As the Kathy Griffin severed-head-photo shit storm begins to wane I have not heard what needs to be said. Here’s what’s missing: When an act reaches the level of public outrage it is our distinct responsibility to call out our own, without qualification.
Of course, the Right is rightfully enraged over Griffin’s shocking blunder. No one would expect otherwise. But the response from the Left has been very disappointing. Some on the Left say there is no line in comedy. I disagree. I don’t know where that line is. Nobody does. But, regardless of where we draw the line, Kathy Griffin crossed it. She not only crossed it, she kicked it into dust as she did, and then traveled another country mile from there.
Others on the Left say Griffin’s photo is warranted because of 45’s “grab them by the pussy” and his bigoted birther campaign. Or it is justifiable payback for Ted Nugent’s threats on Barack Obama, and the racist signs and effigy lynching/burning at anti-Obama rallies. Yes, every one of those examples is deplorable. As a matter of simple morality it is my duty to speak out against them. But as a lefty I can holler about Obama indignities till I’m hoarse. To what end? To what benefit? I don’t think for a minute my tit-for-tat outrage will make a difference on the Right. If anything, they will be hardened by my indignation. The Right loves the salty taste of our angry snowflake tears, and vice versa. It only traps us in an endless, useless loop: “Look what they did to Obama! Well, look what they did to Bush! Well, look what they did to Clinton! Well, look what they did to Reagan,” etc, etc…
Calling out your own always has greater impact on both sides of the political divide. It’s the Nixon/China thing. Republican “Never-Trumpers” speaking out during the campaign or stalwart conservative George Will and Fox’s Shepard Smith eschewing the company line by calling out 45’s lies and incompetence. And, be honest, didn’t George and Shep earn a little cred with you, making you more likely to hear them next time?
On Griffin, more timid commentators on the Left were careful not to use words like “justifiable” or “warranted.” But they imply them when they say her photo is “no worse” than Nugent, et al., while they juxtapose pictures of said offenses and bravely declare both to be wrong. Ultimately they excuse, rather than decry, both.
So, here’s what I would have written about Griffin: The photo was heinous, incendiary, not “satirical,” and not funny in any algorithm of funny you can devise. Such a graphic image of violence aimed at any human being is unforgivable under all circumstance. It puts her on the level of ISIS propaganda. For her offense, Griffin has surrendered any privilege to appear in public as a comic, commentator, host, or spokesperson ever again. CNN was right to fire her ass. She should be shunned from every film studio, television network, book publisher, and advertiser. No comedy club should book her unless it’s as a dishwasher. The Secret Service should, if not toss her in jail, at the very least, scare her straight.
And that is where my commentary would end. No qualifiers, no “but,” no “however,” no excuse to hammer 45 and his minions. That brings no benefit, emboldens and hardens the Right, and only digs our collective hole deeper. We keep saying we’re better than they are. Let’s show it.
Charles Bursell is a writer, performer, host and commentator heard nationally on SiriusXM, National Public Radio, and The Pacifica Radio Network. He currently hosts the podcasts Stream of Consciousness Talk Radio Theatre and Conversations With Charles Bursell. Both shows, and more, can be found on several platforms, including Apple Podcasts (iTunes) and Libsyn.com.