Sarah Silverman, that goofy exemplar of comedy so dry it is barren, possesses a steep threshold for hypocrisy.
Silverman finds it repugnant that the family of GOP presidential candidate Rick Perry in the 1980s began renting a hunting camp in Texas with the word "Niggerhead" written on a rock at an entrance to the property. That the word was painted over years ago, according to Perry, does little to assuage Silverman's indignation. (video after page break)
She decided to express her anger about the controversy in a curious way: by using the word -- albeit painted over with asterisks -- in the title to her upcoming gig in Austin, Texas. Not to worry, though, Silverman is donating all proceeds to the NAACP, presumably to help the organization prevent future use of the word except by liberals.
That Silverman is a problematic spokeswoman for an anti-racism crusade appears not to have crossed her mind, nor that of Rachel Maddow. Silverman appeared on Maddow's MSNBC show Friday night and described how she was angered that Perry was not "injured" by the uproar over the hunting camp's anachronistic name.
Why hadn't the controversy remained a story, Maddow asked before interviewing Silverman. "Now, the n-word head story about Rick Perry got a huge flurry of attention when it first came out," Maddow said, "but then it pretty quickly went away. I think it went away in part because it's so hard to talk about. You have to be awkward and very complicatedly verbose to discuss the offensiveness of a word that is so offensive that nobody wants to pronounce it."
"It's hard to cover this stuff," Maddow said after showing clips of news reports in which the offensive word was euphemized. "And after all that initial and very tense and awkward flurry of initial attention right at the beginning of the month, the whole story about Rick Perry hunting and entertaining people at a place named for the n-word, the whole controversy went away, quickly."
Doing her darndest to revive it, Maddow said, is comedian Sarah Silverman who on Nov. 1 will host a comedy show in Austin titled, "Live From N*****head: Stripping the paint off of good old-fashioned racism."
Interviewing Silverman, Maddow asked whether "the idea here (is) that the Rick Perry camp name controversy should not be over?"
Silverman -- "Yeah. I think that any time, I think that any time racism shows itself in a tangible way, it's not just a gas in the air, it's important to take the opportunity to point at it, you know. I think it's dangerous when it just kind of goes away and, you know, here's a guy who is a governor and running for president and it has not injured him in any way, really."
Aside from exacerbating Perry's plunge in the polls while he traded GOP front-runner status with -- insert clanging bell sound here -- a black candidate named Herman Cain. Heck, aside from that, hardly a flesh wound. Of course, perpetuating the fiction that the controversy has not hurt Perry goes hand-in-hand with the left-winger's obligation to portray Republicans as irredeemable racists.
I'll take Silverman at her word that "any time racism shows itself in a tangible way," it not fade from memory -- as a similar controversy had done until Silverman's remarks on the Maddow show, stemming from an appearance she made on Conan O'Brien's show back in 2001.
Back then, Silverman in full-schtick was describing her efforts to avoid jury duty (video link here) --
SIILVERMAN: Jury duty, I don't want to do it, you know, and I'm filling out this form and everything and my friend is like, well why don't you write something really like inappropriate on the form, like, I hate chinks? And uh ...
O'BRIEN: Which sounds, but it sounds crazy, but people sometimes do that just so that they can't be on a jury.
SILVERMAN: Exact-, nice point.
O'BRIEN: Thank you.
SILVERMAN: That was sharp. So, I'm thinking to myself ...
O'BRIEN: Trying to help you out here, pal.
SILVERMAN: I know, you're really, you are. And I wanted to do it but then I'm like, I don't want people to think I'm racist or something, I just want to get out of jury duty. So I just filled out the form and I wrote, I love chinks. (tepid, dutiful laughter from audience) And who doesn't, really? (even less tepid, dutiful laughter)
Not surprisingly, more than a few people were offended by what Silverman passed off as comedy. Over at Jezebel, Dodai Stewart had a similar reaction to mine about Silverman's criticism of Perry in light of her own bout with perceived racism --
Many people -- including the president of the Media Action Network for Asian Americans -- found the joke, and its language, offensive. Obviously Silverman is not the first comedian to use an ethnic slur, or talk about race in a way that makes people uncomfortable. Some folks think that because something is taboo, it's also edgy. But if you are actually oppressed and discriminated against, you probably don't find insulting racist humor amusing.
Let's keep the memory of when that occurs alive in perpetuity, shall we?