One feels almost ashamed to be setting out upon the 10,000th editorial written about the compromising effects of political correctness and short-fused indignation on the arts of humour, irony and satire. What, after all, did the first 9,999 accomplish?
No, it is not the most trenchant image in the history of New Yorker covers. It ought to be beneath the magazine’s editors to take such Manchurian Candidate nightmares about Senator Obama so seriously. Republicans will have no trouble attacking Obama for what he actually is — a hack Chicago politician who has manipulated America’s race neurosis like Yo-Yo Ma working the violoncello.
Fortunately, irony is for now a protected species of thought in the United States, thanks to the First Amendment. Not so in Canada, where the anti-authoritarian tendency of all humour can no longer be tolerated. That is the only conclusion one can draw from the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal’s agreement to hear a discrimination complaint against Guy Earle, a Toronto stand-up comic who was heckled by a group of women at a Vancouver show in May 2007 and who fought back with a series of lesbian jokes.
The Earle case is the final frontier for those who insist that the values of the Methodist seniors’ bridge club must prevail in all social venues. Americans should be warned that once the principle is conceded, its enshrinement in the law can hardly be delayed forever.
If it were only the career of one stand-up that were at stake, the Earle affair might not be so troubling. (Mr. Earle is holding a “Comics for Freedom” benefit on Saturday at Toronto’s Comedy Bar, 945a Bloor Street West.) But if hecklers are legally protected — and standups have to worry about facing legal expenses for having defended themselves verbally on stage from distracting drunks and drama queens — standup comedy will die like a fish out of water in Canada. Who would put in the brutal hours needed to master it under such a threat, or dare come to this country to perform? An entire art form will have been euthanized in the name of preventing “offensiveness,” and what others can then regard themselves as safe?