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Farewell to the Summer of Schump

by on September 09, 2015 9:47 AM

This has been the summer of Amy Schumer and Donald Trump – the Summer of Schump, you might say.

Schumer and Trump have something in common, apart from being tall and blond. Or rather, the responses to them have something in common, namely, a delight in naughtiness.

Both say things they are not supposed to say, he, because we expect the president of the United States to be dignified, she because even now, we expect women to be demure.

We have had unpresidential presidents before – a trash-talking Nixon, a tongued-tied Bush. Trump is unpresidential in a new and shocking way: He’s not afraid to insult potential voters. For some people, this is refreshing.

We have also had bawdy female comedians before – Joan Rivers, Sandra Bernhard, Sarah Silverman, et al. – but maybe we hadn’t seen their bawdiest material on TV before. For some people, this is refreshing.

Until recently I had never seen Amy Schumer. Then finally, skeptically, at the urging of a friend who latches onto the new more readily than I do, I caught some of her clips on YouTube.

I can go back to those clips to refresh my memory of what I saw. But here is what I recall without prompting:

  • “Milk, Milk, Lemonade,” a music video that mocks, interminably, men’s obsession with women’s bodies.
  • A sketch about a new football coach who tells his dismayed players that they are not to do any raping under any circumstances, no, not even when the woman is dead drunk or said yes earlier, then changed her mind.
  • A sketch featuring Tina Fey, Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Patricia Arquette on the subject of women aging out of desirability (to put it politely), at least according to the men who still dominate the entertainment industry.

Taken together, I found the material a little funny.

I could see where those who are just becoming aware of the persistence of sexism, of double standards, of a culture that condones sexual violence toward women, are tickled to see these attitudes exposed to ridicule. In other words, I could see why young people find Amy Schumer funny.

I could also understand why people my age would approve of the crafting of effective messages on these topics that would appeal to young people.

What surprises me is that so many people my age find Amy Schumer funny. Since we already know the sad truth about the attitudes she lampoons, I would have thought her shtick lacked what Ezra Pound called “the shock of the new.”

This is not to say that what Amy Schumer is saying does not need to be said. It absolutely, depressingly does. I therefore wholeheartedly approve. I just wasn’t all that entertained.

Perhaps she was over-hyped. Perhaps this was a manifestation of my deep aversion to bandwagons. Certainly I have long been a curmudgeon in training and this may be my curmudgeonliness in full sour flower at last.

But watching Schumer while thinking of how hilarious some of my peers find her, I thought of what happens in my journalism ethics class when we talk about the Ten Commandments as a system and source of moral values.

We begin the discussion by trying to list the commandments without peeking. The last one is tough because it goes on and on about all the things one should not “covet,” including thy neighbor’s ass.

That always gets a laugh.

“His donkey,” I say by way of clarification.

Are the laughs Amy Schumer gets like the laughs “thy neighbor’s ass” gets in ethics class -- the laughter of surprise at hearing something naughty in a context where we do not expect naughty?

Or is it more of a meta-reaction: laughing at the archaic idea of the naughty.

Or are we laughing at the benighted souls whose attitudes are being flayed?

Or a fourth possibility: We recognize that we are those benighted souls and are showing an admirable ability to laugh at ourselves.

Whichever, it all feels a little forced, like our laughter is the password that gets us into the club of those hip enough to get what Schumer is doing and be totally cool with it.

Such laughter is especially important to us baby boomers, who fret that everything hip is passing us by.
As parents, we want to like what our kids like. As professors, we want to like what our students like. For us, digging Amy Schumer is like wearing a fedora, the way Ben Stiller’s 40-ish character does in “While We’re Young.”

You Amy Schumer fans can rightly point out that my tepid response is based on a small sample. I ought to watch more. I ought to see “Trainwreck.”

But I’m going to trust my instinct to ignore the Next Big Thing.

A collection of Russell Frank's columns, titled “Among the Woo People: A Survival Guide for Living in a College Town," is available from the Penn State University Press. His columns for won first place for commentary in the 2019 Society of Professional Journalists Keystone Chapter Best in Journalism contest. The winning columns: The Women’s March: Notes from New York, It’s Time to Change the Script and Mixed Messages at Bellefonte High. Frank is a member of the journalism faculty at Penn State. Before launching his academic career, he worked as a reporter, editor and columnist at newspapers in California and Pennsylvania. He is, by academic training, a folklorist (Ph.D., UPenn), which means, when you strip away the academic jargon, that he loves a good story. His views and opinions do not necessarily reflect those of Penn State University.
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