I have never been a “fan” of Weird Al Yankovic, but I've always liked him and his style of song parody. He seems like a “good guy” who’s schtick is to poke fun at popular music and pop culture trends that most everyone can agree on. His satire is usually easy to take because although he sort of takes stands on things, he rarely chooses anything that’s very controversial. He would probably never make an anti-Obama video, but during just about any Presidency, he might well make a video saying, essentially, “Wow, Presidents and their silly politics. Amirite?” Truly offending people isn't part of Weird Al's formula.
That’s why it did bug me that his “Word Crimes” video includes several insults that rely on equating stupidity with actual disabled people. He doesn’t use the R-word, because as I say, Weird Al is basically a decent and slightly more progressive sort of guy than most “insult comics”. But in the video, he talks about people being “spastic” and “drooling” as if it signifies ignorance and lack of intelligence.
I think this is further proof that people who in general don’t engage in cruel or bullying humor (the advantaged “hitting down” to make fun of the less-advanteged), still think it’s okay to make fun of mental impairment, lower intelligence, and visible disability. More precisely, they don’t think about it at all. When they do finally think about it … as Weird Al seems to have, prompted by criticism … they tend to realize that it’s no more acceptable or tasteful than racial, ethnic, or gender slurs they would never consider using. I think it says more about the status of disabled people in society today than it does about Weird Al.
What distinguishes Weird Al at the moment is how quickly he apologized, and without weasel words. Maybe it’s because he really does care about language that he is willing to acknowledge his mistake, and own up to it without hemming and hawing. Also, because his humor has always had a Middle School flavor to it … on purpose … I believe Weird Al when he says he didn’t know “spastic” would be insulting to disabled people. Most of all, I am massively grateful that he didn’t go on a tiresome rant about “political correctness” and “freedom of speech”, as so many comedians do nowadays, even some that I enjoy.
The thing is, it’s not just offense that is at issue with this kind of thing.
Comedy doesn’t have to be tasteful or respectful to be funny, but lazy comedy is pretty deadly. And calling less informed people “stupid”, “spastic”, and “drooling” is lazy. “Old school” comedians should be on alert for this, if they don’t want to date themselves. Trouble with the progressive Twitterverse might be the least of their problems. Irrelevancy is much, much worse for business. Weird Al is mainly another generation’s comic. Maybe that’s another reason he was so quick to apologize and without undue angst. Maybe he realizes that he risks dropping off the cultural map altogether if he doesn’t make an effort to keep up with the times.
Disability life, ideas, identity, culture, commentary, and politics.