Comedians like to push and push and push until that very fine line of what is deemed acceptable and unacceptable is somewhat squeezed to its very limit. As George Carlin once said, “It’s a comedian’s duty to find the line and deliberately cross over it.” That, to me at least, is what some of the very best comedy can do. Regardless of the situation that we find ourselves in today when it comes to what can and cannot be said, which has its pros and its cons, we need to be grateful that a movie such as Ben Stiller's "Tropic Thunder“ was considered fine to exist in multiplexes, albeit more than 10 years ago. The release of the comedy classic happening the same year President Obama got elected as the 44th President of the United States. And so, this was before Obama would amplify into the mainstream the idea of identity politics and further promote the acceptance and meaning of such terms as “white privilege," woke," "the patriarchy," "victim-blaming.” Of course, it was a valiant effort of the President’s part, but little did he know that he would go completely out of control.
And yet, these terms should exist, they are there to remind us of the hollow sexism, racism and overall bigotry that occurred in this country the last 300+ years. But with all positives can can come negatives and Obama's agenda, although well-intentioned to a certain point, managed to isolate many of the demographics being attacked in these terms. It put the culture in this country at a standstill, which consequentially elected Trump and has had liberals collectively freaking out ever since. It's come to the point where any kind of art that might be seen through the viewpoint of the "unwoke," "the white privileged," etc. will be deemed toxic to the overall message Obama tried to lay across in his 8-year-tenure as President.
Every once in a while I try to remind people that a comedy like "Tropic Thunder" would just not be able to get made today. Not in this heavily politicized, post-Obama world. Please, do disagree with me on that, because just four months ago Shaun White dressed up as Stiller's mentally-handicap character Simple Jack for Halloween and caused total uproar, to the point where White had to issue an apology to the Special Olympics. This is real. This is the world we live in. Comedy is in dire straits at the moment. And Ben Stiller seems to agree with me on that. Guesting onHoward Stern's SiriusXM radio show, the 52-year-old comedian told the radio host that "Tropic Thunder" "probably couldn't have been made today."
This film is a landmine for triggered outrage waiting to happen. If this movie came out today, and bless Paramount for having had the chutzpah to release it just 10 years ago, most would completely miss its point. For example, Robert Downey Jr's character in the film, Kirk Lazarus, doing blackface is satire on method actors. It wasn't just played for laughs. It had a purpose. Sadly, these days, intent doesn't matter as much as perception.
There isn't a firm line on what's funny and what's in poor taste anymore, but EVERYONE loves to point out when they they think that line has been crossed. "Tropic Thunder" would have Twitter and culture publications up in a frenzy if released today. The universally positive reviews turned into abhorrently negative ones from scared and shrieking critics too afraid to be called racist if they admitted that, shock, they actually laughed at the jokes.
Suffice to say, it really is a bad time for comedy, even though we very much could use some comedic relief at the moment. Movie studios are just not putting the money into mid-budget films anymore, and the mainstream studio comedy has suffered quite a bit in the process. Nobody has really cracked the code since the Apatow/Hangover era. It’s incredibly telling that “Game Night,” considered one of the bigger hit comedies recently, could only scrape $69 million domestically.
Seth Rogen was on a podcast a couple of years ago saying how hard it is to get studio comedies made nowadays compared to the 2000s where studios were buying up comedies left and right because they all tended to turn profits on DVD. Big-budget movies are tailored more and more to a global audience. Comedies don't really translate well overseas, so there is less incentive to make them.
Tim Allen has been around the comedy block for more than 4 decades now. He knows his stuff, and if he spots changes and differences that have happened throughout the years, well, you should probably believe what he says.
The 65 year-old comedian, more or less, confirmed my beliefs that we are living in some kind of doomsday for comedy. Comedians have been too scared to "go there" and run the risk of offending with a simple joke.
Allen was part of a panel discussion when he made these comments [Via EW]:
"It’s a very icy time. I’ve been a comedian for 38 years and I’ve never seen it, like Lenny Bruce said at the Purple Onion, ‘We’ve gone backwards.’ There are things you can’t say. There are things you shouldn’t say. Who makes up these rules? And as a stand-up comic, it’s a dangerous position to be in because I like pushing buttons. It’s unfortunate.”
Which artist doesn't like pushing buttons? Isn't the whole point of art to "push buttons," break people out of their comfort zones, make them see the world in a new light? Regardless of the situation that we find ourselves in, I do think a major backlash against the P.C. movement will eventually occur, which is primarily being enforced on social media, especially Twitter.
If you look at the most successful comedies of the '80s, '90s, and '00s, you will notice how irreverent, risky and outrageous many of them were. 90% of them wouldn't be made today just by the sheer fear of offending. No, really, do you think stuff like "Tropic Thunder," "Anchorman," "Team America: World Police," and "Blazing Saddles" have a chance at passing the litmus test in the age of P.C.?