Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Cruel and Unusual on the Nightly Show

Credentials first: I loved Larry Wilmore's appearances on the Daily Show as Senior Black Correspondent. From those, I learned his wit was of the stiletto variety, or maybe even the needle type -- slipping in sharp points about race that make white people uncomfortable while raising consciousness. And making you laugh, too. Pretty hard to do.

So I was very happy to hear he would get Colbert's time slot, and for the most part, the Nightly Show has been good enough that I make time to watch it in real time. The format is usually this:

  • Larry spends the first segment framing an issue humorously;
  • The second segment is a panel of three or four guests discussing and joking about the issue;
  • The third segment is Larry quizzing the panel in some way, most often using a "Keep It 100" question, where they must give a true answer to some silly but difficult scenario. If they don't seem honest, they're judged to be worthy only of "weak tea" and handed some tea bags.
I'm starting to get a little tired of the panel format, especially because it tends to weight toward comedians who don't always have very intelligent things to say. Now that they've cut the panels back from four guests to three, the comedians are even more dominant. Despite this, there have been some excellent shows.

There have been two panels that I couldn't stand, though. The first was about vaccines, where one of the panelists was a spewer of misinformation, and the medical doctor chosen to represent the science-based side wasn't up to the task of challenging her. In my opinion, it is irresponsible to give deluded people a national megaphone.

The second panel I couldn't stand was last night. The topic was the death penalty, especially as possibly applied in the case of the now-convicted Boston Marathon bomber, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. During the first segment, Larry came out as favoring the death penalty for Tsarnaev, despite acknowledging that capital punishment is often applied in biased ways generally.

The panel included two male comedians and Alex Wagner, an MSNBC host/journalist. After Larry reiterated his belief that Tsarnaev deserved the death penalty, the first comedian said he disagreed. He opined that Tsarnaev should get life in prison, plus a sex change, and then should be left to be raped by the other inmates.

Wagner spoke next and expressed the arguments I would want made against the death penalty. She did it well, I thought, and she got the only major applause from the audience that I noticed.

The second comedian then said he thought Tsarnaev should be killed because even 23 hours in solitary confinement will let him watch cable t.v. and jerk off.

At which point the first comedian reiterated his claim that death was too good for him, that it would be a worse punishment to arrange for Tsarnaev's perpetual rape.

Then I turned the television off.

I heard later that Wagner left the panel after that segment, rather than remain for the final round. I would love to hear her thoughts on the nightmare this must have been to sit through.

The casual use of rape as a punishment is reprehensible in a country where more men are raped in prison annually than the (estimated) number of women raped in regular life. That is not to say that raping women is the way it "should" be -- of course not -- but prison rape is not a joke, it is a human problem, and a problem of giant proportion in the U.S. As Bryan Stevenson describes in his book Just Mercy, young inmates in particular are repeatedly raped and sexually assaulted.

And spinning the idea that the state could force a person to have a "sex change operation" tops even that. This comedian's idea of punishing a man is to turn him (against his will) into a woman so that he can be raped properly. I was aghast at the thought, and that it was presented on television without challenge is beyond belief.

I see no indication from social media today that anyone at the Nightly Show regrets a thing about the content of last night's show. All I can do is shake my head, and write this.

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