And Sometimes, the Joke is On You
I really didn't think I'd be writing about Curt Schilling yet again, and so soon, especially the day before the election. But there he is, tweeting a photo of a guy in a t-shirt that promotes lynching journalists. When Mr. Schilling was taken to task for it, the former major league pitcher did what he always does, get all whiny, play the poor-me victim, slam liberals and then hide behind that old chestnut saying it was all just "sarcasm." And how liberals are too dumb to understand that. (Though he expressed it more crudely.)
Ah, sarcasm. The same protective shield that Donald Trump tried to use after insisting that Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton were the founders of ISIS -- and then got slammed everywhere for saying something so stupid. "I was being sarcastic." And then adding, "But not really."
Okay, here's the thing about sarcasm.
I get that Curt Schilling wasn't actually suggesting that all journalists should be lynched. I get that his comment, "Oh, so much awesome here," to go along with the photo was his attempt at a "joke." Clearly, he was trying to be "funny." But this is the thing --
In addition to writing extensively about politics and being published in that field, I also actually write humor as a part of my living. I received the Lucille Ball Award for Comedy Screenwriting twice. I wrote a book that was #1 on Amazon's best-seller list for Humor/Parody in ebooks. In my earlier days, I did the PR for the Naked Gun movies and wrote the press material in the style of the films, something I was allowed to do by the filmmakers who were intensely protective of their style of humor but knew I understood that kind of humor. I've co-written a research paper, "What Makes People Laugh." I have a Masters degree in writing. There's more, but I'll leave it at that. I don't say any of this to provide a back-slapping resume, I say it to create a foundation that I know and am trained in the tools of my craft. I actually get sarcasm. I often write it professionally.
What I'd love to hear from Curt Schilling (who it's my understanding that his career never has been writing humor) is his explanation what the sarcasm was in his post. I'm not saying it wasn't there -- just that I'd like to hear him describe it.
Sarcasm is generally used to provide the opposite of what you're saying. "Oh, that's a meat-lovers dream," when presented with a bowlful of salad greens, dandelions and kale, is sarcasm.
The only way Curt Schilling's "quip" was sarcasm, as far as I can tell, looking at it inside and out, is if he was putting down the person wearing the t-shirt, and that he himself thought journalists should be respected and that those who work under the protection of the First Amendment should themselves be richly protected, and that he thought, as well, the sentiment of wearing t-shirts to "joke" violence toward reporters was reprehensible. It's possible that he does. And if so, I'm wrong here, and hats off to him. But given the sensibility of so many of his tweets and his Facebook postings, and his interviews, and his comments about his former co-workers at ESPN, that doesn't seem likely. It seems like he sort of hates a lot of journalists. Which would suggest really, really strongly that wasn't "sarcasm."
It might have been hyperbole. Or ridicule. That's very possible, maybe even likely. And if so, swell, that's a different matter. Mind you, what I'd love to hear is where he thought lynching and violence against journalists fit into "humor" as the hyperbolic punchline. But as far as I can tell, it wasn't sarcasm. And if Curt Schilling thinks it really was, then that suggests he doesn't actually have a clue what he was saying and why it was so deeply wrong and thoughtless and problematic. This isn't semantics. It's a lack of understanding what you're doing, being out of your depths, using tools you're not equipped for. It's like if I threw a 30 MPH knuckle-curve and though it was a fastball and one good enough to pitch in the major leagues. And them slammed the "dumb ass" conservatives who ridiculed me because they don't understand pitching.
It would be too long a discussion to explain to Curt Schilling all the reasons what he wrote was so wrong. Happily, though, I can give him some starter tips.
To begin with, he's a high-profile public figure with platform for his voice -- once on ESPN before being fired, and now with Breitbart media. He's also someone who has hinted at running for the United States Senate against Sen. Elizabeth Warren. So, with those things, most especially the latter, comes a certain social responsibility. People do listen to what a public figure says, especially those in broadcasting -- it's the whole point of being a public figure...and in broadcasting, after all. And people listen to government leaders for...well, leadership. So, words actually do matter. People listen. Children, too, who are taking it all in, trying to learn
People, particularly kids, don't always get humor or hyperbole or ridicule or "sarcasm." Sometimes they do get it , although what they most perceive is the underlying anger and hatred that is being expressed in the joke far more than the "hilarity" covering it. A "joke" about how ignorant and dirty all people of some minority group are might "just" be a joke, but it also probably reinforces the bigotry behind it. And most especially when a person in a high profile position, and (let's say) someone who wants to be a United States Senator expresses his hatred, with the nudge and wink at his little "joke," it's easy to see how others might get what he really means. "We get you, Curt, wink."
Given the vociferous anger that Donald Trump has stirred up among his supporters at rallies against journalists -- to the degree that some reporters have actually gotten Secret Service protection -- it seems just egregiously thoughtless and clueless and venal and cruel and stupid to send out a picture and comment about lynching journalists and think that painting it somehow as faux-"sarcasm" or even just "a joke" of any kind removes all responsibility from you.
This isn't being politically correct. It's being correct. If you yell, "Fire!", in a crowded theater and start a panic where people are injured, you won't get off the hook by pointing to how safe the room had been and saying, "It was sarcasm." That's true for anyone, but it's most especially true if you're the assistant manager in a position of responsibility.
I get telling a joke. And I know that's what Curt Schlling was trying to do here. It was a "joke." But I also get -- as a professional writer of humor, which Curt Schilling is not -- that not all jokes work. Some are bad. Some are really bad. Some evoke silence and cringes. Some we've seen can actually harm careers. And none of them ever excuse cruelty. When you're being cruel, you're being cruel, even if you wrap it in a laugh for some people. It's a good chance that most of them are being cruel, too.
Telling a joke doesn't make what you say All Okay. And when you think it does, it shows you don't understand jokes.
When most people tell a dismal joke that misses the mark, they generally are embarrassed. Some say, "Oops." Some even go further and apologize. Some at the very least think to themselves, "Well, I screwed that one up." Sometimes, some try to figure out how they can rephrase it for next time so that joke will work and be funny. What most don't do time and time and time and again is pound minorities, women, other religions, different races, even people who simply disagree with them and then keep calling "dumb asses" those who just don't get their "sarcasm," who don't get that you're just asking oh-so-innocent "questions," and then try to portray that it's they themselves who are the real, poor, woe-is-me victim.
Curt Schilling hints that he might want to run for U.S. Senator of Massachusetts against Elizabeth Warren. There's a part of me that sort of hopes he does. Because a state that already have gone to the polls and elected Elizabeth Warren to represent them have shown who they are, and it seems likely that they would wipe the floor with Curt Schilling, who has shown who he is.
A good, thoughtful, open-minded, tolerant, gentle heart..
And yes, sarcasm.
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Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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