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How Sarah Silverman Could Have Avoided Cancel Culture

What makes this incident ridiculous is that Sarah Silverman has apologized for the bit in question. But maybe that’s why it’s still causing her headaches.


I guess we’re litigating a 2007 episode of “The Sarah Silverman Program” again. The comedian said on an Aug. 9 episode of the Bill Simmons Podcast that her infamous use of blackface in the show’s second season cost her a film gig recently, spurring a fresh round of media chatter.

I get why anti-PC pundits latched onto the revelation. What makes this particular incident especially ridiculous is that Silverman has both apologized for the bit and mounted a substantive argument against its satirical value. (Also Ralph Northam is still governor of Virginia, and Jimmy Kimmel’s career seems to be fine.) But I think that’s why it’s still causing Silverman headaches.

I’ve probably watched “Face Wars,” the “Sarah Silverman Program” episode in question, half a dozen times in the years since it first aired. (I maintain hers was one of the best shows to ever grace Comedy Central airwaves.) The Wikipedia synopsis is fairly accurate: “Sarah has been denied entry to a tennis club, supposedly because she is Jewish, and argues with a man that claims being black is harder than being Jewish. Sarah tries to prove him wrong by putting on blackface.”

It’s also worth noting the man on the other side of the wager tries to prove Sarah wrong by embracing some crude stereotypes of Jewish people. Their impressions of each another’s culture are fairly shocking, although a series of events ultimately illustrates why Silverman’s character was ignorant. (That actually describes most episodes of the show. The character’s capacity for ignorance is reliably unbelievable, and a constant plot-driver.)

As hypersensitive leftists have come to dominate the media, Silverman’s stylings have evolved to meet their standards. This isn’t just self-serving. Silverman’s efforts are inarguably sincere, a clear takeaway from her short-lived Hulu series, “I Love You, America.”

“I don’t stand by the blackface sketch. I’m horrified by it, and I can’t erase it. I can only be changed by it and move on,” she told GQ last year.

Silverman argued against her Bush-era mindset. “It was like, I’m playing a character, and I know this is wrong, so I can say it. I’m clearly liberal. That was such liberal-bubble stuff, where I actually thought it was dealing with racism by using racism.”

“Face Wars,” as Silverman noted, was anti-racist. It was mocking and rebutting the white privilege her detractors demand artists mock and rebut. And it was actually pretty expository.

But by conceding the bit was worth being “horrified” over, Silverman gives others reason to be horrified by it—or to preemptively fire her on the assumption consumers would be. The lesson of her arc is that apologies are never enough; people acting in good faith should stop giving them in the first place. (Looking at you, Mario Lopez.)

Why not tell people to watch the episode and make a serious argument against it? Tell them as someone with the same interest in equality, you’ll happily engage. If not, it stands as the anti-racist satire it was intended.

People offline aren’t nearly as offended as the online left believes or wants us to believe. (See: Joe Biden.) The PC movement may have won authentic converts like Silverman, but it’s hardly won the nation. There’s a good argument in favor of satire along the lines of “Face Wars.” Had Silverman resisted its abandonment, she might never have given this conflict enough fuel to follow her into 2019.