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Unleashing the Joke Police

The joke police are out in full force this week, demonstrating that the modern response to bad comedy has shifted from not patronizing or hiring the talent to issuing a series of condemnations and strongly worded letters.

Seth MacFarlane is still in the crosshairs of certain advocacy groups for his mediocre stint hosting the Oscars, prompting the Parents Television Council to petition to prevent him from doing so again. Given that the “Family Guy” creator has already said he’s not interested, the group has picked a fight where they have a pretty good chance of declaring victory.

Meanwhile, Joan Rivers has triggered outrage with a Holocaust joke about Heidi Klum (get it? She’s German) during post-Oscars coverage on E!, which had to be watched by at least, oh, six or seven people.

Can we stipulate that A) Holocaust jokes are almost always, by definition, in bad taste; and B) Joan Rivers is not really worthy of all that much attention at this point?

Of course, these mini-flare-ups follow others too numerous to mention, such as Bill Maher’s unfortunately harsh language in describing Sarah Palin. One needn’t be a fan of the former Alaska governor to wince at hearing the “C” word used in any public forum.

Comedians like to point out that part of what they do is intended to provoke a response, and that they are not players in the political realm. But that’s not entirely true with somebody like Maher, whose HBO show gives him a high-profile platform to weigh in on issues and politics.

The bottom line is nothing can stop people from being offended, but most of these ginned-up controversies have a shelf-life of about three days, which is why it’s almost surprising people are still busy bitching about MacFarlane.

Like Maher’s defense of Rush Limbaugh’s apology in the above ThinkProgress link, the question of defending distasteful or questionable humor has more to do with where one stands on tolerating a degree of offensive speech than necessarily sharing those views. USA Today critic Robert Bianco almost certainly got it right with his response to Rivers, tweeting the ultimate punishment would be to ignore her.

And with that, the (half-hearted) defense rests, even if the Joke Police never do.

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