- - Sunday, September 26, 2010

Real taboos I

“The New Hampshire-born, foul-mouthed comedian’s humor is of the jaw-dropping, sacred cow-slashing, ‘did she just say that???’ variety. And it’s egalitarian in its targets. Asian, Mexican, black, Jewish, Catholic — [Sarah] Silverman has pooh-poohed, poked fun at, upset everyone. Except, perhaps, Muslims. …

“She recounts how many enraged letter-writers complained about an episode of ‘The Sarah Silverman Program’ in which her character has a one-night stand with, and then dumps, God (depicted as a black man), demanding to know why she didn’t show Muhammad having sex. ‘I don’t want to get blown up with explosives,’ she explains. This would have been funny, had she not then added, sincerely: ‘I am afraid of angering Muslims, but not afraid of angering Jews and Christians, so I chose to depict the Judeo-Christian God instead.’ …

“We can see a comedian celebrated for her no-holds-barred satire actually holding back. And in her explanation for why she does so, she genuinely manages to be quite offensive, because this time she means it. If you poke fun at Muslims, you risk your life apparently.”

Nathalie Rothschild, writing on “Is Sarah Silverman going all identity crisis-y?” in the September issue of Spiked Review of Books

Real taboos II

“[George Orwell] saw his problems with ‘Animal Farm’ as part of a much bigger pattern of ‘self-censorship’ in wartime England. Nobody demanded the media’s fawning coverage of the Soviet Union. Nobody required the falsification of facts, or the ugly attacks on critics of Stalin, or the covering-up of unpleasant truths. Nobody forced journalists and editors to do these things. They freely chose to do them. The news media of the day were staffed by decent men and women. They felt they were on the side of social progress. …

“Their assumptions created what Orwell saw as a new form of religious orthodoxy. That orthodoxy shaped the boundaries of permissible thought and expression. And Orwell warned that this unspoken tendency toward group-think would threaten the press in democratic societies well into the future. He wrote: ‘At any given moment, there is an orthodoxy, a body of ideas, which it is assumed that all right-thinking people will accept without question. It is not exactly forbidden to say this, that, or the other, but it is ‘not done’ to say it … [And] anyone who challenges the prevailing orthodoxy finds himself silenced with surprising effectiveness.’”

Archbishop Charles Chaput, from “Religion, Journalism and the New American Orthodoxy,” a Sept. 24 speech to the Religion Newswriters Association

Real virtue?

“So you decided to buy a nontoxic cleaning product? Good for you. Just don’t get too self-congratulatory. Purchasing a green product could make you more likely to behave more selfishly down the road, a new study reveals.

“Researchers at the University of Toronto asked college students to shop for products online from either an eco-friendly or a conventional store. Then, in a classic experiment known as the dictator game, subjects were asked to divide a small sum of money between themselves and a stranger. Those who shopped at the green store shared, on average, less of their money.

“The investigators believe that a ‘licensing effect’ might be at work. ‘When we engage in a good deed, that gives us a kind of satisfaction,’ says Nina Mazar, professor of marketing and a co-author of the paper. With that self-satisfied feeling can come tacit permission to behave more selfishly next time we have the opportunity, Mazar says.”

Emily Anthes, writing on “Green and Mean: Eco-shopping Has a Side Effect” on Sept. 21 at Scientific American

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