Saturday, June 11, 2011

Tracy Morgan's Rant

In case you're not aware, here's what happened: Tracy Morgan did a standup routine where he said some ugly things about homosexuals in Tennessee. His comments included referring to homosexuals as God's "mistakes" and saying that he'd stab his son if he came out of the closet.

So, now the Intertubes are abuzz with pro- and anti-Tracy Morgan rants. The ones that seem to be gaining the most traction are from Roland S. Martin, a CNN analyst, who supported Morgan; and then there's Wanda Sykes, a fellow African-American comedian who is also a lesbian, and disagreed strongly with Martin, engaging him in an informal debate on twitter.

A few points before I weigh in:

  • Lots of folks want to talk about Morgan's right to say what he likes. This is kind of absurd. Whether you feel he should or should not have included the material in his routine, it's pretty clear that there are lines we don't cross without consequences. I don't think anyone seriously thinks Morgan doesn't have the right to say these things, but many believe that the public should be outraged by them.
  • Martin's defense has some interesting rabbit holes in it. He uses Carlin as a defense, since Carlin had a routine about the word, "nigger." A worse comparison could not possibly be drawn, of course. Carlin was a wordsmith of the highest order whose satire changed the way a nation viewed their own language. Morgan isn't satirizing the gay and lesbian community, he's being crude and insensitive because it might get a laugh.
I imagine that it's pretty clear what I think of Morgan's comments. What might not be so clear is why I'm posting this in his defense. Morgan is a comedian. I happen to think he's not a very good one, but that's not relevant. A comedian's job is to push us right up to the edge of what we're willing to accept in a social context, make us uncomfortable and then play with our sense of balance. Morgan shoved his audience over the edge, and that was a mistake. He apologized for making that mistake. It's a professional hazard, but if he doesn't make the mistake again, it's in the gay and lesbian community's best interest to demonstrate restraint and graciousness in this situation.

I would like Morgan to say something about the impact his comments might have on young men and women who are closeted. His words may well have hurt them more than he can imagine, and issuing a heartfelt apology to them would go a long way. Hell, if he really wanted to turn this around, now might be a great time for him to do his own "It Gets Better" video...

So, while I think Martin's evaluation of the situation was poorly thought out, and while I do agree with those that called for (and got) his apology, I'm not sure why people are going overboard, here. Morgan isn't a politician or a reporter, he's a comedian. That doesn't get him out of having to apologize when he crosses the line, but I think it affords him an easier acceptance of that apology.