I know this show is horribly out of date, but I was watching a clip on YouTube from Politically Incorrect where Sarah Silverman was being told to apologies for a racially insensitive word that she had used in a joke that aired on Late Night with Conan O’Brien in 2001. The Joke involved the use of the word “chink,” and the Politically Incorrect clip can be watched in full here:
Sarah Silverman’s joke is about how some people miss the point about what is and isn’t racially offensive, and she uses irony to bring the point across. The joke posits that the phrase, “I hate chinks” is offensive while the phrase, “I love chinks” isn’t offensive. The irony of the joke is that the Sarah Silverman as the speaker of the joke and the audience that hears the joke all know that the offensive part of both phrases is the racial slur and not the words leading up to it. Therefore, I fully understand Sarah Silverman’s irritation when Guy Aoki tells her that she is racist for simply using a racial slur in her act.
A comedian’s act is much like any other form of writing for entertainment. The point of the writing is entertainment. As entertainment, the comedian’s act or the writer’s story no longer reflects the writer’s beliefs. Therefore, Guy Aoki was wrong to claim that Sarah Silverman is a racist because of a joke that she told, but he was perfectly within his rights to complain about the usage of racial slurs in her act. While I do not condone censorship of people’s intellectual properties, I do feel that discussion about what offends people is healthy and necessary. I believe that a writer has a right to offend if he or she wants to, but has a responsibility to understand exactly what kind of hornet’s nest he or she is planning on stepping in to. Tell me what you think. Does a writer have the right to offend? Do you use offensive words or ideas in your writing? Is there a difference between offending to offend and being offensive to get people to see a larger point?