Between Against Me!'s Laura Jane Grace and Frank Ocean coming out, it feels like this is a major moment not just in music culture, but in America's long struggle with sexual orientation and gender identity. Sometimes I think this is exactly the kind of sea change we need in our popular culture to make social progress. While I still have faith in the voting system and the theory of our representative democracy, that's also powered by our cultural battle. Whatever it is we try to get on the ballot - gay marriage, ending the war on drugs, the prison industrial complex - it's still a matter of changing the common sense. So when big pop culture figures open up about their sexual identity, it's huge: their fans are forced to look inward to find how they feel, the culture opens up a little bit more, and somewhere some transgender teenager doesn't feel as alone. It's a powerful, important key to progress.
I saw this online today. It's called "Martin Loofah King" — a loofah with an imprint of Martin Luther King, Jr. with the tag line, "I have a clean." There's nothing especially offensive about it, unless you think MLK is sort of a holy figure that shouldn't be touched. My thought on it was: this is the future. It's only a matter of time before MLK achieves such ubiquitous pop culture status that he becomes a tool for absurdist, non-sequitur humor, the wayAbraham Lincoln is used. We have enough temporal distance from Lincoln that he's no longer a person, just a figure in our culture, and so putting him in different contexts makes for easy laughs.
Some might label it as simply "randomness," but really, it's absurdism, and it really seems to be the flavor of popular humor right now. Grant Morrison had a blog for all of a few months where he briefly wrote about post-9/11 fiction, which was characterized by taking the audience to the edge and back (The Dark Knight and Lost and the tone of the Lord of the Rings film adaptations.) I wonder if maybe the increasing presence of absurdist humor is a progression from that. Maybe this is us coming back from the edge.
I know the solidifying of internet culture (and therefore internet humor) had a lot to do with it. Just look at memes: there are specific archetypes and images that are intrinsic to the humor of the internet, from cats, to pirates, to ninjas, to Abraham Lincoln, to Zombies, to Batman. You can kind of just take these elements and mix and match them and come up with various meme variations that make people tuned into internet culture hubs, like Tumblr and Reddit, laugh.
I've been thinking a lot about the line between good taste and bad taste, between acceptable and offensive. Over the past couple of months, there have been a lot of developments in the cultural conversation about where this line sits, if it even exists at all. Everything from Tegan & Sara vs. Tyler the Creator to Tracy Morgan's Nashville show to the Supreme Court's ruling on violent video games are all really about The Line. It's a murky, difficult debate. Do we always look at these things as interconnected?
Although it's a month old, the controversy about Tracy Morgan's Nashville stand-up show is probably the most potent, useful example of why "political incorrectness" matters. First off, calling Morgan's act "politically incorrect" -- an act that says homosexuality is a choice, that he would stab his gay son and that Obama should man up and stop supporting gay rights -- is an understatement. Those kinds of statements should fall far beyond The Line, past decency, and past mere risque. Some people do disagree, mostly other stand-ups. While I'm usually inclined to agree with them, Morgan's situation is reprehensible in a very different way.
And then they cast all the main characters as white kids.