Tuesday, November 1, 2011

The Softening of America

Don Rickles showed up at John Lasseter's Hollywood Walk of Fame ceremony today.  I had to look up who Lasseter is - it turns out he is the director and Chief Creative Officer for Pixar, and originally worked for Walt Disney Studios.

Anyway, Patton Oswalt Tweeted some of Rickles' lines from the ceremony.  They made me laugh because I read them to myself in Rickles' voice and imagined him saying it: 

"I look around today, and I'm the biggest star here." - Don Rickles, at Lasseter's star unveiling.
"Suck up to your dad, boys. He's gonna leave you a bundle." - Don Rickles, to Lasseter's kids.
"Last thing Disney said before he died: 'Get me a Jew to be in my cartoons." - Don Rickles.
When I was a kid (when dinosaurs roamed the Earth) I'd stay up late to watch Rickles guest-host the "Tonight" show.  I recorded them on my cassette recorder and would listen to them over and over.  We didn't have DVR or VHS recorders in those days.
He would come out to that Toreador music that Doc Severenson's band would play and spend 90 minutes berating Charo, Ed McMahon and every guest he had on the show with every racial stereotypical epithet he could think of. And we laughed.  We didn't think of filing a complaint lawsuit because he portrayed the Irish as boozers, the Mexicans as bandits and the Polish as meatheads - as Archie Bunker similarly portrayed them on a show called "All in the Family" that ran concurrent to Rickles' "Tonight" show duties.

You couldn't put a show like "All in the Family" on network television today.  The closest we have come in the last 20 years was that William Shatner show, "[Bleep] My Dad Says," and they had to characterize the word shit with an asterisk and some other symbols, and use the word bleep to say shit.  How has that progression worked? What was the point of calling a show "Shit My Dad Says" and then having to use bleep instead of shit?  Why not call it "Strawberry Bricks?"
I don't know if we laughed at Rickles and Archie Bunker because we didn't know what else to do or if we laughed because everybody else was laughing.  I do know that we laughed because it was (ready?)  ... funny.  It was funny to see this balding Jew telling Charo that she needed to get her papers stamped so that she could be on the show.  Charo used to call him "Don Wrinkles." Today, millions of supporters of immigration would write e-mail's to NBC complaining that Rickles cast them in a negative light.  Meanwhile, none of them could produce the "papers."
Rickles is 85.  I don't know if it's his age or his cache that allows him to get away with what he says, but I'd guess that if he appeared on the scene as a 20-something comic doing that sort of humor, he would be ostracized.  Such is the sad state of America.  We kowtow to every ethinc group and kiss the backside of the lawyers who represent them because we don't want our kids to grow up thinking like that.  Meanwhile, millions of kids who grew up watching "All in the Family" or seeing Rickles on talk shows learned the difference between humor and bigotry.

It's sad that we do not allow our children to establish their own boundaries.  If they don't know where the edge is, how will they know where to stand?

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