In defense of the low road

By Amanda Marcotte
Tuesday, August 16, 2011 12:43 EDT
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I love most of this review of the double episode of "Louie" by Alyssa Rosenberg, but I have to object to this:

I should note that I tend to hold jokes made by liberals about evangelical Christians to a higher standard. If you’re going to venture into an arena of humor where it’s easy to take low roads and cheap shots and still be rewarded fairly handsomely for it by your audience.

Now maybe Alyssa objects generally to low roads, and expects all humor to be on a higher plane, but I see this attitude a lot coming from liberals, and I think it's coming from the wrong place.  It's generally coming from a mistaken belief that mocking evangelicals (really, fundamentalists) is punching down.  Liberals who don't get a lot of direct exposure to fundamentalists, in other words, buy fundamentalist myths about themselves: that they're outcast, that they lack social power and wealth, that they're somehow underpriivileged as a group.  Which goes back to what I was saying yesterday, about the illusion that the Tea Party is predominantly economically stressed people.  In reality, Tea Partiers tend to be wealthier than average.  

And for all their posturing, fundamentalists are not oppressed.  On the contrary!  Their political power outstrips their numbers, to begin with.  But more importantly, they hold often unchecked power in red state communities.  Actually walking through a parking lot of a megachurch on a Sunday morning will do a lot to quell any misconceptions that they're just earnest, beleaguered, underprivileged people who happen to have kooky beliefs.  Far from being the oppressed class, they are they are the oppressors.  In their communities, they terrorize queer people, atheists, anyone perceived as outside their norms, and sexually active women, even those sexually active women sitting in their pews.  In the South, Bible-thumping is also intertwined with racism and the continued devotion to segregation in many communities.  I think a lot of liberals who haven't done much time in these areas think of fundamentalists as ruling the trailer parks, but in reality, they rule the suburbs that are stuffed with McMansions. Believe me; for a lot of us when I was living  in Austin who are definitely on the outs with that community, if we found ourselves stepping outside of the city limits into the suburbs that are ruled by Bible-thumpers, we made damn sure to minimize our time there.  For much of the audience of any TV show or comedian that mocks fundies, a shot across the chin to fundamentalists is big time punching up.  What outsiders might perceive as a low road could save the life of young people stuck in these communities who question evangelical beliefs. 

They have social, political, and economic weight.  The only thing fundamentalists don't have is cool.  Of course, the social capital of cool is often complicated, since so much of cool comes from subcultures that have no social capital outside of cool.  Cool is a very real threat to fundamentalist communities and their ability to pass on their beliefs to their young, which is why they spend so much time trying to keep their young separated from pop music and youth fashion.  But so what?  Cool is really the only weapon we have against a group of people that actively and gleefully oppresses other classes.  Fuck 'em.  A sneering, mocking low road can actually be the road out for those ensnared in the culture who are having their doubts.  We shouldn't tear up that road on the grounds that it's a low road. Some times just pointing and laughing at someone can deprive them of a lot of power to do harm to others.  

Which isn't to say that I objected to that episode of "Louie".  But I don't think he was taking the high road so much as he had to have the fundamentalist Christian be a certain way for the events of the episode to unfold the way they did, since the episode was more about him and not really about her.  

Amanda Marcotte
Amanda Marcotte
Amanda Marcotte is a freelance journalist born and bred in Texas, but now living in the writer reserve of Brooklyn. She focuses on feminism, national politics, and pop culture, with the order shifting depending on her mood and the state of the nation.
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