Forgive me for being late to the game, but I started “Entourage” a couple of weeks ago. It only took a few minutes (and several handfuls of tortilla chips) before I was sucked into the world of Vinny Chase and Ari Gold. And I admit, I’ve loved every second of it. I finished Season 4 on Tuesday and am trying to finish as soon as possible so I can see the movie.
It’s funny. It’s witty. It’s entertaining. And because of that, it’s quickly become one of my all-time favorite TV shows (next to “The Wire” and “Breaking Bad”).
That said, there’ve been several questions I’ve been wrestling with in between my binge sessions: If this show premiered today — brand new — would it be as successful as it has been? Would people still think Ari’s harassment of his gay assistant Lloyd is acceptable and continue watching week after week? Would Vince and Co.’s constant attempts to seduce women be seen as just “guys being guys” or rather as perpetuating a misogynistic culture?
I don’t know for sure, but I’m willing to bet the show would be much more heavily criticized. I’m even questioning if I should be finding all of this as enjoyable as I do. Because, even with all the blatant homophobia and misogyny, I can’t get enough of it. (I watched six episodes Monday night!)
My feelings toward “Entourage” lend themselves to a conversation about the supposed “politically correct culture” we live in. Some argue it’s positive because it’s a good thing to be conscientious of others’ feelings and stories. Others argue it’s negative because we have to live walking on our tiptoes in fear of offending someone.
I love comedy — from TV shows to stand-up, I’m always watching — but I’ve also written about how the use of derogatory terms without reason has become too pervasive and is just plain wrong.
I don’t know if not wanting to hear words like “faggot” used pointlessly makes me a promoter of P.C. culture or not, but according to one of my favorite comedians, Jerry Seinfeld, P.C. culture has become a danger to comedy.
On Monday, Seinfeld went on Colin Cowherd’s ESPN radio show and was asked by Cowherd, “Does the climate worry you now? … I’ve talked to Chris Rock and Larry the Cable Guy, they don’t even want to do college campuses anymore.”
“I hear that all the time,” Seinfeld responded. “I don’t play colleges, but I hear a lot of people tell me, ‘Don’t go near colleges. They’re so P.C.’”
Seinfeld continued by giving an example of his daughter using the term “sexist” incorrectly before claiming, “They (the newer generation, I’m guessing) just want to use these words. That’s racist. That’s sexist. That’s prejudiced. They don’t even know what they’re talking about.”
Cowherd then asked him if P.C. culture hurts comedy, to which he responded, “Yes it does. Yes it does.”
Another comedian, Chris Rock, said in a November 2014 interview that he stopped performing at colleges in part because, “You can’t even be offensive on your way to being inoffensive.”
What bothers me about these comments is that it seems Seinfeld and Rock have accepted that P.C. culture is static. It cannot be changed. It is what it is.
The problem is that’s not how culture works. Culture evolves. It is malleable, moldable and changeable, albeit not without a fight. If that wasn’t the case, then how is the increasing support for gay marriage over the last decade possible? How did women eventually gain the right to vote in the 1920s? That’s right, the culture changed.
Comedy is a unique place to effect social and political change. There is no denying the effect Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert, Bill Maher and George Carlin, to name a few, have had on exposing huge problems in our society. So, why are we seeing other prominent comedians seemingly back away from this challenge to shape the conversation about important issues?
Having been on this campus for three years and seen P.C. culture in action, there have been many positive benefits to come out of it. Yes, you should be aware of the identities of the people who you are talking to. Yes, you should check your privilege often. And yes, there is a time, place and way to have serious discussions about race, sex and socioeconomic status.
But that doesn’t mean it’s all perfect. Maybe, at times, we as college students are too worried about offending each other, so we avoid having the important conversations that need to be had. Maybe our obsession with creating “safe spaces” has actually led to us being unsafe because we are blinding ourselves from reality. And maybe our desire to completely eradicate bias from our curriculum is actually hindering our education because professors are people, too, with their own stories and understandings of the world, for better or worse.
This brings me back to comedy. Comedy plays an important role in developing our culture. It serves to highlight the flaws and even the positives. Perhaps that’s why I enjoy “Entourage” so much. While I believe the goal of the show is for nothing more than entertainment, it succeeds in its commentary on homophobia and misogyny. Though not explicitly doing so, the show is rejecting this kind of culture, not supporting it. The guys’ behavior is so absurd that I’m left with no choice to view it as such. And that’s why I find it so funny; it’s so not relatable to me that my reaction is to laugh. And although their actions can be construed as offensive — I’m often uncomfortable watching it — its overall message is not.
My point is that sometimes you have to see the outrageous and disgusting to understand and reject the outrageous and disgusting. To use Chris Rock’s words, you sometimes have to tolerate hearing the offensive on your way to hearing the inoffensive.
This isn’t the time for comedy to back away. We need it more than ever to help us learn what to make of everything that goes on. It can educate us on what prejudice really is when the term is getting thrown around so frequently. Comedy can help mold our culture for the better.
So, Jerry, I have a different “P.C.” for you. Please come. Ann Arbor is nice in the summer.
Derek Wolfe can be reached at email@example.com.