I’m a big fan of Larry David. To be sure much of his humour is crass and crude. But what I admire is how he calls it as he sees it, and chooses the non-politically correct path in life. In that regard, he’s a man after my own heart.
But there’s a big difference between being non-politically correct and downright offensive. Featuring recently on Saturday Night Live, Larry made some pretty pathetic holocaust jokes, trying to imagine how he might pick up a girl in a concentration camp. My mother lost a lot of her family in those camps. She herself was spared a similar fate on account of being one of the “hidden children” in Holland. How anyone can make light of one of the greatest atrocities known to mankind, beggars belief.
It comes back to the age old line from Justice Holmes in Schenck v. United States, “The most stringent protection of free speech would not protect a man in falsely shouting fire in a theatre and causing a panic.” By definition, freedom of speech must be tempered with responsible speech. There is an inherent paradox between the legality of “freedom of speech” and the illegality of “incitement toward religious hatred.” Freedom of speech should never be unbridled. There has to be an element of restraint. Otherwise we can have one freedom or the other but not both.
Whether David realises it or not, his Holocaust “joke” is incitement toward hatred. We cried foul when the Canadian Holocaust Memorial absurdly omitted any mention of Jews. We called out President Trump for neglecting to reference Jews when speaking about the Holocaust. We readily condemn anyone who dares tread on the sacred blood-soaked earth of the various camps, whether verbally, through caricature or outright denial. David might think he could get away with it because he’s a Jew. He neglects to recognise that it is precisely because he’s a Jew, his so-called humour is fodder for Holocaust deniers and an own goal in the battle against Anti-Semitism. The video has gone viral. Internet trolls are rearing their ugly heads using Larry as a stick with which to beat Jews all over social media.
The argument goes that a black man can make jokes about black people just as a Jew can make jokes about Jews. Were one to make a joke about the other they would be deemed racist. No one dares to make light of disabled people, but I have watched wheelchair bound veterans or cerebral palsy sufferers make fun of themselves. There’s something endearing about being able to see the lighter side of one’s own life or identity. By that logic, a Holocaust survivor – not Larry David – might be able to get away with making jokes about the concentration camps. But that’s just the point. No one ever did. It’s no laughing matter. Can you imagine a survivor of a terrorist attack in which others lost their lives, make light about getting blown up?
Arguably, more disturbing than Larry’s grave mistake was the reaction from the audience. To laugh as they did only proves the danger of humour and how it can desensitise groups of people; this, in a day and age when Holocaust education is being strongly encouraged to counter the very ignorance and insensitivity that Larry unashamedly demonstrated. It occurs to me that he could benefit much from some of that same education.
To use your words Larry, your remarks were “Pretttttttty, pretttttttttty, pretttttty ignorant, stupid and downright offensive.” You owe those who perished in the past and every remaining survivor today an apology.