumer and whomever she deems worthy to receive them?
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When did social justice come to mean that those with the most power in our society exact public vengeance on those with little influence and power? Doesn’t such an abuse of power contradict the message of the campus and public protest movements that the progressive media continuously laud?
This is not justice and equality. This is bullying.
There is an entire genre of comedy dedicated to roasting celebrities and the traits that have made them rich and famous. Late-night host Conan O’Brien has featured a character known as Triumph the Insult Comic Dog. The brainchild of comedian and Saturday Night Live writer Robert Smigel, Triumph is a vulgar Rottweiler hand puppet who has lampooned everyone and everything from artists on MTV to Star Wars fans.
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No one is disparaging Schumer’s act or her brand of humor. If she wants to carve out a niche as a modern, promiscuous, progressive comedian who jokes all the time about her lady parts, she’s free to do so, and we as a paying public are free to accept or reject her. Where Schumer errs is in using her act as a weapon to berate those who partake in the joke themselves — and then expecting that no one will criticize her for using her celebrity this way.
If that’s what she expects, then she’s better off leaving the celebrity victim act behind — along with the money, awards, and perks that come with the stardom — and quitting comedy altogether.
— Stephen L. Miller is a writer living in Brooklyn, N.Y. He publishes The Wilderness, which focuses on viral politics and social media.