It's a strange world we live in, this 2012. We have all these communication tools that allow us to instantly connect with each other, communicate in good and bad ways, and do it with millions at a time. The problem with these tools is that they can be used to bring down social opprobrium by "crowdsourcing," which is what happened to Erin Calipari last night.
Andy Hutchins of SBNation and Alligator Army along with several other sites and people last night teed up this tweet from Erin Calipari in response to a now-deleted tweet from a Syracuse fan that mocked Coach Cal by suggesting that somebody bake him a cake for all his vacated Final Fours. The Daughters Calipari are notoriously and endearingly protective of their dad, so Erin struck back the Twitter way, with a pointed assault on the offender's coaching staff (Both her tweet and the tweet that provoked it have since been consigned to the bit bucket, but screenshots live forever in the case of her tweet):
Now, is that a little on the tasteless side? Yeah. Could this attempt at humor been made more cleverly and less jarringly? Definitely. But is it offensive? Not really, except possibly to Bernie Fine's family and Syracuse fans everywhere, which was pretty much the point. Is this an argument for taking more care when you write stuff on Twitter? Whether it is or not, that's always a good idea. [Update: I did forget to mention she later apologized for the tweet, calling it "inappropriate."]
This all started in response to a Billy Donovan's wife baking him a cake for his recent signing of a couple of five-star players. Frankly, I think that recalls a simpler time before Twitter Madness infested our culture, but apparently some find it goofy, or felt like it could be used to poke fun at Florida. Whatever.
Anyway, back to Erin's Politically Incorrect Tweet. Andy Hutchins' piece that was the spark for this commentary goes on to gently reprove Erin's twitter comment:
There was probably no good way for Calipari to make fun of Syracuse by way of mentioning potential child molestation without stepping in something, but, to be fair, this doesn't reflect poorly on her father, king of epic humblebrags and head-scratching shoutouts. It does, however, reflect poorly on her that she thought that she was being witty, and it reflects somewhat poorly on the Kentucky fans who flocked to defend her.
For my money, this is a random display of situational political correctness and using it to take a shot at John Calipari, which is exactly what touched off this entire imbroglio. Now Erin finds herself in the unfortunate position of having to defend herself from these kinds of "Mr. Reasonableness" attack, which are quite frankly off base and intended to use her to embarrass other people for whom these "reasonable" people hold some animus, or wish to mock -- in this case her dad.
Everyone is (or should be) familiar with "Chester the Molester" jokes from back in the 1980's, and even though child molestation itself is no joke, neither is death, rape, insanity, or many other life events that wind up constantly in our humor. Does "are you insane?" offend those with mental handicaps? Possibly, but that hasn't generated enough opprobrium for it to be placed off limits yet.
But now, Hutchins and others are trying to place humor about child molesters off limits and bring down the wrath of Twitter on Erin, and with yesterday's reminder of the Penn St. Horror the subject of most of the conversation, child molestation is front and center. What happened at Penn St. wasn't funny in any respect, and so our nerves are now very raw and attuned to the depredations of that particular evil.
Just to help Hutchins and the others out, child molestation jokes, despite the problems at Penn St., are still very much mainstream, and not just in the very young and inexperienced sector of society. This is a piece by political writer Michael Kinsley, a man of no small note:
"Outsourcing" has become such a dirty word that it's hard to believe there could actually be something called the International Association of Outsourcing Professionals. What next? The Society of Professional Child Molesters?
Kinsley's commentary was neither as pointed nor as personal as Erin's jibe, but it was made only two weeks ago and it points out that jokes about child molesters are not off the social reservation yet. Not only that, the effort to put it off limits is reminiscent of every other campaign for political correctness, and just as misplaced.
Does anyone remember the "niggardly" scandal that got a Washington DC staffer fired for using a completely context-appropriate word, "niggardly," because it sounded too much like the N-word? Yes, that happened. "Niggardly" means, very simply, stingy or miserly. I once used it at work and my boss looked at me as though I was crazy. After I informed him that this hole in his vocabulary was a problem for him, not for me, he of course agreed that I was fully correct and he was hypersensitive.
My advice on this? Just stop it. Stop trying to enforce political correctness because current events have sensitized you to a particular issue. Stop writing looking-down-the-nose blog posts at young people making tasteless jokes defending their famous parents, unless it's truly socially unacceptable and not just ripe for the picking. Using Erin's youthful inexperience to try to embarrass her father is wrong, unfair, and reflects poorly on those doing it.
And for God's sake, stop trying to destroy humor by trumping up mock offense every time it becomes possible or clever. It's unworthy, idiotic, and it harms our discourse. Political correctness is one of the most offensive and pernicious trends to come out of the 1990's, and I wish heartily for its earliest demise.