The tone of Andy Richter and Judd Apatow’s tweets was not that they were disappointed that C.K. had done a bit that wasn’t funny at a show neither of them had attended. No, Richter and Apatow are outraged. And outrage is a double-edged sword, isn’t it? Comics don’t want to admit they’re outraged. Because outrage traditionally makes you a butt of jokes, a bit like the teenaged pearl-clutching brigade C.K. mocked.
What is driving this episode of cultural citizens’ arrest is that the Parkland kids are untouchable. They can’t be made fun of. They are . . . icons. Comics can’t say that because labeling the Parkland kids sacred cows would acknowledge the existence of sacred cows. And they want to reserve the right to barbecue everybody else’s sacred cows.
It’s true that the woke left are the new Moral Majority, and it’s deliciously funny that, like all self-righteous prigs, they honestly don’t see it. Still, not to overanalyze a comedy bit, but I thought the premise of C.K.’s joke, that youthful rebellion should always be cumulative in one direction, the direction of thoughtless hedonism, was pretty flat. And not to lean too heavily on generational stereotypes, but doesn’t it almost seem like a caricature of self-satisfied Summer of Love attitudes to take pride in the idea of your children being even more “sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll” than you were at their age? How far can things go in one overindulgent direction before it gets predictable and boring?
A friend of mine has an academic career centered on video games and LARPing. Her husband is a guitarist. Her teenage son, she once confided to me, was causing her concern because he seemed to be showing, well, almost Young Republican tendencies. He was interested in the stock market and making money! She was genuinely baffled as to why he would feel the need to differ from their example. “We’re artsy and tolerant!” she actually said to me in bewilderment. How could this Alex P. Keaton have appeared in their right-thinking household like Milton Friedman springing from Jerry Garcia’s forehead? Shouldn’t the old dialectical tension between the thesis of parental authority and the antithesis of adolescent contrariness have resolved itself in the peaceful synthesis of ageless domestic utopia, enabling each individual to create subversive art in the morning, tend an organic vegetable garden in the afternoon, and share free love in the evening, in accordance with their whims? Interestingly, her older daughter superficially adopted all the trappings of hippie nostalgia to which her mom was sympathetic, from tie-dyed shirts to pot smoking, while still being quite angry and traditionally rebellious, rather than archly skeptical like her brother. Unintended consequences are so fascinating.
And unintended consequences are precisely what the censorious among us can’t tolerate. Ironically enough, many people would like comedy to keep moving cumulatively in one direction, always predictably attacking safe targets like bourgeois morality and organized religion with the same old profane weapons. They want it to remain forever 1984, reprising their role as the rebellious kids in Footloose, outfighting the rednecks and outwitting the Reverend by quoting his own holy book at him, winning the right to dance and party the night away. But taboos are comedy’s natural prey, and currently, all the meatiest taboos are grazing in progressive pastures. Good luck trying to keep nature from taking its course.