There is a tension between rights and good taste. With every right comes responsibility, the responsibility to use that right for good, not harm. Of course “good” is often in the eye of the beholder, meaning some people may claim to be doing “good” but in fact are not, at least according to the general understanding of what is good and what isn’t. In the United States what is defined as good or evil is based on society’s norms, which were mostly formed based on biblical principles and Judeo-Christian ethics. Sadly those are being eroded and as a result, looser standards of behavior are replacing them. Comedy is getting more “edgy” meaning more offensive and even nasty.
Two recent events highlight this tension between freedom of speech and the press, and responsibilities, as well as the need to exercise good taste and good judgment – not crossing the boundary into being offensive or hateful.
The first case in point is the movie “The Interview” which has to do with a fictitious plot to assassinate North Korea’s leader. It’s supposed to be a comedy, but the North Koreans aren’t amused. I’m not a fan of the North Korean regime, which is exceptionally cruel and repressive, but put yourself in their shoes for a minute. Would we find funny a comedy having to do with a plot to kill the President of the United States? I doubt it. I haven’t seen the movie, but I suspect it is not that funny and lacking in good taste.
The second case in point is the terrorist attack against a satirical French newspaper because it made fun of Mohammad and Muslims. I’m not a big fan of Islam but I can appreciate how they feel when mocked and made fun of in a disrespectful way. Apparently this newspaper made fun of other religions as well, it’s just that Christians aren’t in the habit of performing terrorist acts when offended (and we are offended often). Bill Maher and his ilk would be long dead of Christians reacted violently to being made fun of.
There used to be a self-imposed line that few comedians and writers would cross, and that line was to ridicule religions. Today religions and people of faith (any faith) are fair game, from the Broadway play “Book of Mormon” to vicious attacks by Bill Maher and other religion-haters like him. A little respect for religions, even if we disagree with them, might just make the world a slightly safer place. With Islam, we have to separate the terrorists who use a distorted form of that religion as an excuse to do terrible things, and your average Muslim in the street, most of whom just want to live their lives in peace.
There is an old adage that says we should never talk about religion and politics. In the world of comedy, that is good advice, at least the religion part. Comedians and others should be less offensive and more funny, and clean up your language while you’re at it.