Thursday, September 03, 2015
‘I’d be embarrassed to call myself PC’
Sarah Franken talks ISIS, censorship and the perils of being pigeon-holed
‘Islam is the great, hypocritical double standard of our age. Any time a murder is committed in its name, someone has to do damage control at the political level. I’ll never stop making fun of it.’ So says Sarah Franken, American comedian and satirist, about her searing Edinburgh Fringe show, Who Keeps Making All These People? – an absurdist, character-comedy exploration of Islamist barbarism and Western self-loathing.
Talking to her between shows at the Pleasance Courtyard, as we go from one issue to the next at breakneck speed, her views come across like a charge sheet of unfashionable ideas. The PC purge of academia gets short shrift: ‘When I was at university, the courses I liked were the ones featuring dead white European males. I didn’t want to sit in a circle and talk about feelings.’ Then there’s the oh-so-trendy phenomenon of white guilt: ‘I come from a trailer park in Missouri. We had to get on food stamps when I was a kid, and we were white.’
But, above all else, it is the rise of Islamic State, and the West’s gutless inability to challenge it morally or militarily, that most raises Franken’s hackles. For her, Barack Obama is Public Enemy No1: ‘When someone saws someone’s head off we don’t need some idiot president talking about the crusades. That guy makes me ashamed to come from America.’ Franken’s eloquent rage is not just insightful; it’s hilarious. A stand-out bit in her show involves the Australian prime minister, a proxy, perhaps, for Obama, responding to a terror attack by saying ‘diversity, multiculturalism, melting pot’ ad infinitum at a press conference. Aside from the odd liberal gasp, the room was left in hysterics.
Given the Fringe’s reputation for being a glorified summer camp for London’s right-on luvvies, you’d think Franken would be picketed off stage. But not only is she saved by a preternatural talent for Python-esque absurdity, meaning even your most seasoned Guardian reader can’t help but laugh, she’s also been embraced this year, as a progressive force in comedy. While Franken has been building a reputation in the US and UK for over a decade, no one knew who Sarah was until this summer. Before recently coming out as transgender, she was Will. And, aside from being a ‘marketing nightmare’, Franken’s transition has brought huge press attention.
But as overjoyed as Franken is with the publicity, she’s concerned that fawning journos are trying to put her in a box. ‘There was one review that was two paragraphs. The first was all, “brave, brave, brave, she made a brave decision to come out of the closet, brave, brave, brave”. And then, when it came to the show itself, the review completely missed the point.’ Franken has been closeted much of her adult life. But, after leaving her God-fearing parents behind, one of the things that kept her from coming out was the fear of being hemmed in artistically because of who she was. ‘When I lived in San Francisco – which, if ever there was a safe place to be out and about, it’s there – there were so many shows like “Growing Up Gay” or “Growing Up Latino”. So many shows about identity. I didn’t want to be thought of as a transgender comedian.’
‘The fact that I’m transgender is completely incidental’, she continues. ‘It doesn’t mean I’m going to shut up and be a good little girl and not talk about IS and why we need to overthrow them. That’s one half of me. The other half is kicking myself in the ass that I can’t sit down to write that stupid, bland show about what it’s like to be transgender and win some awards and get on TV for it.’
For Franken, a passionate libertarian, the political conformity on the comedy circuit can often be stifling. ‘When I meet libertarian comics, it’s like Jews in the Holocaust’, she says, before affecting a Jewish New York accent: ‘You’re one of us, we have places we can hide.’ Perhaps unsurprisingly, the way in which comedians have swallowed the speech-policing mantra of political correctness really makes her gut churn. ‘People think that because comedy was perhaps racist in the past that, if we don’t put these self-imposed strictures on ourselves now, we’re all going to hang black people from trees’, she scoffs. ‘I think there’s a lot of comedians who just want to get on TV, but if you’re going to make any claims to doing art, you should be totally against political correctness.’
The conversation soon turns to Lenny Bruce, the father of modern stand-up, who battled with the authorities in the Sixties over his obscene routines. ‘If Lenny Bruce was working today, you can bet he’d be going after the politically correct. This is a man whose whole obsession was freedom of speech. The fact that he was doing bits like “Are there any niggers here tonight?” close to the time of the civil-rights struggle in America, you’d think it would have made it much more sensitive. But years later, after all this stuff has been resolved, we’re tenser about words than we were back then. And, unsurprisingly, comedy is worse as a result.’ Unlike Lenny Bruce, Franken says, being PC is also patently uncool: ‘I would be embarrassed to say I was politically correct. I think it’s a bad thing. It’s like saying that I don’t masturbate or listen to rock’n’roll.’
Franken’s heroes – from Bruce to Peter Cooke and Chris Morris – were never afraid of offending their own social milieu. And, with this in mind, I ask her about one of the most edgy routines in her show, in which Simon Schama, who is hosting an imagined televised Q&A about Franken’s transition, apologises profusely for accidentally calling her ‘he’. So, is the heightened sensitivity around pronouns something Franken feels is a problem? ‘The reason I put that in there is because, even though I prefer the pronoun “she”, and I don’t necessarily like it when I’m called “he”, in relation to defeating IS, it’s a bit navel-gazing’, she says. ‘I respect the pronoun thing. I get it. But if we had to make a hierarchy of things that are important, that should go underneath mowing down IS.’
Discussing the roots of PC, Franken, again, offers keen insight. ‘I think the West lives in a moral vacuum. We’ve gotten rid of religion, we’ve gotten rid of our belief in the West and its core principles, like freedom of speech. And nothing can exist in a vacuum, so we’ve replaced it with this religion of political correctness. It’s a religion of words. We don’t say the word “nigger” now, even if we’re slamming that word. It’s tantamount to “don’t say Jehovah, or else you get stoned to death” in Ancient Israel. We’ve gutted ourselves.’
As we talk about what Franken plans to do next, it becomes clear that, contrary to how some fawning reporters may have it, it is being anti-PC, rather than transgender, that is making hitting the big time tough. ‘I’m a capitalist; I have all of these bourgeois aspirations. I would love to win awards and get on TV and all of that, but I don’t know if they’re going to allow that in this day and age; if they’re going to allow a new Chris Morris, someone who’s going to do a paedophile special.’
‘At the end of the day I’m a comedian. It’s about laughter – I want to hear laughs’, she says. And, as she rushes off to another interview, it seems there’s some consolation there: Franken may have some important things to say about the absurdities of modern Western culture, but she’s also got a God-given gift for making them funny.
Perry: If We Lose Churches and Synagogues Not 'Enough Police Officers to Keep Us Safe'
Speaking on Fox News on Sunday, former Texas Governor Rick Perry (R) said churches and synagogues have been "where right and wrong has been taught to a huge number of our population," and "if we lose those great institutions we can't hire enough police officers to keep us safe."
While reacting to the death of Harris County, Texas Sheriff's Deputy Darren Goforth, Perry said "This country and the institutions that have made America great through the years, in particularly over the last two centuries, our synagogues and our churches have been the place where right and wrong has been taught to a huge number of our population.
"And as we see those institutions being attacked, when we see religious freedom being attacked in this country, it really brings to the forefront, that the places where right and wrong have historically been trained into our people, are being pushed out of the public arena and the point that I made yesterday was if we lose those great institutions we can't hire enough police officers to keep us safe."
He later continued "When you really get down to it, the Bible is a pretty good guide book - if we live by that - I suggest to you we'd have fewer events like the one that occurred to the policeman in Houston."
Goforth was killed after a gunman came up behind him and shot him "execution-style" while the deputy was fueling his patrol car on Friday Night.
Shannon J. Miles, a 30-year-old Houston resident, is being charged for the crime.
Elizabeth Hasselbeck: 'Why Has Black Lives Matter Movement Not Been Classified Yet as a Hate Group?'
During a Monday segement on the protest group Black Lives Matter, "Fox & Friends" host Elizabeth Hasselbeck asked why the organization has not been labeled a hate group.
Hasselbeck was talking to guest Kevin Jackson, a writer for National Review, about a protest by Black Lives Matter, an organization that protests what they see as police violence against African-Americans. Protestors at the recent Minnesota State Fair used the chant “pigs in a blanket, fry ‘em like bacon” to refer to police. Hasselbeck and Jackson also discussed a recent execution-style murder of Darren Goforth, a sherriff’s deputy in Texas.
"Kevin, why has the Black Lives Matter movement not been classified yet as a hate group?" Hasselbeck asked Jackson. "How much more has to go in this direction before someone actually labels it as such?"
"Well they should do it, but unfortunately it’s being financed by the leftists,” Jackson replied. "Ironically it’s people that have nothing, really no concern at all about black lives."
How censorship divides us
Political correctness has made us more wary of one another
Where I come from, insult is the ultimate sign of affection. The harsher the epithet, the greater the love. I came of age in the places the academic PC-crowd hates the most: sports locker rooms and fraternity houses, where misogyny, racism and homophobia are said to be rampant.
But the people I knew that said the most ‘insensitive’ things also acted in the most ‘inclusive’ manner. A childhood friend comes to mind that fits the mould of every elitist stereotype about racists. He was working-class, rural and desperately white; he liked to mock President Obama, and would even casually hint at dropping (or actually drop) the n-word around some of our black pals.
He also took one of his best friends (who is black) into his home when he had family trouble and needed a place to stay. He has more black and brown friends than any white critical race theorist I’ve ever encountered in college. He’s the most colourblind person I know. Although, according to some colleges, that probably does make him a racist.
Sometimes banter really is just banter, and equality can mean everyone being equally willing to offend one another, and laughing it off over a beer. I am thoroughly convinced that it can be patronising and thus, in its own way, bigoted to tiptoe around sensitive issues such as race – for it to be okay to make fun of one group and not another.
I understand the impulse of political correctness. After all, it was infantilising and wrong to call grown women ‘girls’, and grown black men ‘boys’, as happened in the past. But I am also thoroughly convinced that eliminating the term ‘anchor baby’ will not help end xenophobia any more than eliminating the phrase ‘you guys’ (the Midwestern version of ‘y’all’) will help end sexism. Some think culture and language brainwash us all into bigotry. But we are not clay to be moulded; we are moral agents who make conscious choices about how we treat other people.
This is a precarious time for those of us who oppose political correctness and censorship on ideological grounds – who believe it erodes universalism, shuts down debate and focuses on symbolism over substance. People at both ends of the political spectrum are starting to rebel against campus speech codes and the culture police. However, there is a certain contingent of Donald Trump supporters who say they’re fighting stifling political correctness, but practice a politics of identity similar to that of the PC academic left.
Fringe (or frivolous) elements often co-opt principled movements. Hell, in the name of anti-racism, a group of writers refused to honour the slain Charlie Hebdo cartoonists at the recent PEN gala in New York. This is despite the fact that, when the massacre occurred, the Charlie Hebdo staff were actually planning an anti-racism conference. Just as anti-racists should oppose people who use the banner of anti-racism to shut down speech they dislike, libertarians must not allow idiots who just want to say offensive things without criticism to co-opt the movement for unfettered expression.
To do this, we must make an unabashed case for the principle of free speech. Not because we want to defend people who say hateful things, but because we understand – as many so-called progressives do not – that once the weapon of censorship is granted, the person holding the whip won’t always be so benevolent; that rather than coming at the expense of marginalised groups, free speech is a tool for their liberation; and that rather than preserve power structures, free speech helps bring them down.
What I really want is a civil society where we are so ‘inclusive’ that everyone of every race, gender, sexual orientation or creed feels free to say (almost) anything, and we can all grab a drink and have a laugh at the end of the day. We will be a freer, fairer and funnier society for it.
Political correctness is most pervasive in universities and colleges but I rarely report the incidents concerned here as I have a separate blog for educational matters.
American "liberals" often deny being Leftists and say that they are very different from the Communist rulers of other countries. The only real difference, however, is how much power they have. In America, their power is limited by democracy. To see what they WOULD be like with more power, look at where they ARE already very powerful: in America's educational system -- particularly in the universities and colleges. They show there the same respect for free-speech and political diversity that Stalin did: None. So look to the colleges to see what the whole country would be like if "liberals" had their way. It would be a dictatorship.
For more postings from me, see TONGUE-TIED, GREENIE WATCH, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS and DISSECTING LEFTISM. My Home Pages are here or here or here. Email me (John Ray) here.