This week -- one filled with tragedies about comedies and comedies about tragedies -- I couldn’t help thinking back to the care-free days of 1998.
Jihad was something other folks had to worry about. The main issue of the day was oral sex in the Oval Office, which eventually, astonishingly, absurdly, led to impeachment hearings against President Bill Clinton
It was also in 1998 that the fledgling UPN TV network announced it would air a sitcom entitled The Secret Diary of Desmond Pfeiffer. Don’t remember it?
Well, shockingly, only a few episodes of Desmond Pfeiffer ever aired. The shocking thing being that even a single episode ever aired, because the show was a comical look at the life and times of a black servant in Abraham Lincoln’s White House.
You know, back when there was slavery.
It was hard not to think of this ill-conceived sitcom in a week that gave us both tragedy and farce. Tragedy, of course, coming out of France, where terrorists stuck in the middle ages slaughtered Mad-magazine-style cartoonists. And farce, in the wake on the revelation that a British TV station is pondering a sitcom set during the Irish Famine.
The prospect, on the surface, is understandably nauseating. Belly laughing at folks with empty bellies? Especially as produced by folks from Britain, which not only looked on as the Irish starved but shipped food abroad so as not to dare interfere with the precious free market.
Then again, rewind 40 years ago and consider listening to writers pitch a sitcom set during a war -- largely in the bloody emergency room, no less.
I give you a little show called M*A*S*H, which won over a dozen Emmy awards.
Around the same time, Mel Brooks gave the world a little treasure called Springtime for Hitler.
That doesn’t mean this Irish Famine comedy is going to be the next M*A*S*H or The Producers. It’s probably never going to get made, and people have a right to be highly skeptical, not just because it may be offensive to the Irish, but also because most sitcoms -- just like most TV shows and movies in general -- are not very good.
But there is a silver lining to all this. As of yet, no Irish or Irish American gunmen have stormed any British TV offices in search of blood.
That’s not the case for a sliver of extremist murderers who refuse to accept that they live in a world where their precious religious beliefs might not be taken as seriously by others.
It is, of course, tempting to view this as a purely Muslim issue given the murders at Charlie Hebdo. And there really is no point avoiding debate about this religion, and where it fits in an increasingly secular world. Just as we should not avoid talking about women’s rights within Islam, again, especially as it is practiced by immigrants in Western countries.
But then there’s our old friend Bill Donohue.
He’s the Irish American fellow who runs the Catholic League for Civil Rights. Which all too often ends up looking like a league made up of exactly of one person.
But anyway, there was Donohue last week saying, “What happened in Paris cannot be tolerated.” But then he added, “Neither should we tolerate the kind of intolerance that provoked this violent reaction. … It is too bad that [Charlie Hebdo editor Stephane Charbonnier] didn’t understand the role he played in his tragic death. … Had he not been so narcissistic, he may still be alive.”
To exploit this tragedy in the name of scoring some points about some vast, fictitious war on Catholicism is pretty much as tasteless as some of the very tasteless cartoon Charlie Hebdo has run.
Both of these religions have withstood (and occasionally initiated) centuries of bloodshed and warfare. They can withstand some icky cartoons and criticism.
Lighten up. Or fight back with ideas. Or (dare I say) compassion and forgiveness.
One final thought:
If you go on You Tube and watch clips of The Secret Diary of Desmond Pfeiffer, the butt of most of the jokes are dumb white people, not the slaves.
Is it possible some sitcom set in the mid-19th century will needle the bastards responsible for the Irish Famine in a sharp, new, insightful way?
It’s possible. Just not very likely.
(Contact “Sidewalks at tdeignan.blogspot.com)