Thursday, March 31, 2011

Carr Crash

So, over the past few days, rather than dealing with the case of G-Lo, we turned to someone who is actually funny?

Here is Jimmy Carr’s line again:

Say what you like about these servicemen amputees from Iraq and Afghanistan, but we’re going to have a fucking good Paralympic team in 2012.

You know what hit the fan after this. Conservative politicians, right-wing editors, moralizing journalists—they hit the fan. Mocking wounded soldiers, no respect for the lads, this man’s career must come to an end.

Now, here’s Carr’s apology in full (or at least in as full a form as I could find online; maybe he prattled on for ages, but from the articles quoting variants of this mea culpa, here is the longest):

I’ve got nothing but respect for the young men and women who put their lives on the line for this country. I’ve visited the military hospital in Selly Oak, Birmingham, and the rehabilitation centre in Headley Court on many occasions to meet seriously injured young men. I will continue to support them in any way I can. My thoughts are with the servicemen and their families, especially on Remembrance Sunday. I’m sorry if anyone was offended but that’s the kind of comedy I do. If a silly joke draws attention to the plight of these servicemen then so much the better. My intention was only to make people laugh.

It’s pretty awesome, isn’t it?

The apology itself is self-negating: he says sorry for something and then says that he’s done it, is doing it, and will continue to do it. I’m sorry, but that’s what I do. I’m sorry if anybody is missing their jewels, but that’s the kind of robber I am. I’m sorry if anybody lost their life, but that’s the kind of murderer I am. And you might have noticed that he wriggles a slippery little "if" in, even though the media shitstorm revolved around finding those people who were offended, or whose offence was stoked by prying journalists, and whose offence is sacrosanct (which is why conniving twats like to stand in the holy wafting vapours of sacred victimhood so we don’t smell the sour sweat emanating from their greedy bodies). The apology isn’t; it doesn’t really exist.

There are other traps here. Listen closely. “My intention was only to make people laugh.” Only. As if making people laugh is insignificant, trivial, and harmless, all the more so because the joke was silly—like the kind of jokes you get on children’s television shows where fat blob-like creatures put their hats on their bottoms or sit on a flowerpot and go “ooeee.” And in the very sentence when he dismisses the joke as “silly”, he indicates something, something very serious, something not-so-silly. It hardly went unnoticed that his joke was a rare mention of amputees in the public: is the media coverage of the consequences of war as anaemic and censored in the UK as in the US? I would assume so. The joke is not silly at all, of course; it’s about young men and women whose bodies have been violently, irrevocably, awfully mutilated, and Carr knows it. In fact, he may well be saying that only in his purportedly silly joke is the subject broached at all. The silly and the only double back as lethally critical of the media that is hounding him for a joke.

Carr is having it both ways: he’s saying he’s sorry, but that he’s not going to stop; he’s dismissing his comedy as trivial, unimportant, just a few laughs, while quietly noting that his joke is anything but trivial, that it speaks about the consequences of war; and all the while, as he dismisses his comedy, he’s pointing out that in his comedy he’s saying something that almost nobody else is: young men and women are getting their limbs torn off in Afghanistan and Iraq.

But then surely this is one of the exciting quagmires of comedy, isn’t it? That it can do all these things at once. It’s a sort of apology, but one that will not revoke itself, even as it disavows itself; it’s facile, puerile, silly, and so easily dismissed, while it speaks of evil and murder and war and mutilation when nobody else will.

We will go on with this again tomorrow. I promise.


Steven said...

No, I'm "sorry": "he’s saying something that almost nobody else is" and "when nobody else will" are ridiculously over-egging the comedian-hero-worship. The only reason Carr's "joke" was at all comprehensible when he delivered it was that there was at the time a lot of mainstream news coverage about the issue of amputee servicemen and servicewomen coming back from those wars. Did Carr's "joke" add anything to that news; did it "speak[s] about the consequences of war" any more profoundly than the news reports did? Of course it didn't!

In similar sceptical vein, I read his "My intention was only to make people laugh" not as trivializing comedy but as (unpersuasively) disavowing more egotistical ambitions ("My intention was to make people laugh at me; to make myself more famous", etc).

sw said...

"Apology" accepted! You are making a very important point & I was indeed over-egging the souffle. Let me re-stir it with a touch more flour. I very much doubt that the issue of amputee servicemen was getting the type of mainstream coverage the topic deserved, although you are bang on to point out that the joke depended upon at least some coverage. The joke would, in fact, make no sense if there wasn't some inkling of what was happening, if it wasn't in the consciousness of the audience, and that would depend upon some coverage. So, you're right that he's not saying something that's being unsaid. I think I was a bit more cautious than you imply, and was only really incautious in my final paragraph where I was talking about comedy in general - but fair enough.

I would argue, however, that he remains correct in pointing out that his joke draws attention to the plight of the servicemen, and does so in a way that the media generally doesn't: the joke depends upon conjuring up the prior fitness and the vigor and health of those who have been severely injured in a strikingly visceral, effective way, and, in a very sharp way, points out that some remain vigorous and, indeed, fit. The amputees aren't just amputees, and they certainly aren't merely maudlin figures of pity and shame: his comedy steers them away from being slathered in dripping sympathy into something else, scorn perhaps; they remain objects, but are no longer hallowed objects of pity, but objects of laughter. I hope that I did not suggest this was unambiguously tasteful, polite, or sweet-natured, or right, or good, but I suspect, and I might be wrong, that in doing what I suggest it does, this one-line does have things to say about the soldiers that the media was in general not saying.

I disagree with your second point, though. It's a matter of interpretation and I'm not particularly interested in analysing Carr's motives.

Steven said...

But this whole blog is 'a matter of interpretation'. Isn't it?

You are right to concede that the joke (with its 'these') depended on the audience's prior knowledge of its subject. Did the joke then bring the issue, as you claim, to wider attention? Not to the original audience, who, as we now agree, knew about it already. Was it not rather the 'controversy' about the joke, that ensued from it, which brought the issue to wider attention?

I take your good point about the way the joke insists on the continuing vigour of the subjects!

sw said...

I definitely agree that this whole blog is a matter of interpretation (I was going to disagree vehemently, but then realised that I will need this defence often if I continue with the blog, and so will not revoke it now).

Did the joke then bring the issue, as you claim, to wider attention? Not to the original audience, who, as we now agree, knew about it already. Was it not rather the 'controversy' about the joke, that ensued from it, which brought the issue to wider attention?

We're troubling ourselves here with some questions whose answers would require actual data research, and some that are at this point functionally unanswerable. For example, it is entirely possible that vast numbers of people in his audience were passingly aware of the existence of the issue of "these servicemen amputees", having glanced at the television during a report, or seen a photo in a newspaper, but this was the first time they . . . thought about it, considered it (to the extent that comedy allows this, another problem we will come to later). So, I would split my arguments: 1) A wider audience, Carr's audience, may indeed have had their attention brought to the topic, when before it was not so much "attention" they brought to the issue as distant, vague awareness (this is how I myself register far too much of the news), and 2) Most of my arguments are concerned with how this attention is brought to the topic, not the objective claim that it has brought more or less attention (which dead horse is now thrashed into shreds).