Saturday, March 18, 2006

Making fun of other faiths, making fun of mine.

A big story on the blogosphere recently is that Isaac Hayes, the voice of "Chef" on South Park, has left the series, complaining of religious intolerance in the show's content. South Park's creators, Trey Parker and Matt Stone, were quick to note that South Park has always made fun of religions (Parker and Stone are from Utah and gave the Mormons particularly rough treatment) and that Hayes was happy enough when the show made fun of Jews, Muslims, etc. Hayes, a Scientologist*, left when the show made fun of scientology. (Unwillingness to shoot fish in a barrel has never been South Park's problem.)

As far as I know, South Park hasn't said much, if anything, about Unitarians. On The Simpsons, Unitarians are a fairly regular target. (A lady on Beliefnet once said that Simpsons creator Matt Groening was a UU and goes to her sister's church.) I like the way the Simpsons jokes about UUism. The joke is always made by a person assumed to be intolerant (e.g. Reverend Lovejoy) and the joke is really a joke on them. Similarly, when someone makes fun of Apu's Hinduism, the ultimate joke is less about how odd Hinduism can seem and more about the boorishness of some people when faced with an unusual religion.

Some of the jokes we UUs make about ourselves make me queasy, though. I don't have much of a sense of humor when it comes to the "yes-we-have-no-religion" theme that some of the jokes we tell about ourselves have. (The famous "What do you get when you cross a UU and a Jehovah's Witness? Someone who knocks on your door for no apparent reason." seems a good example.)

I think the roots of my queasyness come from the same root as my dislike of comedian Margaret Cho's humor. As far as I've seen, Cho's comedy has two principal themes. From Cho's perspective, they run something like:

1. I am SO Asian
2. I am SO pathetic.

A few comedians make thier living joking about race. A LOT of comedians make their living off self-deprecating humor. Individually, they are fine. I usually don't care much for the second kind, but that's a matter of taste in humor.

...Some of the jokes
we UUs make about ourselves
make me queasy, though...

But while an Asian woman comic is a pretty revolutionary thing, for that revolutionary person to spend two hours talking about how uptight her people are and how screwed up she is makes her seem a little too much the pathetic creature parading her exoticism for my amusement, yet making sure I know that she's very very nonthreating. You can argue who is demeaning whom in that scenario, but either way I don't like it.

The ability to use humor to deflate one's own puffery is a wonderful, spiritual thing. A. Powell Davies said it better than I could when he wrote

When we see our own grotesqueries, how quaint we are, how droll our ambitions are, how comical we are in almost all aspects, we automatically become more sane, less self-centered, more humble, more wholesome. To laugh at ourselves, we have to stand outside ourselves - and that is an immense benefit. Our puffed-up pride and touchy self-importance vanish; a clean and sweet humility begins to take possession of us. We are on the way to growing a soul

I guess what I am trying to do here is reconcile my feeling that we should feel free to make fun of ourselves with my lack of desire to actually do it. Or rather to have other people doing it. So often humor hides something we're really upset about be it a "joking" comment about your ex's new love's outfit or a fat woman who jokes about how fat she is all the time. Those jokes aren't funny and reveal an unattractive insecurity.


*Is it just me, or do you consider Isaac Hayes WAY too cool to be a scientologist? I can believe some geeky white guy like Tom Cruise would like Scientology, but Isaac Hayes sung the theme to Shaft. He's supposed to be a little more badass than thinking we're descended from clams and worrying about his engrams...

And furthermore, if Southpark has gotten to the point that they are making fun of self-parodying things like Scientology, I think we can say it has jumped the shark.


Christine Robinson said...

I'm trying to think if I know of any UU jokes that are not of the "yes, we have no religion," variety. Which I can't.

The problem with our jokes may be the same as with our elevator speeches; What seems like expansive religion to us seems like no religion to others.

Lizard Eater said...

I've got one. It's one of my favorites:

The children in a UU church school class were drawing pictures. The teacher asked one, "What are you drawing a picture of?" "I'm drawing a picture of God," was the reply. "But nobody knows what God looks like," objected the teacher. "They will," said the UU child, "when I get my picture done."

(p.s. not stalking you, Christine. I think we just follow the same UU blogs.)

Psyton said...

Well, I'd say South Park hasn't jumped the shark because Matt Stone and Trey Parker are still snarky enough to call Chef out on his own bullshit: "Gee, Issac, it's funny how you helped make fun of all those other religions and cashed all those paychecks... but the second your religion pops up in the queue you suddenly have complaints... that's the type of double standard where intolerance really begins"

Otherwise, Get over Margaret Cho. I have watched a lot of her and her messages are actually

1. I used to be really defensive about being Korean since everyone made such a big deal about it... here are some hilarious anecdotes seen through hindsight and framed with that air of shared indignity everyone has when dealing with their family and cultural background

2. I used to be really pathetic and here are some funny if not horrifying stores about that period of my life and aren't we all glad I got over it?

I mean, if you want to generalize about Maggie Cho (whom I really like and get) you should at least throw in "3. I have such a weight problem" and "4. I have trouble with dating and relationships" but I guess that could fall under 2.

Otherwise, have you seen anything of her beyond the DVD's I showed you? (where you and the CSO were chatting half the time and only decided to start paying attention when she got loud about being asian or pathetic and pretty much missed all the tone and framing beforehand which made it Not That Bad?)

LaReinaCobre said...

Random factoid: One of the voices of the Simpsons is a Scientologist. But her sister is a UU DRE.

My favorite UU joke in the whole world:

A UU man dies and sees the white mist in front of him. He enters the mist and eventually comes out onto a road. He walks until he comes he comes to a fork in the road, where there are two signs. The first sign says "Heaven" with an arrow pointing one way. The second sign says, " Discussion about Heaven" with an arrow pointing the opposite way.

He goes to the Discussion about Heaven.

Chalicechick said...

Responses to Psyton:

1. Trey Parker and Matt Stone can still be cool guys even if South Park has jumped the shark. The two things have nothing to do with one another. My favorite comedy show right now is Boston Legal. It too will eventually jump the Shark. BL manages to do a lot of original things even with some old situations, but eventually the writers will run out of ideas and start using stale ones. James Spader, William Shatner and Candace Bergan will still be cool people themselves even if their show gets lame.

Trey Parker and Matt Stone can run out of original things for foul mouthed forth graders to say and do yet still have good responses to Isaac Hayes.

Also, they apparently have done an episode where the Scientologists decide that Stan is the reincarnation of their forgotten leader or some such.

This means that

a. They are ripping off the "weird religion decides that some wildly improbable child is their next great leader" plot from King of the Hill.

b. They are making fun of scientology, which is so ridiculous that it more or less parodies itself.

When you go from skewering non-obvious, interesting things to skewer, to skewering obvious things, there's a good chance you've jumped the skark.

2. I did indeed oversimplify my feelings on Margaret Cho. Indeed, the parts of "I'm the one that I want" where she told her story about "All American Girl" and her Hollywood experiences were pretty funny and very interesting. I admitted that much when I saw it.

Another thing I don't like is that she is one of those comedians who thinks that if you repeat something seventeen times, it gets funnier. If I never here a sentence that begins "My name is Gwen and I'm here to..." again, my life will be the better for it. I'm aware that some people like to hear things repeated over and over. I've never understood it.

Watched a bit of Notorius CHO at my friend Chris' house and we ended up turning it off. Political rants, really aren't my thing. He commented at the time that she must have run out of sex jokes.

I wish I liked her more as my gay guy friends other than Chris think she's great, but she just doesn't do it for me.

(I did consider "I have such a weight problem" and "the only men who want to hang out with me are gay" as facets of 2)