Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Craig Simpson: D'Oh!

Craig Simpson is a reporter on the Rubber City Radio stations and a frequent guest on Eric Mansfield's NewsNight Akron. Now he also runs a blog and last week posted about Akron's JCC hosting Maccabi Games, a Jewish youth athletic event. The post is, ah, problematic and Jill pointed it out. In response to comments from Jill and I, Craig says he's only kidding.

Actually, he says he was kidding and that some of his best friends are Jewish and that if anyone is offended, he's sorry. Yes, the Lighten Up crackback, the My Best Friends defense and the If You Were Offended non-apology apology. The three favorites of people who say stupid crap and won't own it. A trifecta of douchebaggery. Well played, sir.

Oh, and he tells me to be a real man. So apparently my offense has to do with my lousy bench press, or something.


We shouldn't have to keep having this conversation, but apparently we must. So here are a few tips for navigating the treacherous straights between effective satire and actually trafficking in hate. And I'll type slowly so even Craig can understand.

First off, people have to know you are kidding. No, really. Because, you see, the reason that these stereotypes are so powerful and destructive is that people actually say them and mean them. And mean harm by them. By this measure Simpson's post fails. He starts off arguing that Jews shouldn't sequester themselves from the rest of society for exclusive activities. This is a stock Limbaughian rant. Without knowing whether Simpson is actually Limbaughian, it's impossible to know that he's kidding.

Then he segues into a bit about what interfaith games might look like. This is painfully unfunny but at least it looks like it's supposed to be funny.

Then the head-snapping last paragraph:

Come on, the Jews have most of the money and run most of the business world…do you REALLY need to rub it in our faces have your own freakin’ Olympics!? Just stick to penny-pinching, lawyering and filling up the upscale communities in America’s suburbs.

I'll wait until you recover from the spasms of laughter.


This, apparently, is where he goes so over the top that he thinks anyone would know he was kidding, Would that it were so. In fact I know intelligent professional people who think think nothing of trafficking in the standard money-grubbing Jew stereotype.

In his defense Craig maintains that his Jewish friends thought this was all Big Laffs. Setting aside the real possibility that his friends were just being abundantly polite to their ignorant but harmless goy friend, this argument still falls. His friends have a context for knowing that he's kidding -- the context of knowing Craig Simpson. Without that context it looks like he started a standard right wing diatribe and in the last paragraph shared too much.

Which brings us to a second problem. If you are going to satirize hateful stereotypes, actually satirize them. Just reiterating them isn't satire. Simpson is engaging in the Andrew Dice Clay method -- pretend to be a bigot by actually sounding like a bigot, but do nothing to make the bigotry sound ridiculous. In the Diceman's case, the satire claim was just window dressing to make his actually bigotry look something close to respectable, but his audience was laughing at the objects of his rants, not with them. In Simpson's case, it just turns out to be not funny, unless you share the actual views he posts.

By the same token, understand that if you are satirizing, you are still trotting out ideas that hurt people. It's a project you should approach with some delicacy.

Finally, if you try this and it doesn't work, admit it. I've worked this line myself -- in the immediately preceding post in fact. It's easy to make a mistake and hurt people. Where I come from, a big part of being a real man is to admit when you've made a mistake. And no, "I'm sorry you were too sensitive to know I was kidding" is not actually an apology, it's an insult.

Looking over Simpson's work, it doesn't look like he has the chops to thread this needle. Stick to sounding smarter that Phil Trexler, Craig. It's about as high as you can aspire to.


Jill said...

Scott - thanks for writing this post. While you and I both know that I might not include the particularly cheeky language, you hit the nail on the head as to why what Craig wrote is, on its face, disturbing and not funny, and that has nothing to do with my sensitivity, even though I might try to gentle my accusations by suggesting that it does (because you and I know that sometimes, that is in fact the case).

Since I don't live in Akron and have never heard of Craig or read his work, I can only give him the benefit of the doubt this time around and hope that it was a miserable failure of satire and that his friends who are Jewish who laughed were few and just being kind.

Again - having just spent 3-5 hours at Yad Vashem, satirical attempts to skewer anti-Semitism by sounding like an anti-Semite, fail to impress me as a helpful way to battle the problem.

Anonymous said...

What is really ironic is that Andrew Dice Clay is a jew.

Pho said...

And I'm not familiar enough with his "comedy" to know if he ever went on anti-Jewish rants. I saw one bit where he went from Asians (not his term) to Latinos to date-rape jokes and I was done.

Anonymous said...

He was born Andrew Clay Silverstein.

Anonymous said...

I am appalled by this whole thing. Simpson's blog entry is simply disgusting. And to try to hide his obvious anti-Semitism behind humor is vile, especially for a so-called newsman.

Good for you, Pho, for calling out Craig Simpson. I can only hope that Akron's Jewish Community will do it next.

Oh, and, uh, anonymous: the point is over here. And you are missing it.

Ryan said...

I really have no words to respond to that kind of ignorance. The continued proliferation of it is disturbing and that Simpson tries to write it off as satire is amusing, at best. As someone who willingly converted from Catholicism to become a Jew, it bothers me that such pettiness has been the source of jealousy and hatred. I never understood it when I was Catholic and I feel equally appalled now.

My fiancee and I, once we're married and having kids and all, will raise our children in a Jewish household and have some sense of being culturally Jewish. Catholics have festivals back home, in upstate New York. The Jews are a nation (read: not as a nation-state) who are dispersed across many lands. That someone would mock the show of unity that this community has maintained across time is disgusting.


Ed Esposito said...

Pho and Jill, thanks very much for posting this thread. I did not see the post nor was I even aware of Craig's blog. I do know him to be a cynic with a very well-developed politically incorrect sense of humor but based on what you and Jill have written I am appalled. I do note the original post was taken down and the blog itself seems to have been deleted but will discuss this in more detail with Craig (in Washington on business now.) I'm very sorry I did not catch any of this earlier; it certainly does NOT represent our coverage of the Maccabi games, either on-air or web, nor our viewpoint.


Anonymous said...

Good for you, Ed. I have always had great respect for your journalistic integrity. Now if only a little biot of it might rub off on Craig Simpson.

Simpson may have taken the offensive post down but it can still be read in the Blogger cache --as I just did moments ago -- or by people, like me, who made a hard copy to share with the Jewish community.

Any chance that Craig Simpson will be able to make statements similar to yours? I have already lost any respect I might have had for him but at least I can believe in the system if he can be made to see teh error in this kind of "reporting/blogging."

Ed Esposito said...

Anon - sorry to reveal my significant ignorance but I'm not up-to-speed on finding in cache. If anyone would be so kind as to cut and paste or screen capture the entire post and responses and forward to I would appreciate it.

Also FYI I'm on vacation next week and will be out of touch (rotten timing) but hope to further this discussion Friday before leaving.

Thanks again Jill & Scott, and all who responded.