Talkin' trash to the garbage around me.

20 March, 2007

Spot on

ash is pretty on point in her judgment of Garrison Keillor's "kinda culpa". I would add to her remarks the pragmatic consequences of unexamined privilege: poor job performance. Garrison Keillor's job is to be humorous, but his inability to judge his own social location and that of his listeners affected his ability to make people laugh, or even smugly smirk.

Humor, like so much in our world, is nothing if not a reified social relationship. What flies as funny in one social context will fall flat in another. As a professional, we'd expect Keillor to know this. I've come up three possible scenarios about what led to Keillor's tin ear:
  1. I actually believe Keillor when he says he has tons of gay friends, and they make jokes about each other all the time. Keillor will call his gay pals fussy hairdressers, and they, in turn, will rib him as a frog-faced serial adulterer. Good times are had by all. I'm sure Keillor thought that since his witty bon mots were such a hit with his friends in Minneapolis, the rest of us would love them as well.

    Look, we all have in-jokes with close friends. A dear friend who lives in DC has a lesbian partner who is a middle school phys ed teacher - a stereotypical lesbian occupation - and we regularly make jokes about that. Would I ever address another group of people - maybe an audience I was writing for? - and then talk about all those lesbian gym teachers? Probably not. The in-jokes I have with friends are born from years of trust and understanding; they don't translate to wider audiences. Football players at USC have a similar problem - an in-joke that they had the poor judgment to take public burned them. The bottom line here: "in-joke" is short for "intimate" joke. Those jokes should probably stay between intimates.

  2. According to some accounts, Keillor's piece was actually inspired after seeing Dan Savage read a piece on a "This American Life" tour. Apparently, Savage himself made some of the remarks upon which Keillor riffed. Keillor's thought process may have been something like this: hey, a gay man is making jokes about owning little dogs and interior decorating! Hooray! We've come so far in this country that making fun of teh gays is fair game! Equality in humor! Of course, when these remarks are made by Savage, they come off as edgy, self-conscious parody, whereas when Keillor makes them, they come off as stodgy, All-American homophobia. Bottom line: it matters who delivers the joke.

  3. There's an alternate take on Savage being the inspiration for Keillor's piece, and that is that Keillor bears some sort of personal animosity towards Savage. If that's the case, this probably has more to do with Garrison Keillor being a world-class prick. I don't want to think that's the case, but it should be put out there. Bottom line: taking a personal grudge public through some puerile gay joke is just lame and unbecoming of a public radio treasure.

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