“There are very few people that have gone through what they have, losing everything in a day,” he said of Louis C.K. and Roseanne Barr. “Of course, people will go, ‘What about the victims?’ But you know what? The victims didn’t have to go through that.”
So said comedian Norm MacDonald in a recently published interview in the Hollywood Reporter.
“I think we have to be more forgiving of people”
He also said that in reference to the backlash faced by Roseanne after her racist tweet.
When it comes to statements without context, Norm is right. We have to be more forgiving of people. It’s a good life lesson. Who we choose to forgive and for what reasons is just as important a life lesson however. After all, we teach people how to treat us by virtue of what we expect (respect, dignity, fairness) and what we accept (sexism, racism, sexual harassment, etc.).
In the world of #MeToo, #TimesUp, and #BlackLivesMatter, a lot has been made about how the general public has taken in and dealt with accusations of sexism, racism, and fairly abhorrent behavior. Some call it over reacting, over correction, or aiming after shooting. Okay, but who gets to decide? The accused? The accuser? The public writ large? Given that we are in an undeniable movement culture, it’s clearly the latter two. Culture, by definition, is social norms and collective regard. In this, the collective has decided that racist, sexist, even insensitive social norms are not acceptable.
Perhaps Norm MacDonald finds them unacceptable too but he wants more forgiveness nonetheless. Strictly from a philosophical perspective, I can understand how someone can find something unacceptable while wanting to see second chances given to those who did the ‘something’. But here’s the million dollar question: what are we accepting by being so forgiving?
Over two hundred years of racism and sexism tell us that baby steps and forgiveness have not done the job. A lot of American and world citizens have had enough and see forgiveness as an opportunity for offender’s to offend again. On the flip side, giving people a short leash by which to operate has undeniably changed what they say, how they say it, and who they say it to. Feel free to replace the word ‘say’ with the word do and the point is still the same. I can’t tell you how many companies are suddenly hiring Diversity and Inclusion leaders or bringing in culture experts to assess culture and teach people how to be civil and professional.
All to say, the collective has decided that we are going to teach people how to treat us by accepting less and expecting more.
I am off the explaining forgiveness train whilst I tear apart the second half of Norm’s point about Louis C.K. and Roseanne Barr “losing everything in a day”. If you can’t remember the second half or just don’t want to scroll to the top of this here article, here it is: “Of course, people will go, ‘What about the victims?’ But you know what? The victims didn’t have to go through that.”
Yeah, let’s digest that for a moment. The victims did not have to lose everything in a day? How does one process such a statement? I for one put on my culture facilitation hat and try to understand (not agree) where he is coming from. It is from this trying but necessary experience that I fall to my pop culture referencing title, “Norm MacDonald Had a Farm E, I, E, I, Oh!” Cute, right?
E is for Experience — What Norm and his fellow comedians have experienced is a life of making loads of money by being provocative and offensive. In his experience, statements like Roseanne’s have been par for a comedian’s say anything to get a laugh course. From his lens, it’s part and parcel with the gig.
I is for Impact — As in, Norm’s experiences and his reflections on those of Roseanne and Louis C.K. have put him in a bubble where the impact of others fades into the background. Having a comedian masturbate in front of you? Norm skirts past that and sees Louis C.K. for the quirky comedian who is only as good as the (cough cough) muses and inspirations by which he can draw from. With provocativeness comes media attention comes gigs comes goodness. This is the impact they are used to.
E is for Elephants Who Never Forget — Social media and the movements have retired them, much to Norm’s dismay. Make no mistake about it, a lot of Norm’s frustrations are about this very (fairly) new reality. It used to be that negative public reaction was fleeting and that quotes were hard to come by. Tis no longer the case.
I is for Insecurity — Insecurity, by definition, is “the state of being open to danger or threat; lack of protection.” These are dangerous times for comedians and celebrities who are being forced to question their social norms (pun intended), things they have long gotten away with. Norm and company are grappling with the fear this yields and reacting accordingly.
None of these remove an iota of sheer idiocy around his belief that “The victims didn’t have to go through that (losing everything in a day).” Let me finish this off by listing off just a few of the multitude of things that victims do in fact lose in a day.
*Faith in Others
*Weight — And not in the intentional New Years Resolution way
Sexual assault and harassment have immediate impact to victims. Racism has had multi-generational impacts that include cyclical poverty and the continuous loss of fair opportunity. Insinuating that victims of these realities are not “losing everything in a day” is short-sighted, naïve, and a host of several other colorful adjectives. Fact is, the days turn to weeks to months to years to decades to centuries. Meanwhile, Roseanne Barr, Louis C.K., Kevin Spacey, and others can live high off the financial hog that they’ve already reaped.