GUTCHECK: Speech-Easies

Could Jeffrey Ross save the world?

Probably not. He looks terrible. Imagine cutting open an alligator and finding the remains of Daddy Warbucks. His new look resembles a Kmart Halloween costume called “the Uncle who touched you in fifth grade.”

But no matter, if he doesn’t save the world, it’s possible he could save America.

Let me back up a bit.

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Over the weekend I flew to Milwaukee to speak at a Young America’s Foundation confab. It’s a dandy conservative group of young people who believe in good things and nice stuff.

After spending a good ten minutes ragging on their name, I offered them an idea I had come up with after watching the Comedy Central roast of human/slug hybrid Justin Bieber – an event presided over by Ross – the serrated, bald fixture of such events.

At the YAF thing, there were students who had been involved in the kerfuffle over the showing of the film “American Sniper” on a nearby college campus. Apparently there were students who felt the movie would be harmful to their sensitive emotions, and needed the campus to become a safe space from such evil things. These are students, one might assume, who would have no problem violating your own space if it suited their activist needs. I’ve said it before: the same student who needs to be shielded from words, might block in your car in traffic, screaming “no justice, no peace.” One person’s safe space, is another person’s playground.

This instantly reminded me of an article I had written for the San Francisco Chronicle nearly 30 years ago. During the 1980s, a spate of Vietnam war movies came out – Platoon, Full Metal Jacket, Casualties of War, etc. From that idea, I published a parody – about a fake illness called Vietnam film stress syndrome, or Videonam. The concept was that people who had seen these films were experiencing the same stress that veterans experienced in war.  

I counted on my article getting some flack, but I didn’t intend it to be taken for real. A nationally syndicated show sent a letter to me (care of the Chronicle), to gather contact info on the victims. None existed, and anyone with half a brain could see it was parody. But half a brain sometimes is too much to ask.

Peter Sussman, my editor, wrote a scathingly funny correction the following week, where he explained how a parody had been mistaken for real – and that the paper apologizes for stupid people who would make such a mistake.

Now, in 2015, my fake syndrome is real. For now, students on campus actually want American Sniper banned because they’re fearful that it could create harmful stress in their fragile lives.

This kind of thing happens – as more and more students are demanding safe spaces on campus to protect their feelings from anything that might offend them – be it movies, or speakers.

What does this have to do with Jeffrey Ross, and the roast?

Good question. I’m getting to that.

This is kind of a big idea. A really big one, actually.

Hosted by Kevin Hart, guests on the Comedy Central Bieber Roast included the aging Snoop Dog, the salty Natasha Leggero, the forgettable Ludacris, and the good sport that is Martha Stewart. Many of the jokes were likely written by Redeye favorite Jesse Joyce, or maybe Kurt Metzger. The jokes won’t be retold here, but to summarize: the barbs directed at Martha were filthy, Leggero was referred to as a whore multiple times, Ross compared Shaquille O’Neal to King Kong, jokes were made at the expense of a comedian’s dead father (some by the comedian himself) – who died on 9/11. The content was racist, sexist, sizest, homophobic, transist (not sure that’s a word), and most of all hurtful. It was all a disgusting mess, for the most part (it’s a roast, people).

In short, if any of this stuff had been said anywhere else — on campus, or twitter – the speaker would be shamed into oblivion.

(Unless, of course, you’re Trevor Noah, and have Jon Stewart’s blessing).

It’s the only place – and perhaps the last place for now, where you can still make jokes about illegitimacy, suffering, and death – and get away with it.

I got the sense from watching it, that the roast has become less about ripping apart of a famous celebrity, but more a release valve in an increasing uptight, suffocating culture. The spread of manufactured moralism – where a joke or hypothetical situation (as rebel thinker Gavin McInnes posits) takes on the appearance of a threat greater than actual physical harm – is now driving real, authentic freedoms into careful pockets. The roast is more cathartic than funny.

And it made me think of something that happened in our past around a 100 years ago.

Prohibition.

If you replaced alcohol with words, you now have, in 2015, an exact replica of the temperance movement. But now it’s raw, unsavory, and slightly dangerous language that’s being made in dark the corners, in proverbial bathtubs.

Back then in the old days, you had to make your booze in secret. And had to drink it in secret. Illegal bars during prohibition were called Speakeasies. 

What we need now- on every campus across the country – is exactly the same thing – but for language. I’d call them Speech-easies – underground meet-ups, where everyone is free to say anything they want to anyone present.

And if you came to one, you’d be required to be mean, heartless, insulting, crass – but only with language. This is not the Fight Club – but, rhetorically, the same in spirit. There would be no phones, no recording devices. Just barbs and beer.

It’s not about saying shit you can’t say “out there,” but being able to absorb things said to you –  to build up your endurance. To make you relish the offense, and develop the antibodies and muscle to sling it right back. To make you like it, as you did once before.

Because, I’m telling you right now: no student on campus is gonna survive in the real world until they learn that words, are just words.

We need Speech-easies – for they are the precise, daring opposite of these so-called safe spaces on campuses.

It’s time for students, performers, and comedians to come together and start a movement to reintroduce dangerous, tasteless talk to the college campus. Major comedians have lamented the growing intolerance movement in colleges, and it’s dissuading them from performing there. That’s the end result or their own neglect. They didn’t mind the growing intolerance, because the intolerant factions were, for a time, on their side.

But it’s spreading – thanks to the rise of unfettered, infantile phony emotionalism and the cowardice of administrators who refuse to stand up to this moral Marxism.

The only alternative is for brave students, inspired by the foul and fetid voices seen in places like the Roast, to take the campus back from gender-mad, racial-obsessed, language-banning lunatics. Perhaps it’s the kids who run FIRE, or the fresh faces in YAF. Hell, I don’t care if you’re in PETA. As long as you value speech, and a willingness to get insulted to your face, you’re welcome.

If it doesn’t happen soon, forget roasting Justin Bieber ever again. And then truly, the terrorists have won.


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