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The fact is, the show isn't funny any more. The brand of comedy it depends on—mostly just making fun of women for the way they look—hasn't been relevant or provocative for some time.
"People just aren't into that stuff anymore and I get it."
Fashion Police is rampant with bad comedy, ranging from exclaiming that a pregnant woman looks like she has a beer belly to talking about how Amanda Seyfried's eyes are so far apart her tears probably run down her back. The most recent example was when Giuliana Rancic saw dreadlocked Disney star Zendaya on the red carpet and remarked, "Like I feel like she, she smells like patchouli oil. Or weed. Yeah, maybe weed?"
Zendaya politely responded by noting that this comment was a) disrespectful b) racially insensitive and c) ignorant. Rancic apologized, but Fashion Police host Kathy Griffin quit shortly thereafter, claiming:
There is a chasm of difference between making a joke about Miley Cyrus wearing duct tape over her nipples in public—which I think is totally fair game—and simply looking at a photo of her on a red carpet and saying she is ugly or a bad singer or pathetic or something like that... Look, God knows my—how shall I say?—repertoire over all these years on TV and live touring has used some language I wouldn't use today, but people just aren't into that stuff anymore and I get it. Name-calling and alliteration with no comedic context is simply the lowest hanging fruit.
Shortly thereafter, E! decided to put the show on extended hiatus.
Did Griffin make the right decision both on a moral level and a professional one? Yep.
Now, we could pretend for a second that Zendaya did not look like a beautiful Botticelli daydream out on that red carpet. People are entitled to have opinions about clothing and hairstyles, especially those worn by the very famous. Certainly, most readers at Racked do. Not everyone is going to have the same opinion. Except about Zendaya's outfit. She looked perfect. She is an insanely gorgeous woman who is biologically part angel.
We could even say that Rancic's comment might not have been racist (we are, again, skipping through a cotton candy colored fantasy world here) or that she didn't intend it to come off as such.
But very few people could say that, regardless of the target, suggesting that someone smells like "Patchouli or weed!" is a really good joke.
We know what good jokes are. We know because wisecracks are to the 21st century what music might have been to the 20th. Where once you'd have to venture to places that housed witty people—say Versailles or the Algonquin Round Table—to hear hilarious insights on the happenings of the day, now all we need to do is look at Twitter. Thousands of tweets about the red carpet at the Academy Awards will be instantly available to you from comedians all across America. Thousands upon thousands.
We apparently have a surplus of insightful, smart, hilarious people around. So it seems like a shame that the ones we've chosen to pay the big bucks rely on lazy racial stereotyping and literally pointing at a woman and saying, "I bet she smells bad!"
Humor doesn't always need to be nice. Three hundred years ago Sheridan argued, "There's no possibility of being witty without a little ill nature." But snarky humor generally works best when it punches up. A great instance of a time when the cutting response comes from Adam Sternbergh's review of a book by David Denby entitled Snark: It's Mean, It's Personal And It's Ruining Our Conversation. Sternbergh quips:
[Denby] writes, "Whatever its miseries, the country in the thirties and forties was at peace with itself spiritually: We were all in the same boat." Now, you could calmly point out Denby's lazy generalization as he reimagines a time of widespread inequality as an idyllic epoch of snappy-pattered togetherness. Or you could respond, "Denby, you dumbass, not only were we not all in the same boat, we weren't even at the same water fountains."
That's a pretty good illustration of a way snarky, slightly offensive humor can cut to the heart of difficult issues in a memorable way. Snark makes for some great jokes. However, being snarky works best when you're not also being an asshole.
In a year after Ferguson and following the death of Eric Garner, telling an 18-year-old black woman in a flipping gorgeous ballgown that she looks like she's just come from sitting around smoking weed is by no stretch of the definition "punching up."
That's the thing about racist jokes—they never punch up.
That's the thing about racist jokes—they never punch up.
But then, essentially no part of a show that features a segment called "Starlet or streetwalker" feels like it's puncturing the egos of the pompous or cruel or ignorant. None of the mean humor on the Fashion Police feels merited. It mostly feels like it is lashing out at women—who really just make movies for our amusement—for failing to meet an impossible standard of perfection.
During a time when Meghan Trainor is joyfully proclaiming "It's all about that bass" and Lena Dunham is featured in Vogue, shaming women for gaining a few pounds seems not only unkind, but retrograde.
We can do better than Fashion Police. We can have jokes that require more wit than just looking at a woman and saying she's fat, or smelly, or has weird eyes, or whatever other superficial criticism the hosts settled on that day.
None of this is meant to diminish Joan River's comedic brilliance. At a time when women often didn't get to speak their minds, she did. She once said, "I succeed by saying what everyone else is thinking." In the 1960s and ‘70s, that was an incredibly bold thing for a woman to be doing.
But it doesn't seem that revolutionary any more. Now, we know that when people feel free to shout whatever offensive stuff is on their minds, it doesn't create a world where truth and honesty reign. It creates an Internet comment section.
And no one wants to live there.