Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Irreverent Humor

I love comedy.  I especially love "irreverent" comedy.  I howled when Richard Pryor made fun of White people, when George Carlin speared countless taboos in our society, and when Andrew Dice Clay personified the misogynistic narcissist.  Objectionable?  Absolutely.  But, in my opinion, hilarious.

I grew up reading National Lampoon, and distinctly remember their humorous takes on the tragic circumstances in Biafra.  They pushed every boundary of humor, a mantle that continues to be pressed by South Park, The Simpsons, and other animation shows.

Satire provides a verbal version of risk that couch potatos like me prefer to downhill skiing on black diamonds, hang gliding from cliffs, and bungee jumping off bridges.  Of course, satire is a katana-sharp blade, cutting both ways.  Slapstick is OK, and insult comics have their place (Vegas and the Poconos), but for my money satire represents the pinnacle of the art form and should only be attempted by the seasoned professional.

As if watching my beloved Steelers bungle through the Super Bowl last Sunday weren't painful enough, America was exposed to a botched National Anthem, a talentless halftime show, and generally uninspiring commercials.  In the latter category, we also witnessed quite probably the most offensive ad campaign ever launched on television.

Groupon's parody of public service announcements were, in my opinion, so offensive and insensitive as to make me visibly wince with anguish.  One example, which tried to parlay the decades-long misery of a people into a cutesy ploy for your disposable dining dollars, left me in shock.  And despite a subsequent torrent of online criticism and derision, the company CEO remains unconvinced of his colossal heartlessness in approving these multi-million dollar spots.

Groupon cashed in on the pillaging and destruction of the rainforests, whales, and Tibet in making their play for your business.  What's next?  Mocking the Holocaust to promote the local deli?  Citing the hilarity of Christina Taylor Green's murder to hawk discounts at the local gun shop?  How about recalling the joy of 9-11 to sell us low-cost flying lessons?

Lest I be labelled politically correct, let me clarify the important distinction to be made between these various forms of comedic "art."  When I bought National Lampoon, I knew exactly what my money secured.  When I watch Joan Rivers, Kathy Griffin, and Comedy Central roasts, I am making the conscious choice to expose myself to shock humor.  I do this because these people are paid specifically to challenge boundaries and afflict my comfortable sensibilities.  I do this because when they make Big Macs of our sacred cows, it empowers me to do the same against other injustices that I witness.  Their work at the edges of comedy opens the frontier for the likes of Michael Moore and John Stewart to populate our mainstream.  And, on occasion - such as the cases of Lenny Bruce and George Carlin - a comedian can actually promote incredibly worthwhile social commentary and criticism.

But, Groupon's ads were an ambush in the name of nothing but pursuing the almightly buck.  These commercials mugged us not just with failed satire, but cruel profiteering garnered specifically at the expense of others' suffering.  All of which I could forgive if the company either showed some level of compassionate understanding of peoples' negative responses, or if they exhibited a legitimate commitment to helping alleviate the destruction caused by the situations they were exploiting.  But, a weak attempt at matching $100,000 of donations pales in comparison to the expense of producing these marketing ploys and purchasing network time to display them.

So, if you use Groupon and are equally offended, cancel your subscription and tell them why.  And when local businesses use their services, tell them why you will not be availing yourself of their products as well.

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