I sort of feel obligated to write this, though I'd just as soon not. But at least then when I see a discussion of it online, I can just point to a link here, rather than try to squeeze it into 140 characters -- or a string of 215 tweets...
At the time of writing this, I actually haven't yet seen the now-infamous photo that Kathy Griffin originally posted before taking it down. I'm not saying that disingenuously, but for two very specific reasons. The first is that I've heard and read about how gruesome it is, and honestly I have no great interest in looking at gruesome images, whatever the context. And the second reason is that I'm not a fan of Kathy Griffin. I don't find her especially funny, so going out of my way to track down her idea of a joke, which is generally related to just taking potshots at people, isn't my idea of time well-spent.
So, I had no particular reason to see the photo. But I did hear it described, so I at least have a sense of the controversy. And in an empty-headed controversy like this, I think that gives me as much reason as anyone to chime in.
To begin with, for my personal taste, and only from what I've heard described (which isn't totally fair, but the best I can do) I think the image was off-base. She certainly had a right to do what she did, and some people might find it funny. But to anyone making a major case defending her, just remember that Kathy Griffin herself not only apologized and said she went too far, but did it in a pretty heart-felt meaningful way. If she's willing to say it was wrong, I don't have any problem agreeing with her apology. Even if some others don't.
I also don't have a problem with people screwing up. I screw up. It happens. Sometimes you don't think things through. It doesn't make you, me, us a bad person, just someone who acted like a "Oh, God, what was I thinking??!" idiot for the moment. Most of us are lucky -- when we screw up it's not on a national stage. But if you screw up, what I expect is that you recognize it, understand what you did wrong, apologize for it, explain why you'll try not to do it again and then try not to do it again.
Kathy Griffin seems to have passed that after-the-fact test in her apology. That doesn't excuse it - for my taste alone, I thought her attempt at a joke was poorly thought out and crass. In this age of violence, and with the risk of danger to celebrities, and to politicians, and especially the president, joking about putting "bull's-eyes" on others (as we've seen), and suggesting brutality is just bad decision-making, as much as the person has the "right" to do it, as much as some might themselves find it funny. That's my own taste. And seemingly, after the fact, Kathy Griffin agrees it was wrong. Good for her.
What it wasn't, though, was a national headline controversy.
Awful joke, worth criticizing, deeply apologized for, photos removed, we learn from it and move on. Well, okay, some of us do. Others want to cry hypocritical crocodile tears to try and make an empty political point.
I personally have absolutely no problem with people criticizing the photo. Fair enough. I not only agree with the criticism, but it's as much "free speech" as is hers to make the poor joke. But if you're going to do that and criticize, you have to be consistent in it being your belief. Not merely making it a contradictory political point.
If you're going to show your human sensitivity and criticize what is, in the end, nothing more (or less) than a very poor-joke photograph for its bad taste, then you'd better be prepared to show that you criticized actual real-life events that not only were in the same and often horrifically-worse bad taste but actually had a real impact on peoples' lives. Things like --
Bragging how you can sexually abuse women by grabbing them by the...well, you know.
Ridiculing the disabled by waving your arms around and making funny voices.
Riling up crowds by saying how the press deserved to be attacked, putting them in your presence at physical risk.
Inciting violence in crowds to justify beating up protesters by explaining that if they did so you would pay for their legal defense.
Courting the support of white supremacists, which is anathema to all that is good and decent not only in the founding of the United States of America and its very reason for existence, but humans everywhere on the Planet Earth.
Instilling hatred in people by trying to ban an entire religion from entering the country, as well as calling to register all those of that faith.
If you support that, if you cheer all those things -- which are all very real and have an actual, hate-filled impact on real, living, breathing people, especially since they were said by a man running for and then being elected as President of the United States who could act on them -- then you have no justification to cry about an ugly photograph that's a bad joke. But it goes far beyond these things and others like them.
Crocodile-tear hypocrisy has been rampant this week in the faux-outrage on the Far Right about a ghoulish image while at the same time ignoring their own lack of outrage when it came to a different president. This hollow insincerity is best highlighted by one of the First Sons, Donald Trump, Jr., who literally tweeted (of course it was a tweet...) -- "Disgusting but not surprising. This is the left today. They consider this acceptable. Imagine if a conservative did this to Obama as POTUS?"
Imagine "IF" a conservative did this to Obama?? IF??! Are you serious, guy?! One wonders where on earth Donald Jr. was for the past eight years? Other than killing elephants in Africa and proudly posing in front of the slain beasts. (Which brought near-total silence among most of those complaining now about a fake photo.) Moreover, given that the Trump sons have seemed to relish re-tweeting hate from white supremacist sites, it's surprising Trump Jr. hasn't come across any of the vicious, cruel, racist graphics that no doubt were posted there, and likely still are, especially given how many made their way regularly into the mainstream news. "IF" conservatives did this to Obama as POTUS? Shame has found a new poster boy in Donald Trump Jr.
But let's be fair. Is there a difference between a crude image offered by a public figure with a national platform and those disseminated by others more under-the-wire? Absolutely. But that's only a matter of outreach, not substance and intent. Actually, I could make a case that the substance and intent of racist hatred is significantly worse than a bad joke.
For that matter, I think too that the apparent cries of the one person from whom you'd expect the most justification even crossed the line into hypocritical, which is an impressive thing to accomplish. When Melania Trump made a public statement about the affect of the photo on her young son, it seemed understandably heartfelt. Except -- rather than stopping at an expression of sorrow, it went on for so long and into different arenas that it seemed calculated, rather than honest. So much so that I have no reason to believe that her young son even saw the photo. But if he did, I'm sure it was painful to him -- and given the point his mother tried to make by bringing her young son into the discussion, I'd love to know how painful it was to him, as well, for the sake of comparison, when his father ridiculed the disabled, and heard about his father bragging about grabbing women by the...well, you know. And watched his father incite violence and hatred against a religion. All of which was actually real. Not a bad photo.
But yes, it probably was painful to him, assuming he saw the pictures. Just as it must be deeply painful to other little children seeing their families risk losing their health care, and risk losing their social welfare safety nets that allow them to eat, buy clothes and have a place to live, and having to walk around in daily fear about being beaten up because they merely look foreign or just wear the clothes of a specific religion. Or live in terror every day that their parents might get deported to another country, ripped away from them. Or scared of having hate slogans spray-painted on their homes.
I just haven't gotten the sense that Melania Trump has cared much about those kids. Of course it's right and proper that she cared most about her own child, assuming he saw the pictures. It just has made her statement of concern about the impact of such things on a child seem so much less.
Ultimately, most of the chest-beating, woeful cries of despair have seemed so much less. Because given the history of the past year and past eight years, most of these people bemoaning a photo haven't showed that they actually care about the very sense of decency they're now moaning about.
I personally think Kathy Griffin was wrong. So does she. So does much of the "left" that I've read. And she apologized and explained why she knows she was wrong. And removed the photos.
And the Far Right showed how much they actually don't care about others by trying to convince everyone that they cared SO MUCH about the kind of bad joke they were silent about or applauded often with a cruel viciousness for the past eight years, while supporting cruel, ugly, hate-filled actual actions to very real people.
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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