Hollywood is in the midst of its award season. Sunday night was the Critics Choice awards, which is run by the Broadcast Film Critics Association. It aired on A&E and I only caught a few minutes of it, despite my appreciation for host T.J. Miller. He plays the obnoxious entrepreneur Erlich Bachmann in Mike Judge’s excellent Silicon Valley. One of the things I did catch was Amy Schumer, who looked great in a sexy white halter. Apparently she won an award for best actress and gave a lengthy speech, which she excused on the grounds that she would never win again.
Elle wrote it up, describing her as “Amy Schumer, queen of DGAF comedy and unabashed self-acceptance.” That’s accurate, to its own disappointingly self-limiting point. So I was confused as to why she freaked out when a young critic got in trouble for poking fun at her self-proclaimed promiscuity. As I wrote after watching her TV special:
This special was limited solely to raunchiness, double standards about sexual attractiveness, and body humor. Even that description might make it seem broader than it was. Schumer has previously pushed the boundaries of culture and race to greater and lesser effect, but she steered clear of that in the special. She pretty much told jokes about herself with one extended riff on Kevin James. These are very safe targets. Even when she is the target of her jokes, feminists get upset and say it’s sexist.
The young critic posted a picture of himself with Schumer and tweeted that he’d spent the night with her, adding that he wasn’t the first guy to have said that.
And she took offense. It’s such a weird thing for a raunch comic whose more-or-less entire schtick is jokes about sex to get upset at something like this. I don’t think the kid is going to win any comedy writing awards, but it was certainly within the bounds of acceptable in the comedy world. Schumer’s response immediately brings to mind Sarah Silverman’s freakout over Jonah Hill cracking jokes about how she was old and lonely (immediately after she had mocked him relentlessly over his weight):
The above clip shows her struggling, and largely failing, to understand why she was so upset by being attacked.
Silverman is no Don Rickles, but she is a comedienne known for shock and insult. How can she get upset when the tables are turned? Likewise, Amy Schumer makes a lot of sex jokes, including a lot of jokes about how much sex she’s having. How can she gets upset when a young critic takes her at her word?
Many observers are outraged that the woman who jokes about how she loves New York because there she can “catch a D,” is offended when someone says she’s promiscuous.
I don't give a shit if you have lots of sex or not, I do give a shit of you call people out for doing shit you do. pic.twitter.com/l1gWuqpMAR
— The Cringe Channel (@cringe_channel) January 19, 2016
Note that MTV says the joke was “sexist.” Cathy Young points out:
The joke is demeaning only if one assumes that a woman who sleeps around is a whore, a man is OK. Who's the sexist? https://t.co/izgJfc4X3x
— Cathy Young (@CathyYoung63) January 19, 2016
Indeed. This entire spectacle is a feminist ouroboros. But that’s precisely why it should give people who care about virtue a bit of hope.
Schumer’s movie Trainwreck provides a good frame for looking at this. In the film, Schumer plays a promiscuous child-woman who slowly grows into a functioning human being with self-esteem and a capacity for intimacy. It’s funny and it works because the message is true. Trying to sleep your way through the city because you’re scared of commitment may be what we call “dating” these days but it’s a recipe for disaster and loneliness, male and female alike.
You can bundle all the eleventh-wave feminism, slutwalks, and Planned Parenthood talking points you have, and the fact remains that it’s not actually charitable to call someone out for their promiscuity. And that’s true even if the person isn’t wearing pants in his or her Twitter avatar. Smart people understand that going pantsless in public is both funny and a desperate cry for help. Also, being a comedian is a desperate cry for help. We should all understand these things.
Because this all happened publicly on Twitter, people can overstate the level of offense Schumer took. Her discussion with the kid in question was actually quite nice. Taking offense doesn’t really make sense in the context of her career. But all people, including comedians, wish to be treated with respect and understand the dignity of the individual. Perhaps her newfound sensitivity on this topic is part of an effort to make a new relationship work. That Schumer is embracing virtue and self-respect over and against the internal contradictions and insufficiency of feminism is a good sign, and one that people should applaud.