Frankie Boyle and the Paralympians

Freedom of Speech is Not for the Weak. Or the Scottish, apparently?

Frankie Boyle, who was tweeting jokes about the Paralympics recently, is now Semi-Officially In Trouble.

Personally, I’m sorry to hear it. I think it’s a very bad sign for the health of our society. We are over-reacting a lot lately, like a human being with an immune system run wild. When we turn our social sensitivity onto comedians, we’re engaged in a destructive attack on a healthy and necessary part of the social fabric. If we destroy the career of a comedian like Frankie Boyle, it’s the social equivalent of Crohn’s Disease, Rheumatoid Arthritis, or Multiple Sclerosis. A hypersensitive response which destroys our own healthy tissue, rather than anything dangerous or truly harmful.

A few thoughts.

1. It is never the right thing to launch a concerted and organized public attack on a comedian for doing his job. This is part of the social contract we have with comedians. ALL comedians.

A comedian’s job is to say outrageous, shocking, potentially offensive stuff. Their job is to rattle cages. Yes, in a perfect world, the cage that gets rattled is never yours, but this isn’t a perfect world. Once in a while, even the best comedians are going to say something that hurts. They’ll take a poke at something you are insecure about, jab one of your prejudices, step on your toes. It goes with the territory.

Comedians are supposed to take risks, out loud and in public. That is a sacred duty–not something they can dodge. If there are no risks, there are no jokes. And if there are no jokes, there is no freedom of speech or thought. Period.

Sorry, but this is not negotiable. And it is why only evil people kill comedians. “Can’t take a joke” is not just an insult–it’s the ultimate insult.

Does this mean that there is no such thing as a comedian who is a douchebag? Not at all. Comedians are just as likely to be bad people as any other profession. Maybe even a little more likely, since the role confers so much power and freedom.

Please keep in mind, however, that it is not a crime for ANY artist to produce art that appeals to a limited audience. All art appeals to a limited audience. There is no beauty that is truly universal. Just as there is no “funny” that is truly universal.

The fact that you don’t get a joke or find it funny doesn’t mean that no one does. And they have a sacred right to get it, and to laugh because they get it. Period.

2. There is no such thing as a joke that truly “trivializes” anything. It is not possible to trivialize any person or event by means of a joke. The fact that a comedian (even a douchebag comedian) makes jokes about an event has nothing to do with the dignity or importance of the event. People made jokes about Hitler while he was still in power. People made jokes about Hiroshima. People still make jokes about the Holocaust. People make jokes about the Vietnam Memorial Wall.

Some of them might even be funny jokes, but that’s not the point. The point is that sometimes, jokes are made because they are about something important. And in cases where a joke is actually about something trivial, the comedian actually magnifies it. By drawing attention to certain topics, a comedian makes things larger, not smaller.

3. You can’t ever make a list of Things We Can Never Joke About. Because who gets to make that list? And what is their agenda?

Yes, comedy is a contact sport. People get knocked down, maybe even mussed up. But I would prefer to let even the worst comedian do his job, and make jokes that spark public dialog, public debate and public action, rather than just keep taking subjects off the table until there is nothing left.

The world doesn’t need more sacred cows that no one is permitted to touch. No one’s pain is so sacred that the whole world should be silenced by it.

4. I seriously question the agenda of anyone who is trying to turn people with physical disabilities into untouchable sacred cows. Why? Two reasons.

Number One, because being a designated victim and a ceremonial object of pity in ANY society, including ours, is a terrible, terrible gig. Subconsciously or consciously, predators are trained to attack those who are set aside in this fashion. They follow social cues and pick their victims accordingly.

You would not believe the rape statistics that exist for men, women and children who are physically and mentally disabled. And abuses of ALL kinds are worse when a certain group is so often kept out of the public eye. When any group of people become alienated and isolated from the rest, the wolves close in even faster.

Number Two, and more important: because what I have been hearing for years, from most people with disabilities, is that they do not want to be marginalized and treated like lepers that no one can ever see, touch, or understand. Good or bad, being part of the world with the rest of us means that they lose the “privilege” of being Untouchable.

Becoming grist for the mill of a popular comedian is part of being included with the rest of us in society. This is the flip side of the coin, when it comes to inclusion; it’s not just about ramps and elevators, audiobooks and positive role models. Access and equality are a two-way street. When physically disabled people are public figures, when they are no longer banned from the limelight, they are subject to the same scrutiny as anyone else who enters that sphere.

5. Frankie Boyle has made jokes about a lot of things. His humor has always been on the dark side–morbid, transgressive, challenging. Frankie Boyle makes jokes about the Queen, about Palestine and Israel, about non-disabled Olympic athletes. How is it surprising–or more offensive than usual–that he would turn his eye to the Paralympics as well?

I think that all the people bitching that Frankie Boyle was making fun of the Paralympics are missing a larger point: a professional comedian was watching the Paralympics.

Frankie Boyle recognized that the Paralympics were important enough to watch them in a professional capacity.

Personally, I think this is a step forward, not a step back. Comedians watch the news; comedians watch the government. Comedians watch the Democratic and Republican national conventions; comedians watch the Olympics; comedians keep their eyes on wars, geologic and meteorological catastrophes, plagues and disasters; comedians keep up on the latest films and television shows and what is happening in the arts.

Comedians follow the lives of famous and important people. And they take the everloving piss out of them. It’s in the job description.

This is the same man who said on public television that the Queen of England was “so old that her pussy was haunted”. Who did we think he was magically going to turn into, while watching the Paralympics?

People out there are making a lot of claims about Frankie Boyle: that he is immature, that he is politically incorrect, that he is insensitive, ablest, sexist, racist, an attention whore. I think the major upshot is that they’re calling him a douchebag. Which is pretty much what people do, when a comedian treads on their corns too often.

The one accusation against Boyle that I wildly disagree with, however, is that he is “disrespectful”.

There is no greater sign of respect from a comedian than to mine something/someone for material. I think that the Paralympians and their supporters should take Boyle’s Tweet-stream for what it is–a sign that things are getting better. And if I was them, I’d fight like hell to keep well-meaning but destructive bystanders from turning back the clock by silencing him.

The appropriate response to a joke from Frankie Boyle is a joke ABOUT Frankie Boyle. For god’s sake, the guy is a 40-year-old former alcoholic Scotsman with red hair and glasses, AND he’s a douchebag.

The jokes write themselves.

About Arinn

Author, Game Developer, Anthropologist, Feminist, reformed Supervillainess.
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One Response to Frankie Boyle and the Paralympians

  1. Panama says:

    everyone knows the sort of comedy frankie boyle does, hes made those jokes before on tv- why go to his show if u dont like his sense of humour?

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