Disease V. Filthbear

« July 2012 »

Memo to ALS TherapyAlliance: TIME TO GO TO COURT.

It's been a long time since I've gotten to do one of these. People aren't getting in trouble about their jokes as much as they used to. But luckily, bad comedy and excessive touchiness still exist in this world, and as long as they do, there will be a place for COMEDY COURT!

THE DEFENDANT: Seth MacFarlane, who created "Family Guy", which I find problematic. I find it problematic because I fucking hate it, but I can't really engage fully in fucking hating it because people who otherwise are decent human beings inexplicably DON'T fucking hate it. Anyway, Seth MacFarlane made a movie about a horny, raunchy teddy bear called "Ted", which I haven't seen because odds are it's going to be the Family Guy problem all over again, and this time I'd have paid eight bucks for the privilege.

THE CRIME: Being insensitive and mean to the victims of a debilitating disease. Specifically, ALS, colloquially known as Lou Gehrig's Disease.

THE DEFENSE: "The joke in the film is made at the expense of our 'villain,' Rex, and not at the expense of those suffering from the disease. That is its intent, and I believe that is how it plays. The mere mention of any disease should not be cause for ire (I lost my mother to cancer, yet there is a joke in the film which contains the word cancer). I urge analysis of context, lest the 'outrage industry' get the better of us."

THE VERDICT: Not guilty, with reservations.

Here's the deal. At one point, apparently, in the movie "Ted", the owner of the raunchy teddy bear, played by Mark Wahlberg, says to the villain Rex, played by Joel McHale, "From one man to another, I hope you get Lou Gehrig's disease."

This caused the ALS TherapyAlliance to complain, claiming that people are saying it to each other on Twitter, and that ALS is "not a laughing matter for people and families suffering from this life-threatening illness."

But it's not Seth MacFarlane's fault that people are shitty on Twitter, it's the fault of people being shitty people. And wishing Lou Gehrig's disease on someone who's evil, while not a particularly good joke, doesn't "send the wrong message" about the disease, as ALS TherapyAlliance also claimed. It sends the right message, that ALS is a horrible, debilitating disease. Wahlberg didn't wish it on McHale because he thought McHale's character would ENJOY IT.

Which, I guess, is sort of what MacFarlane was getting at when he said the joke was "at the expense of the villain", but the rest of his defense is weaker than it should be. The bit about using the word "cancer" in a joke when your mom died of it sounds compelling on the surface, but if you dig a little deeper, first, notice he didn't say he made a joke about cancer? And second, Seth MacFarlane makes mad bank off crass humor, so his ability to overcome a bit of personal squeamishness to name-drop one very common disease doesn't earn him a badge of honor.

And there is no "outrage industry", so citing it in a cautionary way just makes MacFarlane look like a douche. There is a culture of outrage, yes. There is a sense that we are all entitled to express our outrage, which is true, and that our outrage should be mollified and recompensed, which really is dependent on the specifics of your outrage. But there's no industry behind it. If there were an industry behind it, Mitt Romney would be making money off it somehow.

So, ALS TherapyAlliance, put a sock in it and go back to actually helping people who have the disease. Seth MacFarlane, your acquittal should bring you no joy, because all it means is that there are people in this world slightly more irritating than you are, which is cold comfort indeed.