Is Criticism Cruel?


Jay Cole image

Humor is our most enjoyable form of truth.

A bit of a serious rant, today.

Noooooooo!

Yes, so buckle up!

Humor (in this case, humour) has once again raised a teeny-tiny controversy, and I may have some thoughts on the issue.

That was the cue for the drumroll, dammit! Drumroll? Drumroll?

A recent online article (2/2/2016) about John Cleese in the British newspaper, The Telegraph brought a complex issue to light. Here’s the short version:

The Monty Python star revealed that he has been advised not to perform to [university] students as the fear of offending has expanded so far that any kind of criticism is now seen as “cruel.”

While this article was published as entertainment news, and I applaud the writer, Lucy Clarke-Billings, for not mixing news and commentary as so often happens today, I must also note that this article failed miserably to adequately address the many issues that it raised. Certainly, this writer could have stimulated a very lively debate had this been handled not as entertainment news but as an opinion piece. And I, for one, would have preferred the latter.

I had an opinion; I’m quite sure. Maybe, in my other jacket…

Consider just a few of this article’s implications:

  • Are colleges and universities, institutions founded on the freedom of intellectual inquiry, now graduating a generation of whiners who do not have the intellectual or emotional capacity to handle a little criticism?
  • Has freedom of intellectual inquiry become a politically-correct-only freedom?
  • Are we raising a younger generation incapable of accepting that not everyone thinks the way they do?
  • Is it time to rein in political correctness?
  • Is political correctness killing comedy?

My Frank Opinion: People who take political correctness to extremes are hilarious fools.

That’s the hysterical reason-challenged, if you please!

There are certain aspects of the human psyche that, as adults, we all must accept:

  • Everyone is open-minded until you challenge their core beliefs or comment negatively on their mother.
  • Freedom of speech is generally supported only until someone that you oppose tries to use it.
  • The younger generation is always viewed as inadequate.

It’s difficult to believe that the younger generation is incapable of handling criticism, or that they do not understand that political correctness is a concept of limited usefulness but large bandwagon. And in fairness, note that the older generation also whines a good deal; easily seen in the waiting room of any arthritis specialist.

Cover image: "Sexual Evolution"Now, I have the utmost respect and a good bit of hero worship for John Cleese. I can’t say that I would act the fool and gush all over him if I met him on the street; however, as he is a true master of the absurd, I probably wouldn’t object if he wanted to skip paper altogether and place his autograph on my left buttock.

The man is a comedy genius. If you doubt this for a second, please note that it was also reported that a Monty Python reunion show sold out in under a minute!

Try naming other artists who have done as well.

We have to grant that criticism is sometimes harsh, but then so are truth, justice and many other concepts\ideas. Are writers, humorists and standup comedians now to avoid opinions, criticisms, and God-forbid, possibly harsh words for fear of being considered cruel?

  • Yes, if you want your work to have no discernable impact.
  • No, if you want to develop your own unique voice.

I suggest that British university students write, petition, or shout from the rooftops an invitation for John Cleese to speak at their institution. For if a little criticism truly shatters your piddling, little, insular world, then you are, without doubt, an idiot.

And yes, that’s a criticism.

Parting Funny: The worst time to have a heart attack is during a game of Charades.
Demetri Martin

Next Up: The Comic View: Richard Pryor

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3 thoughts on “Is Criticism Cruel?

  1. My take is: give as good as you get! Some criticism could be cruel and tasteless, but that should not lead us to censor those who speak the way they saw things – in the name of political correctness. If you encounter a person who is a bully in criticizing people, out-Donald Trump them!

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    • Ah, but John Cleese’s contention that all comedy is critical does have some validity. (That’s a topic for another day.) However, it makes you wonder, if these politically-correct students can’t handle Mr. Cleese’s thoughts and musings, what would they think of the work of the late Sam Kinison, an angry Lewis Black, and many other comedians who are even more aggressively frank and\or confrontational.

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