So just a fair warning up front, all four videos in this post are obviously NSFW.


In the wake of the cancellation of the rebooted Roseanne sitcom for its star’s tweet comparing Obama administration consigliere Valerie Jarrett to a character from Planet of the Apes, many of the show’s defenders employed one of today’s most common rhetorical weapons: whataboutism, a logical fallacy aptly described by Wikipedia and linked to Russian disinformation tactics used throughout the 20th century and today:

Whataboutism (also known as whataboutery) is a variant of the tu quoque logical fallacy that attempts to discredit an opponent’s position by charging them with hypocrisy without directly refuting or disproving their argument,[1][2][3] which is particularly associated with Soviet and Russian propaganda.[4][5][6] When criticisms were leveled at the Soviet Union during the Cold War, the Soviet response would be “What about…” followed by an event in the Western world


The Guardian deemed whataboutism, as used in Russia, “practically a national ideology”.[22] Journalist Julia Ioffewrote that “Anyone who has ever studied the Soviet Union” was aware of the technique, citing the Soviet rejoinder to criticism, And you are lynching Negroes, as a “classic” example of the tactic.[23] Writing for Bloomberg News, Leonid Bershidsky called whataboutism a “Russian tradition”,[24] while The New Yorker described the technique as “a strategy of false moral equivalences”.[25] Jill Dougherty called whataboutism a “sacred Russian tactic”,[26][27] and compared it to the pot calling the kettle black.[28]

In the case of Roseanne‘s cancellation, the effort by her defenders has not largely been to defend Roseanne’s actions (though some have tried to embarrassing effect) but rather to claim that her firing represents a double standard. They point to Stephen Colbert’s raunchy anti-Trump jokes — “Vladimir Putin’s c—holster”, and Samantha Bee’s recent use of “feckless c—” on her now aptly named Full Frontal and claim that these acts should also result in them losing their TV shows.

So the position now being argued — which boggles my mind — is that vulgar humor and profane words are the moral equivalent of comparing black people to monkeys. It seems weird having to make this argument, but apparently it’s necessary in today’s culture-clashing world: I’m sorry, but using profane words like “c—” and “c—” is nowhere near as poisonous as spewing racism.

Would anyone like to argue that George Carlin is the moral equal to David Duke and Louis Farrakhan?

Do Judd Apatow’s and Seth Rogan’s raunchy films put them at the same moral level as the KKK-glorifying director D.W. Griffith and anti-Semitic filmmaker Jean-Luc Godard?

Here are a few thought experiments to consider: if Bee had called Ivanka Trump a “bitch” or even a “f—— bitch” would the reaction have been the same? Or if she had delivered her rant in a comedy club or on an HBO special rather than on basic cable, would anyone care? American culture has carved out spaces for vulgar, rude and profane humor. How, when, and where one uses profanity do matter. Across cultures and places these words have varied meanings. Perhaps the most obvious and memorable counter-example here is one of my favorite films and novels, the very Scottish Trainspotting, where the C-word flows like water:

To those still amazed at how regularly the C-word is used in the film — often akin to “dude” or even as a self-descriptor — the book goes much further. When I read it 20 years ago I remember counting up all the C-words on just one page and being stunned that it was more than a dozen, maybe two dozen. This is just one aspect of the book’s effort to accurately depict the “working class” Scottish culture from which author Irvine Welsh emerged.

So, point being: profanities all exist in a relative nature — the context in which they are said matters. For many cultural groups in America the C-word is the greatest of all obscenities, worse than the F-word. (That’s a reasonable position — and it is out of respect for it that I self-censor as such in this blog post.) For others it’s a harmless joke or even a strange term of endearment.

However, racist jokes don’t possess any circumstances at all in which they become harmless or tolerable. Does anyone disagree?


Photo by khelvan

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