Sarah Silverman was just fired from an upcoming movie for appearing in blackface in a sketch on “The Sarah Silverman Show” from 2007. In the 12-year-old sketch, Silverman wears blackface to determine whether it is harder to be black or Jewish in America in 2007
It was heavily satirical, with the punch-line of Silverman receiving negative comments from passersby for her racially insensitive appearance. She has since repeatedly apologized for the episode.
Silverman has spent the past few years going through a radical image change. She began her career as a shocking comic, thriving on a clever brand of bad-taste humor, highlighted in her specials such as “Jesus Is Magic.” This approach seeped into her self-titled show, in which she played an exaggerated fictionalized version of herself: self-absorbed, childish, and completely lacking self awareness. The show’s humor arose from her poor decisions and antics, with the audience laughing at her rather than with her.
However, all of this changed in the mid-2010s, when Silverman replaced her shocking humor with political correctness. She has apologized for many of her past jokes that dealt with sensitive subjects such as rape, abortion, and racism. The former textbook example of political incorrectness has become an outspoken advocate for using ideology to check comedy.
Despite her apparent redemption and transition into “woke-ness,” Silverman’s remorse has not rendered her immune from the outrage machine. Yet six months earlier, another scandal had no such effect on the career of the man in the center.
Democratic Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam’s medical school yearbook was uncovered in February, showing a photo of a man in Ku Klux Klan garb standing next to a man in blackface. While many high-profile Democrats called for Northam to resign, many others argued that a bad decision from so long ago should not have the power to ruin his career.
Northam’s scandal caused a dip in his polling numbers that is leveling out. The Constitution of Virginia prevents governors from serving consecutive terms, so he will be unable to run for reelection in 2021, but this scandal will likely have no major effect on his political career going forward.
This “cancel culture” so rampant in today’s society has become incredibly oppressive, but also randomly enforced. Blackface is a terrible and racist form of humor, but Silverman’s and Northam’s uses were thoroughly different in intent.
The photo of a man in blackface next to a man in KKK robes clearly has malicious, racist intent. The joke minimizes the violence and brutality of hate groups like the KKK and the toxic effects of their racism. Silverman’s joke had the opposite intent. She wore blackface to point out how terrible blackface and racism are.
Silverman’s satire is similar in nature to Robert Downey Jr.’s phenomenal and Oscar-nominated performance in “Tropic Thunder.” Both use provocative and shocking humor to make people think through the use of laughter.
Regardless of whether the sketch is actually offensive enough to warrant Silverman’s firing now is up to the individuals with authority in the situation. However, we must acknowledge that the incident occurred 12 years ago, and she has apologized for it endlessly.
If Northam can be forgiven for a hateful photo he chose to highlight on his med school yearbook page, then shouldn’t we apply the same benefit of the doubt to a comedian attempting to make a genuine point against racism, even through arguably misguided means?