Comedy's New Censors

"Generally speaking, good jokes are in bad taste. They tend to mock the respectable rules and morals of society. By its nature comedy is always controversial, pushing as it must at the limits of what passes for taste and decency in any era. That is why there have long been attempts to control what is deemed ‘acceptable’ humor and to censor what is not. And why many writers and comedians have tried to subvert the rules. However, as with other issues in the Anglo-American free-speech wars, the terrain has shifted. Once the complaints were about blasphemous and indecent comedy, and the censors were conservative politicians, policemen and priests. Now the protests are more often against comedians accused of breaking the new taboos—racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, Islamophobia, anti-Semitism and the other usual suspects. And the demands to shut them down tend to be led not by old-fashioned prudes but by radical online activists, the liberal media and even other comedians."

—author Mick Hume, in an excerpt from his book Trigger Warning: Is the Fear of Being Offensive Killing Free Speech [, 7/19/15]

Expecting the Worst From Miley

"With Miley’s shtick, it’s probably going to be very edgy, very profane, very sexually explicit. As a parent of a teenager, the content from two years ago was clearly not appropriate for a 14-year-old. I think last year’s was toned down quite a bit. I think that came from advertiser pressure to not have a re-twerk. This year, clearly, they’re going to try to ramp it back up again. And based on everything we’ve seen Miley doing in recent years, she certainly seems angry and certainly seems enjoying being the provocateur ... I think it’s unfortunate she built her entire career on the backs of parents and now she’s basically giving them the middle finger.”

—Parents Television Council president Tim Winter, responding to the news that Miley Cyrus has been tapped to host MTV's Video Music Awards show in August [, 7/23/15]

Movies and Mass Murder

A gunman has again opened fire in a movie theater, claiming the lives of two women and wounding nine others before taking his own life. Officials are still piecing together the details surrounding the mayhem unleashed by 59-year-old John Houser at a screening of Amy Schumer’s film Trainwreck last Thursday night in Lafayette, La. Among the questions being sifted is how someone with a history of mental illness—the Associated Press reports that Houser was committed to psychiatric treatment against his will in 2008, with a judge describing him as a danger to himself and others—was able to obtain a handgun from a Georgia pawn shop last year. Amy Schumer was among the many celebrities expressing her horror, saying on Twitter, “My heart is broken and all my thoughts and prayers are with everyone in Louisiana.”

The shooting occurred a week after James Holmes was convicted of murder in a rampage that left 12 dead and 70 wounded at a screening of The Dark Knight Rises in Aurora, Colo., on July 20, 2012. Regarding the cultural impact of the two crimes, the Washington Post’s Alyssa Rosenberg writes, “It may be that the killer chose Trainwreck for a reason in the same way that Holmes styled himself after the Batman villain the Joker. But whatever his reasoning, it’s worth pausing for a moment to consider our specific losses as another arena of public life begins to feel unsafe. … When you go to a movie theater, you are deciding to sit for two hours in the dark with dozens, even hundreds of people you don’t know. … We don’t think of movie theaters as sacrosanct spaces, the way we assume that schools or churches—the sites of other recent horrific mass shootings—will be. But the act of attending a film requires a similar, perhaps even greater, trust that a group of complete strangers can come together in fleeting community; that we can briefly stop sizing one another up and simply surrender to an experience together, in safety and shared wonder.”

Over at Slate, Amanda Hess probed the phenomenon of a small group of folks on the Internet becoming infatuated with mass murderers such as James Holmes—and how that attention may even be one of the things that motivated someone like him to commit a horrific crime. “In the summer of 2012,” Hess writes, “the mug shot of the man with tangerine hair [Holmes] spread across the world’s televisions and computer screens. … He was the most loathed man in America, but on Tumblr, a small group of women felt something more like attraction. … They called themselves ‘Holmies,’ and as they awaited the next glimpse of Holmes in court, they constructed a digital daydream of who he might be. … During the trial, prosecutors argued that Holmes had committed the murders for the fame—and pointed to Holmies as evidence that he had gotten just what he wanted.” [, 7/24/15;, 7/24/15;, 7/25/15;, 7/26/15;, 7/22/15]

'Aggressively Normalized'

"A horrific undercover video came to light last week of a Planned Parenthood doctor casually discussing over lunch how she and other affiliated abortionists expertly ‘crush’ babies they are aborting to keep their organs intact for donation (and potentially sale). … I am pro-life. I’m not religious, but I believe that killing babies for convenience is morally wrong, and a society that condones, and in many cases celebrates, the practice has lost its way. But even if you support legal abortion, I have to think it’s impossible to watch the now-viral video without recoiling in disgust at the frankness with which Planned Parenthood’s senior director of medical research, Dr. Deborah Nucatola, describes the destruction of a life. … But Nucatola can speak that way because our culture has so aggressively normalized what used to be a lamentable, last, worst option for a woman. In their zeal to make abortion culturally acceptable to a religious and center-right country, abortion supporters removed a necessary and important stigma that should exist so that teenagers weigh the consequences of sex, and so that women think very carefully about taking the lives of their unborn children."

Chicago Tribune contributor S.E. Cupp, from her commentary "Planned Parenthood and the Abortion Debate We Won't Have" [, 7/19/15]

This Cultural Clip Feels...Factual

You may be used to spell-checking your emails. But now you can emotion-check them too. IBM has introduced an instant Tone Analyzer, which uses cloud-based linguistic analysis to tell if your emails, blog posts or text messages are coming off as angry, assertive, happy or sad as you intended them to be. The analyzer examines each word in your document and gives it a color-coded rating based on three different tones, and then it offers suggestions to guide you toward the emotional balance you’re looking for. (This Culture Clip contains 55 words that were categorized under "openness," 34 under "agreeableness" and 23 under "conscientiousness.") [, 7/17/15;, 7/27/15]

:-> :) ;) :0

Sony Pictures Animation beat out two other studios in a bidding war for an emoji-centered motion picture. Sony reportedly paid nearly seven figures for the rights to the film, to be co-written by Eric Siegel and Anthony Leondis. (But will the screenplay actually have any words in it?) [, 7/21/15]