- - Tuesday, January 9, 2018

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Old-timers agree that they’ve never seen such a sea change in culture and society than with attitudes toward LGBT issues over the past couple of decades. Savvy observers note the role of entertainment in promoting that change. With numerous polls indicating that young people are more pro-life than older generations, the obvious next target for social change in attitudes is toward abortion. Especially with a pro-life administration making legislative advances unlikely, the pro-abortion activists are desperately looking for ways to promote their agenda.

Toni Airaksinen, a New York campus correspondent for Campus Reform, reports that a university sociologist is suggesting that comedians and television comedy need to “address” the “new ground” of joking about abortion to “destigmatize” abortion and “encourage popular support for wider access to abortion procedures.” In short, expect to see late night comedians with new “humorous” riffs about abortion and new sitcoms with “humorous” plot lines about abortion.

Obviously, Dr. Gretchen Sisson — the sociology professor at the University of California, San Francisco, who is promoting the idea of abortion comedy – hopes for popular acceptance of abortion during the pro-life years of the Trump administration. Ms. Sisson heads a research group, Advancing New Standards in Reproductive Health, dedicated to “abortion and reproductive decision-making in popular culture.” The journal, Feminist Media Studies, has just published her article (behind a paywall) where she admits that comedy is “a subversive way of challenging predominant social structures” and has a “history of challenging taboo social issues.” Her goal is to provide “real and inspired” stories that expand “the culture’s idea of appropriate ways to experience and share a full range of reproductive choices.”

Notice the strategic progression: first the special interest activists advocate for change, then the academics legitimize, media publicizes and the popular culture embraces. Pick the issue and it can be traced through these progressions. The sitcom, “Will & Grace,” is a good example of how comedy can normalize formerly aberrant behavior. The show, which focuses on a male homosexual lawyer and a straight female interior designer who are roommates in New York City, became a Thursday night habit for millions of Americans from 1998 until 2006. The controversial show was critically acclaimed, of course, and for eight years was a top-20 program on the Nielsen ratings. Cultural commentators generally agree that the television sitcom was highly effective in “educating” the American public. Certainly, it made people comfortable with gayness and made gayness cool. In short, it changed public opinion and shaped public perceptions.

Ironically, the timing of the show revealed its political agenda. “Will & Grace” ran during most of the George W. Bush years and started up again in 2017 at the start of the Trump presidency. As further evidence of its political motivation, the cast reunited during the 2016 election for a 10-minute commercial urging Americans to vote in the presidential election.

It would be easy to dismiss the idea of humor in abortion as more craziness coming out of California, but never forget that Americans elected Barack Obama to be president on the basis of his promise to “fundamentally transform America.” Our former president continues to advance that cause as do countless of those who voted for him who are in various influential positions: entertainment, media, education, etc. These efforts have been quite effective on college campuses and among the Millennial generation.

For instance, a recent campus debate over Planned Parenthood at Cornell University prompted a protest demonstration because the debate, they feared, “may be a traumatizing event for many people to hear their rights and bodily autonomy being questioned and judged.” Toni Airaksinen, the Campus Reform reporter referenced earlier, in another article reveals additional pro-abortion strategy: At the University of Michigan, professors encouraged abortionists to “embrace the gruesomeness of their jobs” in order to speak out and counter the less “nuanced public depictions of abortion” where “stereotypical caricatures may dominate the public discourse.” The Michigan study “reviewed testimonies” of 97 abortionists and found that they hesitated to speak out because their experiences would seem to be “affirming anti-abortion stereotypes, challenging pro-choice movement messaging, and acknowledging moral ambiguities in abortion work.” They wrote that they “need some validation [that] what you’re doing is right.” The four Michigan professors responded by suggesting that the abortion workers admit that they sometimes think of their work as “killing,” but that they should still declare it “the most fulfilling work I could do.”

Evidence abounds that the pro-abortion activists are searching for ways to counteract the overwhelming instinctive repulsion of decent people’s response to abortion. In desperation, having failed in so many efforts, abortion activists are turning to plain talk, acknowledging the awful reality of abortion while trying to make it seem personally “fulfilling,” or to using comedy from stand-up comedians and in television sitcoms, as far-fetched as that possibility is, to normalize and destigmatize abortion. A scholarly study examining whether humor is persuasive found that in the short term, humor can be effectively persuasive, but people tend to discount such messages in the long term, UNLESS, there is a “restoration of gravity.” In other words, the “conclusion of a humorous message should be to reestablish serious intent.”

So, beware of abortion humor paired with the Michigan proposal of acknowledging the horror of abortion, but making it essential to personal fulfillment. As the scholarly study indicates, such pairings can be powerfully harnessed to raise awareness, disseminate information, and encourage positive attitudes and behavior while simultaneously minimizing conflict, anger and resistance.

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