Friday, June 19, 2009

Hurtful Things People Say

David Letterman blinked. He has apologized for the cruel comments he made about Gov. Palin's daughter Bristol. Of course she chose to color the alleged jokes as an affront against all young women or perhaps about her younger daughter, but the intended target was certainly Bristol Palin.

The issue is a much broader one than an insult to this particular young woman. Letterman, like many other comedians, apparently believes he is exempt from the rules of common courtesy as he concentrates only on ratings. I'll admit that Gov. Palin is fair game; she chose to enter public life when she first ran for office in Alaska. (And as a liberal Democrat I'm certainly not on her side in much of anything.) Her husband too, who I would assume was a full partner in her decision to run, is fair game to a certain extent. Their children, however, NO WAY!

When Bristol announced her pregnancy to her family and her mother made it public, what should have been a private matter where the young couple could make difficult decisions together with the full support of their families became the number one hit on the media hit parade. What was the governor thinking? Her cavalier attitude toward her children's feelings has been despicable. Since then Bristol and Levi have broken up, there are problems about visitation with their child, and Bristol is promoting her book of advice to teens. What in the world has Gov. Palin done to her daughter's life?

Back to David Letterman. He is a father, and he also happens to be fair game because he chose to be a public figure. When his son is a teenager and makes some boneheaded teen mistake, will Letterman be so understanding when other comedians inevitably make his son the butt of their so-called jokes? I doubt it.

Most of us used to be offended at ethnic jokes, still are for that matter, but now it's getting personal. These aren't jokes, folks. These are insults playing on the public's seemingly insatiable delight in the foibles of the famous.

Well, what goes around comes around. We're all affected by hurtful joking. Gossip has lost its shame and unthinking remarks are the norm. How many times have you heard someone say, "I can't believe I forgot . . . I swear I must have Alzheimer's."

As the daughter and niece of Alzheimer's victims I try to ignore such remarks, but just the other day I happened to be thinking of my father who died a few years ago and then an acquaintance said something to me on the order of the above. Her timing was terrible; it was like a stab to my heart on a day when Dad was on my mind anyway. For that matter, the very day I learned that my aunt had died I heard someone say, "I must have Alzheimer's" and laugh.

I know people don't mean to be hurtful when they say such things. To them it's just a joke. However, with the growing number of people victimized by this horrible disease, it would behoove us all to have a little consideration for the feelings of others. The same is true of remarks about retardation or other mental or physical diseases. You just never know if the person you're talking to has a loved one faced with that very tragedy.

I think it's time for "jokes" to get less personal, less offensive. Isn't there something else that talented comedians like Letterman can turn into a good laugh? Jokes should make us smile without that inward cringe we get when we know the laugh comes at the price of someone else's dignity or commonality. We all make mistakes; it isn't funny when someone makes a joke of every misstep, and it certainly isn't funny when the joke concerns a disease.

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