I told myself I wouldn't write about the Islamic cultural center issue again. It's increasingly becoming an issue important only in how divisive it's become to Americans, and how far we have yet to go to live up to our ideals. You could even call it a distraction. But suffice to say, I still support its construction and reject the idea that sensitivity (at least as far as the arguably false and definitely ignorant howling now going under that name) should trump American rights. That's not what we're about, after all.
I did, however, run into what is now my favorite clarification of the situation. And what surprises and impresses me about this article is what prompted me to write about it — it's on cracked.com, a (this is a compliment) lowbrow comedy website known for articles like Five Nuns Who Could Kick Your Ass, The Six Worst Things Ever Slipped Into Children's Cartoons and 5 Things From The 1990s That Might (As Well) Come Back.
The latter article is written by someone named "Gladstone," aka "G-Stone." His sense of humor — self-deprecating and pop culture-laden — fits in perfectly with the we-don't-take-ourselves-seriously vibe prevalent across Cracked.
Which is why his latest blog threw me for a loop: 3 Reasons The "Ground Zero Mosque" Debate Makes No Sense. Title-wise, it doesn't sound much different than Cracked's average daily content, in which the writer will make a point in a way that may involve a random cleavage pic (one of many running gags). But it's probably the most sober, serious thing that has ever run on the website.
Granted, that's relative. There are still repeated cracks about Sarah Palin's speech patterns and something called goat rhoti. But the points he makes couldn't be clearer, and most importantly, they don't lead up to some grand punch line. And by the way, he was there during 9/11. It's a quick and satisfying read, and a perfect summary of how I feel about the issue.
The comments have been interesting. They're running the usual heated-debate angle, though with many thanking Gladstone for moving them. Others said things like, "This is a humor site! I don't need to read politics here." Translation: "I don't want to read liberal stuff. Shut up and sing, etc."
I think this is a weird reaction. When I see a humorless conservative diatribe on a comedy site, my reaction is not, "I don't come here for this!" And not just because said diatribe is indistinguishable from the typical content of conservative humor(less) sites.
I don't believe in keeping genres separate, and I suspect most others don't either. In one of his books, Dave Barry (of all people) goes off an extended tangent about the Vietnam War and what a mistake it was, something that should never be repeated again. Despite falling in the midst of a humorous timeline of the baby boomer era, the passage still seems appropriate. In Soft Pretzels With Mustard, comedian David Brenner capped what started off as a funny childhood story about schoolyard feces-flinging (they'd toss balls of horse poo at him on the way to school) with a dead-serious remembrance of the Holocaust (he fought back, because the attack was steeped in anti-Semitism). In the same book, he relates a story about being in a pool hall during a raid, where his humor didn't save him from being arrested. He ends that one with, "What the hell IS easy?"
Comedians making serious points have the same resonance with me that my track coach did the one time he said "fuck." He was known for his Tony Dungy-style laid-back piety and never-raise-your-voice demeanor, and was beloved overall. But one day, disappointed with the way his athletes were slacking in the rain, he chided them along the lines of, "You're practicing like you don't give a fuck." He didn't even say it that forcefully, but it shocked everyone. Because he didn't say that word, ever. After that, the drills went much better.
Same thing with comedians and comedy writers. An unexpected lucid point is a good one.
If anything, the fact that a comedy writer felt the need to offer such a sober, reasoned piece of writing gives it more gravity. It's also incredibly telling that a humor site offers some of the best arguments in favor of the cultural center.
Fans of Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck often say that the men are entertainers. And I suppose that's true. But it's often brought up in a defensive context, such as when they make a particularly line-crossing allegation or otherwise act like unbalanced nitwits. Few people, I suspect, watch or listen to these guys strictly as comedians, which is why they'll never have the same impact as Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert or even G-Stone. Rush and Beck do have an impact, but it's a different impact. It'll never be the kind that leaves you surprised and thinking in an unexpected way.
And that's what I got today. Thanks, Gladstone.