Wednesday, September 12, 2007

The Kathy Griffin Incident

Many atheist readers will already be familiar with this story. Kathy Griffin received a Creative Arts Emmy for Outstanding Reality Program. In her acceptance speech she said:

A lot of people come up here and thank Jesus for this award. I want you to know that no one had less to do with this award than Jesus. Suck it, Jesus, this award is my god now!

For this, she has received praise from many atheist bloggers, the condemnation of many religious leaders such as Catholic League president Bill Donohue, and a promise from the TV Academy to edit her remarks in a rebroadcast of the award ceremony on E! on Saturday night.

I am not going to be one of the bloggers who will praise her for what she said. I consider the remarks inappropriate.

Let us assume that there was a comedy or a musical team, Jim and Bob, that had been famous for a couple of decades. However, they had a recent falling out. Each has gone their own way and one of them, Jim, was being quite successful in his solo career. Jim gets an Emmy and, when he gets up to give his speech, said, “I want you to know that no one had less to do with this award than Bob. Suck it, Bob. This award is mine.”

Of course, we cannot leave out the detail that many people in the audience are extremely good friends with Bob. At the end of each speech, the tradition is to applaud the person who received it. However, Jim would have put all of those people in the uncomfortable position of applauding the person who has just insulted their friend Bob in front of a national audience.

For putting the members of the audience in this position, Jim deserves some measure of moral condemnation.

In addition, those who sponsor most awards ceremonies request (demand) that speakers refrain from using their time at the podium to advocate any political or social agenda, other than whatever agenda might be ‘on topic’ given what they are receiving the award for. A person receiving an award for a documentary on global warming is permitted to say something about global warming. The reason is simple – they do not want these awards ceremonies to degenerate into brawls – verbal or otherwise.

One possible response to this objection to these remarks is to say that it is a part of Griffin’s public persona to do or say things that are objectionable. However, it does not follow from the fact that a person has adopted a persona of behaving inappropriately that it is wrong to condemn her. We would not, for example, argue that the fact that a person has adopted the role of a burglar implies that it would be wrong for us to condemn his acts of theft.

I suspect that at least one person will assume that I am basing my criticism of Griffin on an assumption that we have an obligation to be particularly nice or tolerant of those who believe in God. That would not be correct.

There are legitimate criticisms to be made against those who claim that religion deserves a special sort of politeness or tolerance that we should not grant to other forms of belief. For example, in almost all parts of life, if somebody says something absurd or ridiculous we are permitted to say (if it is our honest opinion), “That is absurd” or “That is ridiculous.” We are not permitted to say this under every circumstance, but certainly under some circumstance, Yet, saying that the belief that there is a God is absurd or ridiculous is culturally prohibited. This amounts to a special protection for religious beliefs. That special protection is unwarranted, and should be eliminated.

However, my criticism about Griffin is not because she refused to show special sensitivity towards religious beliefs. My example above is meant to illustrate that there is a wide range of remarks that are not appropriate in these circumstances, many of which have nothing to do with religion. Arguing that her comments against religion are acceptable in these circumstances is like saying that religion deserves a place of special condemnation – that it is legitimate to condemn religion in circumstances where other forms of criticism would be considered inappropriate.

In fact, since it is considered appropriate for a speaker to thank Jesus or some other supernatural entity when accepting an award, the following should be viewed as acceptable:

To all of the people who made this possible, you did this. This is for your hard work and your talent, and I’m not going to give the credit you deserve to some supernatural deity.

If it is appropriate to thank Jesus at an award ceremony, then it should be appropriate to tell those that one is thanking that they deserve full credit for their contribution.

In fact, it would be hard to criticize this type of acceptance speech. Anybody who does so will have to say, or at least infer, that the people that the recipient thanked do not actually deserve full credit.

The way that this story is developing, we now have to say a few things about the reactions to Griffin’s remarks.

For example, the Catholic League has condemned Griffin’s remarks for being “obscene and blasphemous.”

Obscene . . . yes, in part. Blasphemous? Well, I’m willing to grant that, but I find it hard for a Catholic to make this claim without being guilty of hypocrisy. After all, thanking Jesus is blasphemous, in a sense, from the point of view of an atheist. Blasphemy is denying the existence of a God (which atheists certainly do). Denying the non-existence of a God is simply the same situation in reverse. Arguing that one should be permitted while the other should be condemned is a textbook example of hypocrisy.

Also, in response to criticisms of Griffin, the TV Academy has said that they will edit her remarks.

I would consider it perfectly legitimate for the TV Academy to censor obscenity – as long as it does so on a regular standard. This is going to be hard to do, given that the show itself put on a presentation of MTV’s song, “Dick in a box.” To censor Griffin for obscenity in this context . . . the stench of hypocrisy will be overpowering.

But, to censor blasphemy? Since it permits people to thank Jesus, censoring blasphemy would be an instance of allowing certain religions special protection. It grants the church protections that the rest of us do not have – not unless it is also willing to censor any statement thanking a deity.

Griffin has been accused of bigotry. Yet, no clearer example of bigotry can be found than that of an organization that allows the double standard found in allowing people to assert a belief in Jesus but not allow somebody to assert a belief in the skills and talents of real people.

Now, the Saturday version of the Emmy Awards has not yet aired. I do not know what will be cut and what will not be cut. There is nothing yet to say about whether the TV Academy will apply a consistent standard or not to this broadcast. (I think it would be quite amusing if they edited out Griffin’s comments and also every comment making reference to any deity.)

So, I cannot say that what the TV Academy did was wrong. They haven’t done it yet. It will be interesting to find out. But, from what I have seen so far, and the choices they have made, they have painted themselves into a moral corner. The next question will be whether, if things turn out as expected, a sufficient number of people will be willing to condemn them for it.


DiscordianStooge said...

An interesting take. The only problem is that Kathy Griffin is supposedly a comic. She made a joke. To use your music group analogy, if Tenacious D won an award, I would be disappointed if Jack Black didn't tell Kyle Gass to suck it.

Jokes are jokes.

Anonymous said...

I don't agree. People just don't speak like the 'acceptable' version you give. I might but most wouldn't and in particular not a comic at an entertainment awards ceremony.

Les said...

I think you have a fair criticism, though it seems to me the worst she could be accused of is being rude. While I agree that in general it's better to be polite when accepting an award, there's far worse gaffes than simply being rude.

Then again a good portion of my own blog could be considered rude in it's own right.

Seven Star Hand said...

Faith is the opposite of Truth, Wisdom, and Justice...

Greetings Alonzo,

Very good article! It constantly amazes me how often I see atheists/skeptics as my kindred spirits. Keep up the good works!

How can one defame a fantasy based on proven lies? On the other hand, priests are proven to have raped thousands upon thousands of children, while demanding faith and loyalty from deceived followers. Also, let us never forget the Inquisition, Crusades, the genocides in every Christian conquered land, etc., etc.! These are proven facts, not so-called "defamations."

What is more important, truth or faith? Would the creator of all knowledge and wisdom insist that you remain ignorant by simply believing what you have been told by obviously duplicitous religious founders and leaders?

It boggles the mind how often holier-than-thou Christian leaders are so often involved in sick and deceptive behavior. Just look at the history and current events of the Vatican and Papacy. Do you need any more proof of why such blatantly duplicitous scoundrels value faith over truth and justice? See the redundant patterns shouting out for recognition?

Jesus Christ is a proven Roman deception, pure and simple!!

Here is Wisdom !!

Hume's Ghost said...

I'm not going to praise Griffin because I don't think she did anything worthy of praise.

However, I do think it was funny.

Griffin's publicist released a statement from her saying: "Am I the only Catholic left with a sense of humor?"

Sheldon said...

I have to agree with Alonzo. The statements were in poor taste and innapropriate given the situation.

And I have to agree with Hume's Ghost, it was kind of funny. In fact, that is what makes some things funny, they are innapropriate. It is not something I would have done in a similar situation, or if I did, I would be embarrassed afterwar.

vjack said...

But Bob (from your example) is a real person. Doesn't this matter to anyone?

Anonymous said...

I find your analogy to be flawed; “I want you to know that no one had less to do with this award than Bob. Suck it, Bob. This award is mine.”

In this you are making the claim that she should have acknowledged jesus, even though he had nothing to do with her receipt of the award. All because someone else you, might think the contrary.

Making the claim that everyone should acknowledge jesus is the same kind of religious bigotry you're whining about.

Anonymous said...

I agree with vjack that there is a difference between a real person with thoughts and feelings and Jesus who is either divine and above criticism, or fictional and immune to it.

However perhaps more important is that Griffin's joke wasn't at the expense of Jesus, it was satirising the schmaltzy awards ceremony practice of thanking the deity for a trashy entertainment award.

And it's funny!

Anonymous said...

I fail to see Griffin's comments as the problem, Alonzo, on your logic.

Many people are offended by celebrities' and athletes' invocations of their respective gods. Many more should be, because the implication is that the winner's god favored the winner and smacked down the losers.

By your logic, then, these awards shows have been for all recorded history swamps of offense, quagmires of choice between Bob and the other guy. I should applaud thanks to some cockamamie deity when the thanks are a direct insult to me?

Griffin's comments, then, seem but a long-overdue tweak to the noses of the sanctimonious gasbags who've dominated the show for years. Complaining about her statement is like complaining about the "overreaction" of the schoolboy who after years of being given wedgies by the school bully finally turns around one day and decks the bastard. :-)

Hell, don't applaud if you don't like it. But censorship? These "artists" and their masters should be ashamed of themselves.