I remember the first time I saw Zero Mostel and Gene Wilder in this scene from “The Producers”. I remember how hard I laughed. I remember how absurd it was and taking not a second to understand the message that was being sent.
I remember not being offended in the least, despite being a child of two religious worlds. One of those worlds the faith that was the extermination target of a madman and his sycophantic followers.
I remember “getting the joke”.
In what seemed like an eternity later, I recall the uproar over this scene from “The Life of Brian”. Again, I remember how hard I laughed during the movie, and not once felt a twinge of insult from that other side of my religious upbringing.
I wasn’t in the least bit offended. Not for a moment did I feel as if I was being personally attacked or someone, in this case the most brilliant comedy troupe of all time, was making fun of my faith. And I remember thinking back to the a fore-mentioned film and comedic moment, this one also based on a faith that was the extermination target of a government and their sycophantic followers.
I remember “getting the joke”.
Both films, and many more like them, use comedy and sarcasm to show in great detail how hate simply cannot win over the human soul. Both mocked the inherent evil, making us view it as not merely useless, but unable to last forever. So many films, plays, books and more force us to confront evil and give it the proper derision it deserves, making us the better people in this process.
Somewhere along the line, we lost our sense of humor.
We lost the ability to disseminate comedy from sarcasm. We all but abandoned the desperate need to tell the difference between laughing at something, and laughing about ourselves.
We became a nation where it was more important to viciously attack someone than to find the humor in our frailties.
Take, for instance, “The Producers”. It’s premise that if someone made a Broadway play about Nazi Germany, no one in their right mind would find it funny. Every single person would be so deeply offender and insulted, the play would close in one night, the play would shutter, and the con artist producers would be able to abscond with every single investment dime and no one would think twice.
But people saw it as the sarcastic farce it was meant to be. It mocked the Nazis, showed them as little more than comic fops with pea brains and evil intent doomed to fail. And remember, that movie was produced just about 20 years after the end of WW2. The wounds were still fresh and raw for a generation. The movie made a statement about sarcasm, holding up to ridicule those that deserved and earned such distaste, and while it was seen as “crude and gross” by some of the more easily offender reviewers, it has risen to become a national treasure in the National Film Registry.
Producer, writer, director and all around genius Mel Brooks says a movie like this could never be made in today’s climate. He’s said the same thing about his other classic “Blazing Saddles”.
I can only imagine the amount of hate mail I would get if I posted a clip from that movie here. One of these days, I’ll write just about “Blazing Saddles” and post every single controversial quote just for shock value. And we all know there would be plenty of people SHOCKED and what made for laughs back in the stone age.
The sad truth is, Mel Brooks is right. Too many people would either be offended, or seek to be offended, merely to be part of a public outcry.
I wouldn’t look for anything the like of “Life of Brian”, either. Religious groups would be threatening to burn down theaters and show their lack of tolerance by seeking to put the object of their ire on a similar wooden cross.
Granted, times change. Social mores change. And where once there was comedy, or what some people believe passes as comedy, there is now venom, attack, hate, racism, sexism, and every other “ism” we can conjure up.
We used to be able to laugh out ourselves. We used to be able to tell the difference, or at the very least discuss the difference, between what was meant to be funny and what was meant to be blatantly insulting.
Which brings us to Rosanne Barr and Samantha Bee, the Pyrrhic temples of spitting venom. At least at the moment. Don’t worry, The subject matter and attackers will change any second. Just wait for the wind to change, usually blowing from the Tidal Basin in Washington D.C.
What Mel Brooks, Monty Python, George Carlin, Richard Pryor and thousands of comedic and sarcasm-laden professionals did was make us think about laughing at situations and ourselves.
We used to be good at that. We used to be able to tell the difference. We used to be able to laugh out ourselves without be all pissed off and seeking revenge. And we used to be able to tell the next generation what the difference was without trying to mold them into little steam engines of perpetual anger.
Carlin nailed it.
Oh, and this isn’t safe for work and a good number of you will be offended. That’s the problem. Too many people are offended and indignant without trying to cut thru the verbal and textual bullshit to talk about issues.
Instead of screaming about them.