Over the last 20 or 30 years, we’ve been entertained by those who push the envelope. Whether it is comedy or music or political theater, we continue to look for entertainers who push the envelope and go right up to the edge. We have almost reflexively rejected those who have stayed in the mainstream. Comedians like Chris Rock, Bernie Mac and Bill Maher are more toward our liking. Hell, even mainstream folks like Jeff Foxworthy and Jeff Dunham are pushing the edge. Radio talk show hosts who are simply entertaining aren’t enough. They need to be in-your-face. They need to cause you to recoil, every now and then. They need to be Rush Limbaugh. Sure, you can use the same decorum that was acceptable in the United States back in 1970, but you’re not going to see the kind of riches that Rush Limbaugh is enjoying. You have to push the envelope. You have to be Icarus and fly too close to the sun.
Bill Maher has enjoyed a relatively long career specializing in this type of comedic acrobatics. His film on religion was all about pushing the envelope. His HBO television program, Real-Time, is basically about balance between mainstream comedy and pushing the envelope. Comments that he made about Sarah Palin and Michelle Bachmann have caused many to throw him in the same bucket as Rush Limbaugh. (Limbaugh’s comments on Sandra Fluke are here.) For the past several days, if not weeks, Bill Maher has been in damage control mode. To try to put out the fire, he wrote an op-ed in the New York Times. The point of the op-ed was not to defend his own actions but instead to “gallantly” come to the rescue of Robert De Niro who got in hot water over a mildly racial “joke” that he told a fundraiser. “Callista Gingrich. Karen Santorum. Ann Romney. Now do you really think our country is ready for a white first lady?”
This joke caused “outrage.” Really? Outrage? I agree with Bill Maher. We have tons of fake outrage in our society. There are thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of fringe groups who are looking for just a little bit of leverage so that they can ride a wave of outrage to fame, fortune and riches. In my opinion, the problem isn’t the fake outrage. The problem stems from our desire to see entertainers push the envelope yet again. When they do, though, for some reason we are surprised that they’ve gone “too far.”
My blog has outrage in the title. The purpose of my blog is not to be outraged and upset every single day or at every single issue. Instead, I do believe that there are some things that we should be outraged about and we have yet to figure it out. The fact that we were deceived and went to war in Iraq should cause all of us to really be upset. Thousands died. For what? For reasons that still remain unclear to me, we’ve decided to give up some of our civil liberties so that we can be “safer,” yet we haven’t demanded any sort of measure of our safety. An absence of terrorist attacks cannot be the only end point. What was that stupid color-coded alert system? The fact that we had a huge economic meltdown and have yet to hold Wall Street truly accountable for their fraudulent behavior should cause us to be truly outraged. Then, to compound the confusion and frustration, we have thrown cash at Wall Street and somehow we expect different results? Here’s where our outrage needs to be focused. The fact that Robert DeNiro or Bill Maher or Hank Williams said something stupid just isn’t it. I’m sorry, but it should be obvious that we have bigger problems in this country to focus on. (The anger and frustration directed at Rush Limbaugh was more than justified, in my humble opinion.)