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SHAH: Political correctness is not meant for comedy

Opinions Column: The Progressive's Hot Take

On the Nov. 3 episode of the famed skit comedy show "Saturday Night Live" ("SNL"), comedian Pete Davidson, in a series of light-hearted roasts, made a misstep. Prefacing his joke by noting that Texas Republican Dan Crenshaw had, “lost his eye in war or whatever.” Pete joked that the politician looked like “a hit man in a porno movie.” 

Although Crenshaw had noted earlier in the news cycle that he did not demand an apology, it is clear that "SNL" felt obliged to give one anyway. The following week (and right in time for Veterans Day), "SNL" invited Crenshaw to the show for a public apology — and the opportunity to roast Davidson. Who can say no to that? 

Crenshaw ended the bit with a more serious tone by taking a moment to shout out heroes like Davidson's dad who died in 9/11, leaving us with a patriotic sense of togetherness on the eve of Veterans Day. And just at the end, Davidson leaned in for a handshake — and the mic barely caught as he told Crenshaw, “You’re a good man.” 

When did politicians forget to be good men first and politicians second? 

The truth is, the idea of intent versus impact is valid. Yes, if someone is truly offended by something you did, you should feel inclined to apologize — regardless of what you meant by it. The intent no longer matters. 

Oftentimes in politics, intent versus impact gets lost in the drama of it all — each ideological side jumps at the chance to be offended and publicly hold the other party accountable. The embedded victim-hood that comes along with this public spectacle leads to the candidate acquiring a recognizable, untouchable-like quality and leads to a boost in polling. Any moment even slightly offensive gains national attention, because an opportune political moment like this comes only once in a while for politicians like Crenshaw. And when it does, politicians seize it to dominate the political news cycle, regardless of the sentiment behind it. 

What Crenshaw did was extremely unique not only because he accepted the apology with legitimate grace, but he also took the political moment to decry all political moments on account of the fallacies intertwined in “outrage culture.” In his responding Washington Post op-ed, Crenshaw wrote, “It seems like every not-so-carefully-worded public misstep must be punished to the fullest extent, replete with soapbox lectures and demands for apologies. Anyone who doesn’t show the expected level of outrage will be labeled a coward or an apologist for bad behavior.” And even if Crenshaw did not take the stage to gain a political edge, even if it was to genuinely make amends, in my mind he is already a rising star on the Right. Because now, more than ever, we need men like Crenshaw who seek to restore civility in public discourse. 

Comedy can be inherently politically incorrect. It is allowed to be because that is the whole point of the medium — to push boundaries and challenge the status quo. And yet, even "SNL" found it in their hearts to reach across the aisle. Politics, arguably a field that requires more maturity and respect from its participants, can never quite strike a chord like this moment did. 

President Donald J. Trump’s opposition asks, often begs, for apologies from the man, receiving nothing in return. And still, for some reason, liberals are forced to take the high road again and again when the opposition looks unapologetic entirely — “When they go low, we go high." While I believe it is a classy, honorable sentiment from a classy, honorable lady (that actually served as my senior quote in high school), we live in a world where our president totally ignores the high road. Now, the quote is getting a makeover — former Attorney General Eric Holder said, “When they go low, we kick ‘em” and attorney Michael Avenatti said, “When they go low, we hit harder.” I am not saying we need to be offensive to be heard, but Democrats need to be more than governing figures. They need to be social influencers, which means addressing some highly toxic populist sentiment. 

We expected and demanded an apology from a comedian who quite literally joked about thinking about his dad burning in a fire while he had sex with his ex-fiancee. I am unsure why his apology means anything at all. In fact, "SNL" not only gave Crenshaw the platform to solidify his status as a bipartisan GOP star, but also to his anti-woman, anti-POC, pro-gun policy ideas

But, is it the right venue for such genuine political correctness and apology? Honestly, no. When we hold comedians to such a high moral standard — one that we are supposed to be holding our politicians to — not only do we do a disservice to the field of comedy, but we legitimize inappropriate behavior elsewhere. Comedy is not civil — it never has been and, to some extent, it never should be. 

The truth is, all we did was project our need for civility onto a sketch comedy show because it is sorely lacking in our political sphere. Regardless, "SNL" became the gold standard for maturity and forgiveness this past weekend … who is next? 

Anjali Shah is a Rutgers Business School sophomore, contemplating  her primary major but minoring in political science and philosophy. Her  column, “The Progressive’s Hot Take,” runs on alternate Fridays.


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