The Corner

PC Culture

Samantha Bee’s Defenders Play Calvinball with the Language

Samantha Bee (YouTube screengrab via "Full Frontal With Samantha Bee")

Do you ever get the impression that the rules of the game are being made up on the fly? Consider this tweet, from CNBC’s Christina Wilkie:

 

This is Calvinball. Imagine, if you will, that, say, Sean Hannity or Ann Coulter had called, say, Chelsea Clinton a “c***.” In what universe would the word have been dismissed as merely a “word choice,” divorced from any associated “worldview”? In such a circumstance, we’d be told that the word reflected the speaker’s sexism and misogyny; that it indicted his entire political ideology; that it highlighted the depravity of his audience; and so forth. The New York Times would link the comment to “rape culture” and “toxic masculinity.” College professors would explain that it came deep from the wells of American inequality. MSNBC would write an opera, and broadcast it over three days. The word would become a Weltanschauung in ten seconds flat.

Attempts to appeal to the speaker’s humanity — “that’s not the Ann I know!” — would fall flat. And not just in the case of an Ann Coulter or a Sean Hannity, but for anyone on the “wrong” side. If the speaker were tough to paint as a sexist, the word would be used instead as an example of the “latent” sexism of American culture — a sexism so potent that it pulls even ostensibly good people into its clasps. Breathless comparisons to The Handmaid’s Tale would become de rigeur. And in would come the headshakers: “There’s just so much more work to be done,” they would sigh. “That the word came to mind in the first place shows that we’ve failed.”

But when Samantha Bee does it? It’s just a “word choice.” Hell, she might as well as have said “asparagus.”

Questions abound. Why was Roseanne’s crime one of conscience rather than of lexicon? What determines whether a phrase can be separated from a creed? N***er is just a word — abhorrent in the mouth of a Klansmen; emancipatory from the pen of Mark Twain — in what circumstances is it damning of a culture, and in what merely a joke? Is sexism less prone to capture our language than racism? Do wounding words not wound when wielded by someone popular? But none of these questions matter much, and it is futile to try to answer them, because there are no rules on display here. Bee is given a pass where others are not because . . . well, because she is. On Monday, words are mere tools; on Tuesday, they are superglued to superstructure. This is a game — nothing more, nothing less. It’s different when we do it.

Most Popular

U.S.

Yes, Hillary Should Have Been Prosecuted

I know this is ancient history, but — I’m sorry — I just can’t let it go. When historians write the definitive, sordid histories of the 2016 election, the FBI, Hillary, emails, Russia, and Trump, there has to be a collection of chapters making the case that Hillary should have faced a jury ... Read More
Law & the Courts

Yes, There Was FBI Bias

There is much to admire in Justice Department inspector general Michael Horowitz’s highly anticipated report on the FBI’s Clinton-emails investigation. Horowitz’s 568-page analysis is comprehensive, fact-intensive, and cautious to a fault. It is also, nonetheless, an incomplete exercise — it omits half ... Read More
Sports

Let the World Have Soccer

The United States of America did not qualify for the World Cup this year. Good for us. Soccer is corrupt, hyper-regulated, impoverished by a socialist-style fondness for rationing, and organized to strangle human flourishing. It is so dependent on the whims of referees that is in effect a helpless captive of the ... Read More
Culture

Staying on the Path

Dear Reader (Including those of you who are no longer my personal lawyer), Almost 20 years ago, I wrote in this space that the movie A Simple Plan was one of the most conservative movies of the 1990s. In case you haven’t seen it, the plot is pretty straightforward, almost clichéd. It focuses on three men ... Read More
Immigration

Child Separation at the Border

If you want to read a thoughtful and constructive explanation and partial defense of the policies being implemented by the White House, you should read this piece by Rich Lowry. If you want to read a trollish and counter-productive screed fit for a comment section, read the White House’s official press ... Read More
Economy & Business

Asymmetrical Capitalism

I like to think of American Airlines CEO Doug Parker as my pen pal, but, in truth, he never writes back. It’s a lopsided relationship — asymmetrical, in a word. I have for many years argued that most people would be enthusiastic about capitalism if not for their interactions with a small number of ... Read More