Over break I learned that comedian Roseanne Barr, who has never shied away from controversy, had, in a 2009 photoshoot for a satirical Jewish magazine, dressed as Hitler eating burnt gingerbread men.
Of course, there’s been some controversy about it, but I’m surprised there hasn’t been more. Is it a case of “time heals all wounds?” I’d argue “no.” The ripple effects of the Holocaust are still felt today by millions of people. Just look at how America has handled similar controversies in the past.
One can easily draw parallels to the now infamous photoshoot her comedy colleague Kathy Griffin did last year where she was holding up a severed head, obviously meant to suggest President Trump’s. The premises of both photoshoots are offensive, but I’d argue they’re being handled differently in society.
Griffin’s career plunged lower than the D-list it was already famously on, and while Barr’s photoshoot was almost ten years ago, ABC, owned by family-friendly Disney, still offered to revive her sitcom. It was even renewed for a second season after only a single episode had aired.
In 1990, Barr famously performed – I can’t bring myself to say ‘sang’ – a version of the “Star Spangled Banner” that was widely condemned. It’s on YouTube if you haven’t seen it. I guess you could say she Kathy Griffin-ed before Kathy Griffin. Weirdly, however, her career bounced back from that, and her self-titled show lasted seven more years on ABC, ending in a cringe-worthy “it was all a dream” finale. And we now find ourselves here, with another controversy on her hands.
Why is satire regarding genocide being treated any different (and in fact, has seemingly created less of a controversy) from that of beheading a single person, even if it is the President of the United States? What is the difference? Did people attack Griffin merely because she was speaking out against the President? All things being equal, shouldn’t both be off-limits? How far is too far?
Of course, Holocaust jokes have been around for years. Mel Brooks mocked Hitler in “The Producers” in 1969, and Spike Jones mocked him before that. I can’t help but wonder whether Barr crossed a line with her cosplay, however.
Barr seems to be facing less controversy than Jewish comedian Larry David, who, during a November 2017 appearance on Saturday Night Live, told a joke about picking up a woman in a concentration camp.
When Brooks, a WWII veteran and Jewish person, wrote “The Producers,” he mocked the Nazis in order to cut them down to size, according to Jeremy Dauber’s November 7 opinion piece on the Atlantic’s website.
How, I wonder, does dressing up as Hitler compare? Can we hold that sort of satire to the same standards as David’s or Brooks’, or is it apples and oranges?
Am I expressing my support for Griffin by writing this? Not at all. I just believe that both of these cases should receive a similar punishment in society. Barr should be subject to the same boundaries of good taste as Griffin, and it doesn’t seem to me like Barr is getting the backlash she might deserve.
Food for thought.