September 4, 2007
Jerry Lewis’s remark yesterday about “illiterate faggots” – what was he thinking? When we say things like that, what we’re really doing is expressing the collective unconscious that ALL of us share. We all have prejudices that we try to hide from ourselves and others, and sometimes they just slip out.
Michael Richards couldn’t believe what slipped out of his mouth this year, and has apologized profusely. Sometimes our mouths say what our deepest selves are thinking – beliefs we hold that are below are daily consciousness. What he said is what so many think; he just got caught expressing a shared belief. African-Americans have been second class citizens for hundreds of years, and those beliefs are built into our cellular memory.
Comedians especially walk a really fine line and sometimes go too far. Think Don Imus – he expressed a belief held by many of us that women (especially black ones) are something to kid about. Isaiah Washington is another example of foot-in-mouth disease. He was so angry about being called out for his remark, he repeated it! Here we have a situation of a member of one group who has experienced horrendous prejudicecriticizing another group that experiences even more prejudice!
Our comedians act like a Greek chorus for us: they express the hidden currents that run through our culture, and show us all what so many of us secretly think. When properly handled, think Larry David or Jerry Seinfeld, it can act like a safety valve—letting off some of the pressure and allowing people to remain civil in their discourse with one another.