Comedians may be one of the last sources for honest commentary
© SNL

Free speech is probably the most important right guaranteed in the Constitution. 

With free speech come a free press, political dissent, education and the arts. However, the right to free speech has been confused with the 23-plus year evolution of political correctness that has forever changed the American dialogue. 

The freedoms guaranteed under our constitutional rights have been confused with a popular movement to assure those we work and/or interact with publicly are not ‘offended’.

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When adding the growth of social media technology plus the addition of a myriad of cable and internet news outlets to the adoption of politically correct speech by our government and human resource professionals; serious issues in how we [as a nation] communicate have emerged. Currently, Americans live in a digital world in where they are able to seek information tuned to their specific interests and viewpoints. In an effort to compete, the various cable news networks have slanted their coverage toward where they think viewers will gravitate toward. 

This over-competitive delivery of what should be simple current events has had two extremely negative side effects; a complete erosion of editorial controls over the news and a generation of news consumers who lack the capability to process and internalize dissenting opinions.

A great takeaway from the postmortem of the 2016 Presidential election is the American voter’s rebellion against how traditional politicians communicate. 

Voters opted for the frank, often caustic way President-elect Donald Trump communicated his views; seeing them as more honest than the political double-speak that has become commonplace over the past few generations. 

Americans are currently being told what to think and how to communicate based on acceptable norms imposed on them through the media, and because of a media that gives an extreme amount of coverage on social issues; many Americans fear that expressing themselves will lead to negative consequences. 

Enter comedy as a constant, reliable source of social commentary through satire. With so many Americans angry and distrustful of the news they’re getting from the media, Comedians seem to be the only people with a public voice who can say the non-politically correct things that, in all honesty, most Americans think but are afraid to say. 

This frank form of dissent-wrapped-in-jokes sees no partisan spin, as there are comics who speak for both sides of the aisle. Whether it’s the left-wing oriented musings of Patton Oswalt or the conservative every-man musings of comic Nick DiPaolo; comics are granted latitude from the “language police” of the internet in a matter not extended to news commentators.

Comedians providing political insight are nothing new, as its roots can be seen in Shakespeare. The importance of this art has grown exponentially, however, following the Clinton administration when workplace penalties rose for speech that may be deemed ‘offensive’. The Daily Show was the first full-length show of its kind to use the formula of comedic reporting actual news stories that arose from the extremely popular “Weekend Update” segment of Saturday Night Live that since 1975. 

Over the twenty years since nobody could have predicted the stories reported by actual news outlets like CBS, NBC, ABC, Fox, and CNN that would be forced upon America with social disclaimers that it was ‘not ok’ to laugh or make light of them. 

The drawback of growing up in a country that celebrates free speech and thought challenges that concept of telling people what to think and what to laugh at, even if it is possibly offensive to others. Therefore, when the mainstream media got to take itself too seriously, people started looking elsewhere – creating both an alternative media where many people read news that simply preaches to the choir and voices who can say the offensive things that make them laugh.

During the same time frame, podcasting and satellite radio technology grew, and the comic who was once relegated to making their off-color viewpoint heard on a small stage in the basement of a Mediterranean café in Greenwich Village or in a former mob-hangout turned comedy club on Sunset Blvd. were available in every car and smartphone in the world. 

With this came legitimacy to the observations of the working comedian and for those of us dying to make light of the ludicrousness of the state of our national discourse, we could read the words of comic genius Jim Norton in the pages of Time Magazine or hear comics like Marc Maron talk to President Obama and Joe Rogan talk to presidential candidate Gary Johnson for over 2 ½ hours on their respective podcasts. 

For many of us, Comedians have become an important sounding board to counter actual issues being reported in the news. 

For years now, radio talk show hosts like Anthony Cumia (of Opie & Anthony fame) and Howard Stern have had comics on in an open forum, not to do their bits like many morning radio hosts do when plugging appearances in their towns; but to just give their opinions and observations in a witty way. This has led to the growth of whole networks of comedian-led podcast networks like Riotcast, who bring together a completely diverse group of hosts from all political slants, races and sexes (to include prominent Transgendered adult actress and talk show host, Bailey Jay).

If it seems strange that The Hill, a respected news publication covering American politics is espousing the virtues of respecting the opinions of foul-mouthed comedians; consider the context. If you turn on the Fox News Network then switch to MSNBC, you’re literally getting two completely opposite reports on the same news story. 

In contrast, good comedians build a bond with their audience by being brutally honest and self-effacing. Therefore, they have built more trust with their fans than a news media that has become comfortable with spin and less comfortable with the possibility of being ‘scooped’ because an editor took the time to check a story’s validity. 

Whether its television cartoons like Family Guy creating a content loophole to allow more biting humor through the post-Janet Jackson Super Bowl era in “standards & practices” or comedians like Jim Norton endorsing Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpGOP lawmakers preparing to vote on bill allowing migrant children to be detained longer than 20 days: report Wasserman Schultz: Infants separated from their parents are in Florida immigrant shelters Ex-White House ethics chief: Sarah Sanders tweet violates ethics laws MORE by saying “Trump feels like a big F__k You to the system”; Americans crave an uncensored opinion. 

The hope is that while America reels from the most corrosive Presidential campaign in history; it can start to again embrace opposing viewpoints and feel safe in expressing their opinions. This way, comedians and cartoons are not the only reliable mechanisms for expressing dissent without fear of attack from Social Justice Warriors for saying their opinion in “the wrong way”.

Then there’s the tried and true way to garner respect when offering your opinion in the way that has worked for comedians and non performers alike: be honest in your opinion, be prepared to say why you have it, and be open to the other side of the debate. If you can’t see eye to eye, leave it alone. 

The current state of protest and dissent in where two sides are yelling at each other and getting increasingly more irrational is a byproduct of no editorial moderation, and needs to stop for the good of American society. If high-school dropouts who became millionaires by figuring out a way to articulate their views in a humorous way could do it, then maybe we can too.

A. Benjamin Mannes is a national subject matter expert in public safety and regular contributor to The Hill. He serves as a member of the Homeland Security Academic Program Advisory Board at St. John’s University in New York, the Peirce College Criminal Justice Studies Advisory Board in Philadelphia and is a Governor on the Executive Board of InfraGard, the FBI-coordinated public-private partnership for critical infrastructure protection. Follow him on Twitter:@PublicSafetySME


 

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