Tag Archives: #kathygriffin

Liberals and the very real dangers of echo chambers

Kathy Griffin and Tyler Shields collaborated on a truly horrendous piece of work which depicted the comedienne holding the president’s decapitated head. It was disgusting, offensive, and stupid. Griffin quickly felt backlash not only from conservatives, but from liberals – including her fellow comics – and promptly apologized and took down the photograph. CNN slammed the photo and is considering firing her from its annual New Years television coverage. Griffin posted a contrite video, in which she admitted she went too far and appears chastised.

This story is depressing for a lot of reasons – one, I was always a fan and follower of Kathy Griffin’s, and enjoyed her specials, books, CDs, and her excellent reality show. I think that she’s smart and cutting and very witty. Which is why I’m still trying to figure out just what the hell was she thinking.

But Griffin’s act exposed something ugly in our culture that needs to be addressed: the dehumanization of public figures. Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton both dealt with the kind of ugly hate that Griffin and Shields exhibited with their work – both have been the subject of burning effigies, and in the context of this country’s awful history of lynching Black people, there have been memes, dolls, and mannequins depicting lynchings of President Obama. These examples of unbridled hate were disgusting and not enough people stood up to them.

And the same thing is happening with President Trump. Whether one agrees with his politics or his policies, we still have to agree that the president is a human being. Someone with family and friends. Think about Barron Trump, a child, who now will be able to see Shields’ photograph.

So how did we get to the point where a comic and a photographer both thought this monstrous show of disrespect would be okay?

Well, it’s a simple, thing really. It happened when they called the president King Cheeto, or President Cheeto (or any other variant on Cheeto). It happened when they reduced him to his hair, his tan, his body, his mannerisms. They slowly made him into a cartoon figure, a two-dimensional symbol of political frustration and political fear, and simply forgot – or chose to forget – that behind the memes, cartoons, and caricature, there was a human being.

I’m not defending Trump’s policies. My readers will know that I’m a liberal, who hoped that Bernie Sanders, or Hillary Clinton would’ve won. And when Trump did win, I was scared and worried for our country’s future. I still am. And I know lots of other people are too – including Griffin and Shields.

But that doesn’t mean that we can suddenly take leave of our senses and become hateful monsters.

Some of Griffin’s critics opined that her act has damaged the credibility of liberals. I hate this thinking because again, the credibility of liberals doesn’t matter in this case. What matters is that someone did something unimaginable and awful. And worrying about how liberals will look is callous and unfeeling as well as self centered and selfish.

When Griffin apologized, she seemed genuine and sincere. And yet. She couched her apology as a response to the criticism and ensuing backlash. Her conscience didn’t prompt her to apologize, nor did her sense of fairness or decency. Instead, she apologized because she saw that many of her peers rejected her horrible act.

This is about more than just Kathy Griffin, though. This is about the steady degradation of a public figure, to the point where people forget that he’s a human being.

This fracas is also an opportunity for some introspection among many liberals, who, in their zeal and frustration, have become the bizarro version of the Westboro Baptist Church. How much did that echo chamber in which Griffin obviously existed, contributed to her myopia? If she, along with her fans, friends, and followers all provide a steady drumbeat of hate, does that naturally result in the kind of garbage that she and Shields created?

When there are instances of hate crimes, we ask that everyone look within themselves. And that’s important. We have to examine just what in our society creates Neo-Nazis, alt-right bigots, rapists, and queer bashers. It’s important because these people don’t just spring from thin air – they are a product, created.

But in the case of Griffin – and those who are still insisting that she’s done nothing wrong – we have to do the same kind of self-examination. Because she’s a product, too. She’s the result of months of constant slams, slights, and hatred that fooled Griffin into thinking that her space would be hospitable to a photograph like hers.

I’ve been thinking about the president a lot this past day or so after I saw the photograph. It made me sad and disturbed me. It was a spotlight on a kind of sheltered privilege that Griffin seemingly enjoys that protects her from understanding what it means to have a family member killed in such a way. Right now, there are organizations throughout the world who really do what Shields and Griffin only pretended to do. I thought about the president’s family and friends, all of whom love him, and had to see that awful image.

The photograph is an extreme example of just how base and awful political discourse has become in this country. Griffin and Shields wouldn’t have felt a picture like that would be okay, if the two didn’t see evidence of something similar. As I wrote earlier, we’ve seen Hillary Clinton effigies burned at rallies, and Barack Obama mannequins strung up on trees. We’ve also seen memes of Donald Trump pinatas, waiting to be pummeled. None of this funny. None of this is productive. And none of this is fair. But just because Clinton and Obama suffered these indignities doesn’t mean Trump deserves to, as well. No one does.

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Kathy Griffin’s funny new book is a case of not enough of a good thing

Kathy Griffin’s comedy comprises of tales of the comic’s dealings with celebrities, good or bad. Throughout her career, she’s had many confrontations with famous people, and instead of ruing and being moody about, she has taken the experiences and made a multi-Emmy winning and Grammy winning career. In her new book, Kathy Griffin’s Celebrity Run-Ins: My A-Z Index, Griffin has compiled a selection of celebrity encounters, good and bad, and laid it out in alphabetical order like a dictionary.

Because she’s somewhat trapped by the format of the book, some of the stories feel abrupt and some of the celebrities get such a short shift, you wonder why she included them in the first place. And the stories that do get more ink feel somewhat rushed, too, which is a shame because Griffin’s an ace at translating her quick-fire wit to the page. And when she wants to be – as in the passages devoted to late pals Joan Rivers, Jackie Collins, and Garry Shandling – she can be an emotional writer, too. Those readers who remember her first book, Official Book Club Selection, will know that despite her reliance on humor and wit, she doesn’t shy away from darker aspects of her life. Celebrity Run-Ins is different, though, much lighter in tone and content, so there are only a few spots that feel like a shift away from the general jocular tone of the book.

And that’s a shame, because the years since Official Book Club Selection, a lot has happened in Griffin’s life, including the deaths of several friends (including mentor Joan Rivers), the cancellation of her talk show, the embarrassing Fashion Police fracas, the end of her popular reality sitcom,  her win of a Grammy, a notable dust up with Elisabeth Hasselbeck, and a seeming end to her relationship with Bravo. Some of these events are alluded to in her book, but it would be great to read more about how she dealt with these difficulties, and how she sees them now, with perspective. Of course, none of these stories would fit into the rigid format she’s constructed, so hopefully she has another book in her.

That’s not to say that Celebrity Run-Ins isn’t funny or not worth picking up. It’s hilarious and often an astute look at our celebrity culture. What inspired the book, according to Griffin, is she realized with a start that she knew or worked with the principal figures in the excellent documdrama Straight Outta Compton. And the list she’s compiled is an impressive array of figures from sports, politics, film, television, theater, and music (her adorable bother, Maggie, a celebrity and fan favorite in her own right also gets a chapter). While expected names make appearances  – Gloria Estefan, Anderson Cooper, Gloria Vanderbilt, Chris Colfer – it’s the names of folks you wouldn’t necessarily expect like Suge Knight, Warren Zevon, and Marshawn Lynch that may be a pleasant surprise for readers (the Suge Knight story is very funny). And because she’s known for her brutal irreverence for celebrity (along with her devotion and obsession with it – she’s our Andy Warhol), some of the celebrities included – and I’m looking at Jon Hamm in particular – may want to skip her assessment of them.

Celebrity Run-Ins works best when Griffin is indulging in her love of gossip, Hollywood, and admiration for her subjects. The book hits various high points, most notably when she writes with great affection about Anderson Cooper, Cher (who gets dialogue written in funny phonetic spelling) Jackie Collins, Gloria Steinem, and Jane Fonda, among others. It’s in these passages that she combines her sharp wit with her big heart. It makes for fun reading that gets sentimental, but never gloppy. Her relationship with Cooper in particular is wonderful because the two have a sibling-like love for each other, and Griffin is forever subjecting him to her hilarious pranks, and he seems to be the perennial good sport about it all.

Hopefully there is a weightier tome in Griffin, yet. Her Twitter has posts that reflect her attitude and opinion on politics, race, age, gender, the election, queer rights, and culture. I’d love for Griffin to pen an essay collection in which she addresses Black Lives Matter, ageism, sexism, homophobia, Trump, Clinton, as she does in her stand-up and social media. But that’s for another time. For now, Celebrity Run-Ins does a commendable job in providing its readers with some laugh out-loud moments.

 

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Kathy Griffin and Rosie O’Donnell – thoughts…

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Kathy Griffin Kathy Griffin at the 2015 Television Critics Association’s Press Tour for the NBC Universal TV show announcements, interviews with cast and creators at The Langham Huntington Hotel in Pasadena, CA on January 15, 2015. Picture by: Mingle Media TV

Kathy Griffin announced that she was leaving the E! gabfest Fashion Police after just 7 episodes. Griffin’s departure shouldn’t be a surprise as after original host Joan Rivers died last year, the show’s been teetering on the brink of irrelevance, before it was plunged into infamy when host Giuliana Rancic made some racist comments about actress/singer Zendaya, specifically about her choice of wearing dreds to the Oscars. Rancic’s comments were scripted – the “weed” jokes were fed to the host by the show’s writers, but Rancic still gave a heartfelt and sincere apology, which Zendaya accepted with grace.

Still, Fashion Police – which returned after Rivers’ death to lower ratings, seemed hobbled by the bad press. Then co-host Kelly Osbourne left the show, reportedly unhappy with the racist joke, though her public reason was a diplomatic “moving on to other opportunities” kind of statement. Then Kathy Griffin stepped into the fray with guarded caution by pointing out that she wouldn’t have told a joke simply given to her by a staff writer. Soon after, Griffin also announced that she was leaving Fashion Police, leaving the two with two hosts: Rancic and Brad Goreski.

Griffin’s abrupt quitting isn’t surprising, as I always thought Fashion Police wasn’t a good vehicle for the comedienne. In her statement, Griffin explained that though she was grateful for the opportunity she found that “After 7 episodes of Fashion Police, I discovered that my style does not fit with the creative direction of the show & now it’s time to move on.” In the statement, which was posted on her Twitter and Facebook account, Griffin explained that though her humor was irreverent and barbed, she sought to use comedy as a leveler, citing her LGBT activism as well as her feminism.

When Kathy Griffin had her Bravo reality show, Kathy Griffin: My Life on the D-List, she was able to create the perfect outlet for her particular brand of comedy. Interestingly enough, she created the gig for herself because she was having trouble finding work on network television after her four-year run on the Brooke Shields sitcom Suddenly Susan came to an end. Her age, her unconventional beauty, and the general demise of the multi-camera sitcom contributed to Griffin’s struggle to find acting jobs. So though a reality show My Life on the D-List was actually a brilliant sitcom posing as a reality show.

But as with most sitcoms, My Life on the D-List had a limited shelf life because the conceit of the show – that Griffin’s low-level celebrity forced her to toil away at sad and uninspiring gigs – soon became obsolete as Griffin became one of the nation’s leading female comics. Because she’s close friends with people like Anderson Cooper, Gloria Vanderbilt, Rosie O’Donnell, Suzanne Somers, and Joy Behar, it proved to be more difficult to believe that Griffin was still a D-list celebrity.

So, she decided to end the show and returned to Bravo with a talk show – Kathy. Unfortunately, the show only lasted two seasons. I was surprised by the show’s failure, especially since it’s actually a very good show and worth looking at. Because stand-up is Griffin’s passion, she’ll never be wanting for work, but I understand the pull of Fashion Police: Griffin’s dear friend and mentor, Joan Rivers, found a new career as an acerbic fashion critic, and parlayed that success into a late-career renaissance that included books, more concert tours, a CD, and an excellent web series (In Bed with Joan).

But what was so appealing about My Life on the D-List was that it combined all of Griffin’s best qualities: her underdog status, her outsider persona, as well as the intellectual. Often comedians won’t highlight their intellect if it’s not part of their persona. Griffin never dumbed herself down, but she also played up the vapidity of Hollywood and celebrity culture. The fact that Griffin’s politically astute, well-read, very articulate, and very brainy was hinted at in her stand-up, but was on display on the episodes of D-List. Fashion Police would’ve been an inappropriate place for Griffin to discuss how important feminism is in the 21st century, or how badly we treat our troops when they return home from war. She’s a fearless activist for LGBT rights and feminism, and when it was just she on the D-List, these concerns got as much attention as did her snarky take down of Hollywood celebrity.

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Rosie O’Donnell at the premiere of I Am Because We Are at the 2008 Tribeca Film Festival. Picture by: David Shankbone

All of this reminded me of Rosie O’Donnell, another comedian who is often criticized for speaking her mind. O’Donnell had a long-running talk show in the 1990s that predicted Ellen DeGeneres’ successful gabfest. In the show, O’Donnell was family friendly – once the show ended and she came out, O’Donnell remained friendly and lovable, but her persona also became more complicated as she was also speaking out about politics. Her inclusion on The View was brilliant because it allowed for O’Donnell to be outspoken and political – unfortunately, she left early after an infamous dustup with conservative co-host, Elisabeth Hasselbeck. She had a comeback talk show on Oprah Winfrey’s then-struggling OWN, which was canceled after two seasons – again, as with Kathy, I was surprised that O’Donnell’s show didn’t make it. O’Donnell returned to The View after Barbara Walters retired, but like the rebooted Fashion Police, the new version of The View stumbled, and O’Donnell left after a few months (citing personal reasons including a divorce and a health scare).

This all leads to me to one conclusion: like Joan Rivers, O’Donnell and Griffin should look to the Web for their next project. What was so brilliant about In Bed with Joan is that it exploited social media, and proved to younger viewers that a veteran entertainer like Joan Rivers can adapt to new avenues of work. Most importantly, though Rivers invited traditional comedians like Griffin, Aisha Tyler, and Jeff Garlin, she also booked popular YouTube comedians like Tyler Oakley and Hannah Hart, as well. She recognized that comedy doesn’t just happen in a smokey club – YouTube comedienne Colleen Ballinger, who created the genius character Miranda Sings proved she can more than hold her own when appearing with Jerry Seinfeld, Martin Short, and Jimmy Fallon on Fallon’s The Tonight Show. Griffin and O’Donnell should look to the Web to expand their audiences – and they would be free of networks, who would predictably ask them to tone down their personalities.

The Internet is a great avenue because artists can create work that would reach their audiences without the intervention or meddling of studio suits. Griffin and O’Donnell both have such established fan bases, that they would fit the format perfectly. Griffin’s former Groundling pal Lisa Kudrow is a great example of an established comedienne who after years of mainstream success on network television, decided to go to the Internet. After a decade on the NBC hit Friends, Kudrow experimented with darker material, first with the cult classic The Comeback, and then with the brilliant Web series Web Therapy (which was picked up by cable). There’s no reason why O’Donnell or Griffin couldn’t do what Kudrow did – keep an eye on both standard, mainstream modes of entertainment (TV, radio, film), but also looking to alternative options.

What the Fashion Police bump proved was that Kathy Griffin, despite all of her success, is a square-shaped peg in an industry that only has round-shaped holes (I know Griffin would enjoy the double entendre). She’s an original, opinionated, smart, and brave – qualities that aren’t always celebrated in women. She needs a vehicle that promotes all of these qualities and lets them all shine. And just maybe she’ll have to create that vehicle for herself, as she once did before.

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