Sarah Silverman, Comedy, and the idea of the meta-bigot

This piece from Slate in 2005 introduces the interesting idea of a meta-bigots:

Silverman has become an important member of a guerrilla vanguard in the culture wars that we might call the “meta-bigots”…. The meta-bigots work at social problems indirectly; instead of discussing race, rape, abortion, incest, or mass starvation, they parody our discussions of them. They manipulate stereotypes about stereotypes. It’s a dangerous game: If you’re humorless, distracted, or even just inordinately history-conscious, meta-bigotry can look suspiciously like actual bigotry.

All of Silverman’s controversies are essentially large-scale pieces of PC performance art—but instead of settling anything about race and humor in America, they just expose the incoherence of the debate. If her humor does have a larger purpose, it is that it maps the outer limits of our tolerance; it exposes ambiguities in the discussion that we don’t like to acknowledge; it taps into our giant unspoken mass of assumptions, tensions, fears, and hatreds—not to resolve them, but to remind us that they’re there. (She told the Believerrecently that she likes the idea of “saying things that force people to have opinions.”) By reducing all of this toxic material into a logical game, she creates a kind of public catharsis. The point of Silverman’s humor—the final translation of all that irony—might simply be that, no matter how much we pretend, we’re notready for her humor. These are life-and-death problems, and our laughter has terror in it.

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