Friday, June 26, 2009

This One's for You, Mr. Letterman

I don't flatter myself that David Letterman reads my blog, knows my name, or cares for my thoughts. That doesn't matter. David Letterman crossed the line with his Bristol/Willow Palin joke and he doesn't get it. What's worse, apparently half of America doesn't get it either.

The joke is well-known, and so is Letterman's sort-of apology. Here's the joke Letterman told:  “Sarah Palin went to a Yankees game yesterday. There was one awkward moment during the seventh-inning stretch: her daughter was knocked up by Alex Rodriguez.” The Chicago Tribune's The Swamp blog discussed his apology, giving it in full in italics at the end of a long and useless article. It's useless because it frankly misses the most important point. So, for that matter, do most of the slanted comments. If you want a good take on the state of fair play and give-and-take and respect for opposing views, read the comments. If you can stomach them, you've done better than I did.

I know a father with a teen-age daughter whose life is a train wreck. The choices this young girl has made have devastated her parents. Those choices may yet ruin her life. Her father tells me he goes to work fearful of a call from home, wondering what bad news he'll hear and how he'll handle it. He tells me every poor decision he's made, thinking he's at fault for his daughter's choices and wondering what he can do to rescue her. And in the end, the worst thing is that he can't do a single thing. His conclusion? He's failed her.

If you were to point out that her choices are her own, he'd say yes, they are. Of course he knows that. But still, he worries. What if she becomes pregnant? Drops out of school? Runs away and ends up on the streets? And he dreads.

How in the world did it become morally defensible to use this as fodder for comedy?

Bristol Palin isn't on the streets. Does that make it okay? Her mother is a public figure. Does that make it okay? Her mother is even a (gasp!) Republican. Does that make it okay?

In the end, Mr. Letterman, you made a nasty joke about a young girl who chose to have sex with her boyfriend--a choice that carried a consequence. Not just the consequence of a baby. There's also the consequence of broken intimacy with someone who will, after all, not be her life partner. There's the consequence of pain in her family. Mr. Letterman, what gives you the right to make a joke of all this? Why do you not understand:  It was not a bad joke just because you got the wrong Palin, or because you had to explain it. It was a bad joke because it mocked a family's hardest trial. It used one of the most gut-wrenching events a mother, father, and daughter will ever endure--used that for a laugh.

No one should ever be treated that way. Preach if you want; sermonize; moralize. Don't ridicule. If you want to make light of your own pain, go ahead. Hands off the other person's pain. I'm not asking you to have a heart; just a sense of decency. And for all the Letterman fans:  Don't you dare try to defend the indefensible. He was wrong. Period.

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