Being a law-and-rule-abiding citizen and columnist, I rarely start a column without consulting the guidelines for columnists compiled by the one and only William Safire. Actually, the column-writing rules I try hardest to follow can be inferred from his essay “How to Read a Column” (since in every columnist there is a column reader striving to get out, or vice versa). Anyway, the rule I have in mind, and intend to stick to when writing this, is rule no. 8: “Cast aside any column about two subjects. It means the pundit chickened out on the hard decision about what to write about that day. When the two-topic writer strains to tie together chalk and cheese, turn instead to a pudding with a theme. (Three subjects, however, can give an essay the stability of an oaken barstool. Two’s a crowd, but three’s a gestalt.)”
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The “gestalt” I’d like to address here is Louis C.K.’s eight-minute opening monologue on the final episode of the 40th season of “Saturday Night Live.” It was not broadcast in Israel, but you can Google it and watch it on YouTube. It has been making waves and raising eyebrows in recent days.
Louis cemented his reputation as TV’s reigning philosopher, ready to tackle any subject, theme, trend, idea or emotion in the most irreverent way possible. He throws any kind of caution to the whirlwind, stumbling as if unwittingly onto any path that the angels of political correctness fear to tread, and reaching the end of his show alive. His audience is left laughing helplessly in a sort of astonished disbelief: “Did I really laugh at that? What’s wrong with me?”
Louis never strains to tie chalk and cheese together (and not only because you can’t be so exclusively white in your choice of similes nowadays). He never strains at all. He muses out loud, mainly about himself. He is the subject of his own musings, in a way that makes his own experiences an objective observation about the way things have been, are, and most probably will keep on being. In the monologue I’m rhapsodizing about, he was gnawing on three seemingly disparate (and desparate) bones of public contention – racism, the Middle East and child molestation. And yet, by the end of the monologue, while he himself admits that the audacity of his wandering thoughts might have made him persona very non grata on the show from now on, you feel there was a very solid gestalt beneath the stand-up comic ramblings.
It’s all close and personal: He was born in 1967 and raised in the Seventies, which were very different from our own enlightened, oh-so-politically-correct era. So, by virtue of his age, he labels himself as “mildly racist.” It is a very important distinction in these “identity politics” days of ours. The reigning norm is that you are either racist or not, and that there is no middle ground. Louis admits to being aware of race differences, registering that they exist, autocorrecting his own perception and sort of chastising himself in an affirmative internal action. For example: A pizza place run by four black women; hmm [the key tell-all grunt]. Pizza is Italian, Italians are usually Caucasians, so it strikes one as odd, but then why not? And here today’s autocorrect kicks in, indicated by Louis’ facial expressions, with the subtext saying, as it were: Why did you even make that point? Shame on you, you latent racist, you.
Louis says it is a mild, benign and non-aggressive sort of racism, and he probably knows that by prevalent politically correct standards he is liable to be accused of ridiculing and denigrating the whole painful issue of racial discrimination that tears societies and regions apart. That is partly his point: yesterday’s benign notion is today’s malignancy, because the standards of “correctness” keep readjusting themselves.
Having put one black foot into the white mouth (OK, make it one Jewish foot into an anti-Semitic mouth, or the other contorted way around) he flies on the wings of his comic fancy to the Middle East, which is the only place that has not changed at all in the last 40-odd years. The Palestinians and Israelis are still at each other’s throats. Once it was a gripping contest, and now it’s plain boring, according to Louis, like the fights between his early-teenage daughters.
Now, this is my life he’s talking about; I am Israel, and he is America, and he does not take it too seriously. The simplistic way he puts it is at once blatantly and crudely unfair, yet in some way too true, which just underlies the helplessness of us all about the way things are (wrong). And yet it is funny.
Then, when the defence mechanism of the audience was weakened by the mild irreverence of it all, Louis ventured into the most dangerous area of sexual taboos. In his hometown, when he was an adolescent, there lived a child molester. Everyone knew about him, and boys were warned to give him a wide berth (he did not fancy Louis, who felt sort of slighted at the time; see, there is a perplexity here). But it was a sort of “no big deal” then, while nowadays, and rightly so, due to too many hidden and condoned abuses, it is a major issue and not to be laughed about at all.
That part of the monologue turned many of Louis’s afficionados against him. Child molestation cannot, under any circumstances, be a laughing matter; this seemed to be the general view. To that Louis could have responded, as would any satirist worth his salt, that anything can potentially be a laughing matter, since laughter is probably the least harmful way to deal with fear and pain.
However, what I think irked and angered viewers most was the fact that Louis, by comparing his own craving for Mars candy bars to the child molester’s addiction to depraved urges, lured the viewers into the innards of a sick mind. In a way that was politically, and even morally, most un-correct (“un-correct” as in “un-American” activities in the 1950s) by showing how the world looks from the inside of a sick mind he turned the child molester into someone almost human. Despite distancing himself and the laughing audience with a disclaimer (“we are awesome”), from an undisputedly sick villain, in a way Louis showed the pitiable humanity of that pit of a soul. Louis could have given up his Mars bar if forced to. The molester apparently cannot. When we find ourselves in such a place, and catch ourselves in it, striving to autocorrect ourselves, we chide ourselves for our laughter, and of course blame the jester who led us astray.
It remains to be seen if that was indeed his last time on SNL. I dare to assume that he will be back on the show, as he is much too good and too important for us to give up. He makes us laugh and makes us think about ourselves. That is probably the safest way to autocorrect our course as human beings while the world around us goes out of whack.