1. As soon as my post on the Cox/Colbert column was up, I sent an email to Digby asking whether I had misunderstood her. I now have her reply, and it turns out that I did misunderstand.
In writing “Our little Wonkette has grown up,” Digby did not intend to disparage Cox’s youth or sex, but merely to suggest that, having been metaphorically brought up in the blogging family, Cox had moved on to the mass media and was being disloyal to her roots by using the megaphone Time provides to criticize bloggers.
It does seem to me that Cox has suffered from misogyny, and in particular the brand of misogyny that assumes that any young and conventionally attractive woman who achieves professional success must have done so by trading on her looks. But I was wrong to attribute that attitude to Digby, and I apologize.
2. Yes, literally “jerk” and “wanker” are the same insult. But “jerk” has long since worn out its sexual reference; my guess is that most people who use it couldn’t give its derivation. (“Suck” — as in “Mean People Suck” — is moving in the same direction.) “Wanker,” which is a much younger term on this side of the Atlantic, hasn’t had as much time to wear down, and retains much of its original meaning and force. So I stick with my view that “wanker” remains an obscene insult, and one that’s incongruous (as “jerk” certainly would be if read literally) applied to a female.
3. Keeping the level of abuse, and especially obscene abuse, down strikes me as a worthy goal. Cuss words are to writing as salt is to cooking: useful in limited quantities in the right circumstances, but easy to overdo and also a frequent fallback for the unskilled. So I disapprove of routinely referring to those one wants to criticize as “wankers.”
4. In real life, I have a fairly foul mouth, but several readers politely complained about the frequency of naughty words on this site, and there were some indications that the site wasn’t making it past various nanny filters. So I cut back. My co-bloggers seem to naturally keep within FCC limits. That’s a matter of style and strategy, to which I don’t attribute any moral significance one way or the other. Transgression is often good, but transgression is impossible unless there are some conventions to transgress.
5. Some people love the rough-and-tumble among blog commenters. Many don’t. This blog’s comments section operates according to “play nice” rules: no dirty words, no insults to posters or other commenters. “Your attack on X was completely unjustified and you should apologize for it” or “That is an unusually foolish argument” doesn’t count as an insult; “You’re a fool” does.
6. As I said right up front in my post, and as I said at the time, I loved Colbert’s routine, both substantively and as a work of comic art. (And I’m grateful to Atrios for providing a video link to the whole thing.)
Some people on the right and in the mass media thought — or at least said and wrote, which isn’t quite the same thing — that Colbert was rude or uncivil or dull. I thought none of those things.
I agreed with Cox that he wasn’t laugh-out-loud funny. Your mileage may vary. Cox’s essay implied that failing to be laugh-out-loud funny in Colbert’s situation was failing, period. I disagreed, and said why. But Cox didn’t disagree with anything Colbert said; indeed, she expressed dissatisfaction that those things weren’t being said at Congressional hearings instead.
7. The current dispute is among a group of people all of whom would like to see George W. Bush in prison, and all of whom have said unforgivable things about him and his cronies on the public record. The question isn’t about “civility” (a word that doesn’t appear in my original post) to Bush. So the argument “My vicious personal attack is justified because torture is wrong” seems misplaced, at best. (For an example of that argument, see the Sadly, No! post to which Atrios links approvingly.) Insofar as the discussion is about “civility” at all, it’s about how disputes ought to be conducted among Bush’s opponents. I don’t agree that viciousness towards one’s allies is a measure of commitment to the common cause.
I also don’t agree that viciousness toward those with whom one has profound disagreements is always and everywhere desirable. “Retardo Montalban” is horrified that I sometimes argue with people I disagree with instead of insulting them. But I’d rather make converts than enemies. And I find that an argument, especially one conducted in calm tones, is far more likely than a rant to convince onlookers, as well as the person on the other side of the dispute. Again, your mileage may vary.
On the rare occasions that I manage to persuade someone to change his mind and say so, it’s my practice to accept the concession with as much grace as I can muster, rather than rubbing my interlocutor’s nose in his previous error. No one likes a sore winner.
As Meng-tse wrote (scholars differ about whether he had Karl Rove specifically in mind):
A benevolent man
extends his benevolence
from those he loves
to those he does not love.
A ruthless man
extends his ruthlessness
from those he hates
to those he does not hate.
We should aim at relentlessness, not ruthlessness.
Footnote Not that it matters much at this stage, but since the two primary ideas in the original post have gotten completely lost in the foofaraw, let me repeat them here:
— A text or performance can be superb comedy without making its audience laugh out loud.
— Even superb comedy has limited value in actual political struggles, so comics and their fans shouldn’t take themselves too seriously.