No, they’re not being funny

So after everything crashed down around Milo Yiannopoulos because of his comments about sexually mature 13-year-olds, he delivered the usual excuse: why can’t people take a joke: “I understand that my usual blend of British sarcasm, provocation and gallows humor might have come across as flippancy, a lack of care for other victims or, worse, advocacy. I am horrified by that impression.” Oh, and he was also being “edgy.”

In fairness to Mr. Y, his line about learning to give head from his priest could certainly be a joke. But he says a lot of other stuff about how it’s not pedophilia if the 13-year-old boy is mature, and how consent is just some liberal bullshit. It’s not particularly sarcastic or black-humored, nor is there any clever point that implies he didn’t mean it. Provocative, yes, I grant you — though like a lot of people who brand themselves as “provocative,” it seems he whines if the provocation actually triggers backlash.

scary_clown(Source: Graeme Maclean via wikimedia commons)

This is a stock tactic by right-wingers: write something ultra-conservative with a lot of jokes in it, then declare that as it’s humor you shouldn’t take offense. Much like the argument women complaining about sexual harassment should laugh at sexist jokes — heck, even a man accused of grabbing a woman’s crotch defended it as “playful” recently. But it crops up in other circumstances too:

•A newspaper editor wrote a column about how women supporting Democrats over Republicans is obvious bigotry, therefore they shouldn’t be allowed to vote (yes, it was that stupid). When he got criticized, his response was that this was his master plan — write an obvious satire, then see how many people believed him!

•Anti-feminist Charlotte Allen writing about how women are just too stupid to be in charge of stuff, so men should be the bosses. After I ripped into it in my Destin Log blog, several people asserted she was obviously being funny, so why must I be so serious?

The answer is, of course, that just because someone’s writing a piece in a humorous tone doesn’t mean it’s a joke piece. If Allen’s piece was some kind of joke, what’s the punch-line? It doesn’t satirize or dispose of the sexist arguments she makes — in fact, it seems to endorse them. And given Allen’s loathing for feminism and feminist women (yep, she’s a special snowflake), it’s hard to see why I shouldn’t take her views straight.

It’s like Trump tweeting about one of his right-wing critics being sexist — Trump’s followers know perfectly well he’s not rejecting sexism, he’s just playing a trick on his opponent. I suspect the humor is meant to give the writers plausible deniability even though the message is clear.

Sometimes the humor defense works for good. Right-wing columnist Ron Hart supported gay marriage well before Obergefell, but in his columns he played this as a joke — sure, let them get married, why should straight people be the only one who have horrible screaming fights over how to stack the dishwasher? Presumably shielding him from any flak he might get from his regular conservative readers.

Yiannopoulos is no more convincing than any of the others.

Bonus: Roy Edroso looks at right-wing reaction to Yiannopoulos, before and after.

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