Now being that this is the 21st century and we’ve evolved to the point where no one should ever be offended by anything, the aggrieved audience member didn’t simply leave the club and tell herself that since Tosh’s comedy wasn’t her particular brand of vodka and he’d been a dick to her, she’d never watch him again — she of course went right to a friend with a Tumblr account and related her outrage over being offended by a comic who delights in offending people, at a comedy show she’d paid money to be at and then took it upon herself to heckle. That friend, offended herself by the comment she didn’t actually hear and wasn’t aware of the comedic context of, immediately banged out a post about what her friend had told her and breathed that fireball right out into the ether, no doubt presuming that others just like her would also be shocked and outraged by the comment they didn’t hear at the comedy show they didn’t attend delivered by the comic they probably didn’t like already. And so it began. And snowballed. Into a fucking ridiculous maelstrom. The way this kind of thing always does.
…I’m not saying that Tosh or anyone else should just blurt out anything and not expect a backlash to it. If there weren’t a price to be paid for it, it wouldn’t be worth saying in the first place. But there’s a difference between expressing disapproval and cranking up the entire concentrated, high-powered outrage industry for every little fucking thing that rattles our fragile cages. The indignation machine quickly takes on a life of its own and barrels out of control, and what you wind up with is what we’re seeing now: demands for an apology that was already given and that wasn’t owed to 99.9% of the people who now expect it; article after article by people who feel that it’s their personal responsibility to educate Daniel Tosh on the right and wrong way to do a rape joke simply because they don’t find his jokes funny (as if there’s ever a right and wrong way to do comedy); the breathless and heavy-handed elevation of a fucking rude comedy show crack into a “teachable moment” about women’s issues; and of course, the inevitable push to get Tosh completely taken off the air at Comedy Central. Because he should lose his job and be forced to wander the earth in sack-cloth eating bugs for 40 years because somebody didn’t like what he said to a heckler at a comedy club.
I was completely shocked when I first read this. I couldn’t believe a man could be so harsh and thoughtless with his language. I mean, honestly—a woman breathed a fireball that snowballed into a maelstrom? Get hold of yourself, sir! Think about what you’re saying! Imagine some child who looks up to you—what are his parents supposed to tell him when he asks if it’s okay to mix his metaphors like that?
No, I largely agree. Of course, it’s not a problem if Jezebel and other fine purveyors of tempestuous teapots want to write posts complaining about it; they just provide an opportunity for more posts in return, increasing the number of pageviews, which, after all, is the currency of the blogospheric economy. But I do get sick of the way every instance of hurt feelings and faux-outrage gets turned into another call for somebody’s job, another consumer boycott. Hell, I don’t think it was a full day before I saw posts eagerly anticipating Tosh’s career taking a hit, from people who probably don’t even pay attention to comedy in general.
Let me be clear on this, though—my girlfriend came close to being sexually assaulted once at work. My ex was nearly raped on two occasions as a teenager, by friends of her family. A former friend of mine was raped as a teenager before being kidnapped and gang-raped as a young woman. My high school girlfriend was molested by her own father. I take the subject of rape very, very seriously.
And yet, even if I had been offended by Tosh’s (disputed) remarks, it would have been enough to just call him an asshole, while continuing to not watch his show or pay money to go see him perform live. The P.C. types don’t seem to grasp that this isn’t a zero-sum game whereby one offensive remark, regardless of context, that goes unpunished means that in some meaningful way, women’s rights and freedom are somehow diminished. Even I, a confirmed misanthrope, can grant that most people are not doltish enough to base their ethical judgement on a comedian’s routine, and don’t need some excessively literal-minded progressives to help them think their way through it.