On Wednesday satirical comedian and Daily Show alumni Samantha Bee, called the first daughter of the United States a cu**. I’ve made the choice to censor the **nt word in this piece, if only for the humour in shifting which individual characters are covered by an asterisk.
Welcome to C***gate!
I’ve seen a lot of people compare this insult, made on Bee’s weekly TBS show Full Frontal with Samantha Bee, to the one tweeted out by Roseanne Barr earlier in the week. With many prominent figures, including the president himself, calling for Bee to be fired, just as Barr was.
At the time of writing, Bee has issued an apology, but no further action has been taken. Which, I think, is the right call.
Let’s talk about context, the balance of power and the importance of open criticism of the government. These are all key factors when comparing the two separate, yet seemingly related, incidents.
Bee is host to a comedy show that satirises politics. Everything she said about Ivanka Trump before calling her a “feckless c*n*” was absolutely justified. She highlighted the hypocrisy, and blatant lack of awareness from Ivanka, of posting a picture online of her with her daughter, in the aftermath of a report of the US government “losing” nearly 1,500 migrant children.
Even her comment about Ivanka being able to convince her father to change his immigration policies if she “put on something tight and low-cut” is a justified comedic statement. The man himself has made public pseudo-incestuous comments about Ivanka. There’s no need for satirists to resort to simplistic insults, when they only need to use the material they’re given by the president.
Speaking frankly, comedians don’t go far enough in the US when it comes to openly picking out the flaws and hypocrisies of their government. No matter if the government is Republican or Democrat, the first amendment protects the rights of citizens to freely speak out against their actions. It’s a crucial right that keeps a country free.
One of the areas that the first amendment actually protects freedom of speech without lawful consequence, is when it comes to criticising the incumbent government. Again, the first amendment doesn’t clearly state that you have the right to be racist, but it does specify ones right to petition grievances against ones government.
But name calling? That’s another issue.
I can’t defend Bee calling Ivanka a c**t simply because it’s a joke. We’re beyond the point of simply saying “well it’s just a joke, so it’s fine”. I’m not so sure that’s a strong-enough line of defence anymore. It used to be, and it should be, but it’s not.
In recent years we’ve had open acts of racism, homophobia and general pig-headed bigotry thrown around in the public sphere with the defence of “I wasn’t inciting hate-speech, it was just a joke.” Take Count Dankula and his nazi pug as a recent example. People in positions of power and influence often forget that what’s a joke to them, can stir up something else in genuinely hateful people.
So if I can’t defend Bee’s comments as ‘simply a joke’, then why do I find myself rushing to her defence over Barr’s?
Well, for starters, Barr has a history of making grossly bigoted and misinformed comments publicly. Her racially-charged tweet on Monday was just the latest in a pattern of behaviour. We have evidence to suggest that Barr is racist, whereas very little to suggest that Bee is misogynistic. If we’re to treat this as a legitimate grievance and not a case of Whataboutism, when we’re to assume it’s the sexist undertones of the word which have caused offence.
The word (*un*, for those who have forgotten) can be used as a term of endearment between friends in other countries, but I want to focus on the US. A place where it’s still defined as a disparaging or obscene way to refer to a woman. I’ll admit, when a man hurls this word at a woman, with a venomous tone and intent to belittle, it sounds abhorrent.
We live in a patriarchy, one where the scales are beginning to balance, but given recent scandals and revelations, we’re still clearly far from an equal society for all genders. Therefore, a man calling a woman a c*nt is “punching down”, from the perspective of most societies.
Samantha Bee is, as far as I know, a woman. She’s using a word that has historically been used to oppress her own gender. So coming from her, the word has less malicious intent than if, say, John Oliver had called Ivanka a ***t.
For me, good satire is when someone “punches up”. Comedy should be used to mock the powers-that-be whenever they make a mistake, or say something stupid, no matter which political party they are affiliated with. If we only look at the insult through the context of gender, then Bee’s insult to Ivanka was simply “punching sideways”.
So, we must look at the positions of power these women have in society.
One of these women has a cable TV show that’s watched by less than a million people each week. The other is the First Daughter of the United States and Special Advisor to the President. Ivanka Trump was placed #19 on Forbes‘ Power Women 2017 list. Samantha Bee doesn’t even have a Forbes profile page.
Ivanka is clearly in a higher position of power and influence, when compared to Bee. So the insult was “punching up”, she (crassly) criticised someone in a position of more power than herself. And silencing such comments would set a dangerous precedent for when it comes to citizens openly condemning the government.
Even if we ignore the fact that a white person firing-off a known racial insult at a black person is infinitely worse than one woman using misogynistic language towards another; Using the same logic as above we can see that Barr is currently in a greater position of power and influence than Valerie Jarrett, who is no longer a member of the US government and is simply a citizen. A citizen who, unlike Barr, does not have nearly a million Twitter followers and (until recently) a TV show watched by ten million a week.
Words can hold a lot of power, but we must always consider the power of the speaker before passing judgement.
Personally, I think if we’re to be the sane, rational counterpoint to the Trump-presidency, then we don’t need to stoop to his level when it comes to name-calling. The backlash to Trump-era politics shouldn’t be more mindless name-calling, it should be the careful picking apart of his actions and policies by using facts and statistics.
Is Ivanka a cu*t? That one can remain up for debate. The conversation should really be focused on the fact that America has lost track of nearly 1,500 children. As we can see from the internet in the last twenty-four hours, name-calling distracts from the real atrocities of our time.
That messed-up family does enough that we can comedically mock, without having to resort to throwing the **** word around.
Yes! I managed to censor all of the letters in the word ‘cunt’ that time!
Today is Friday, June 1st and there’s a lot of politics in TV-land at the moment. It probably has something to do with a TV star being in the white house.
What do you think about c***gate? Was Bee right or wrong? Is this situation as bad as Barr’s? I’d love to know in the comments below.
Differing opinions are welcomed, this is an echo-chamber-free zone!