What happened with Sean Spicer Sunday evening was almost comical. Not comical in the way that the producers of the Emmy’s intended, more comical in that “oh, you’ve got to be fucking kidding me!” kinda way. It’s almost hilarious to believe that the man who was the mouthpiece of this current administration coming out of the gate would 7 and a half months later be given a platform to “poke fun at himself”. It’s almost hilarious to me that Sean Spicer’s “humiliation” was receiving applause and laughs from a willing audience that was totally in on the joke at what is supposed to be one of Hollywood’s most prestigious events. Please, could I get some of that humiliation? It is bordering on sidesplitting to think the man who was allowed in to our homes to tell us how historic the inauguration crowd was and how intelligent the president is, and how dangerous Muslims and healthcare are was only months later allowed into our homes to show us “look, I’m a good guy! I can laugh at myself! All is forgiven, right?”
Look, I’ll admit, when I initially saw the gag, I chuckled a bit. The surprise factor more than anything was admirable. But it didn’t take a whole lot of sitting with it for me to get really uncomfortable. I wish I could have read Melissa McCarthy’s mind at the moment. I mean, I don’t know what this face means, but I have an idea:
I’m pretty sure this is the face you make when a mediocre white man has just capitalized off of your hilarious bit and you’re trying real hard not to lose your shit. Maybe I’m wrong…
What upsets me about this situation is how easily it seems that the establishment is willing to welcome an unremarkable white man back into the fold. A friend of mine yesterday compared Spicer to Joseph Goebbels, Hitler’s minister of propaganda. Is that a bit extreme? Maybe. Time will tell. I don’t think Spicer is nearly as competent as Goebbels was.
That, of course, brings me to another piece of this that was upsetting; Spicer, to many, seems to get a pass because he was a bumbling idiot, doing the administration’s bidding. It reminds me of the justice system’s propensity to refer to white men in their thirties as “kids” while black children are treated and tried as adults. Where is the accountability? In his short time, Spicer not only promoted the administration’s agenda, but contributed to the discrediting of the mainstream news media and marginalization of the legitimate press. He was a part of the apparatus that cast the primary means of holding the government accountable in questionable light. You’ll forgive me if I’m not willing to let this guy off the hook right now.
I’m going to speak of “white people” using some generalities now. You may want to skip this part if that makes you angry.
Part of white privilege is the ability to move back to “normal” rather quickly. Sean Spicer’s appearance on the Emmy’s was an attempt at normalization, bringing him back into the fold of the American mainstream. The result is that people who are offended by seeing him on their screens are told that they are “overreacting”, even though the sight of him should be, I would argue, somewhat traumatic. There is a sense that society will always “circle the wagons” (an indelicate phrase, pardon me any Native readers I may have) around a white man, no matter how mediocre or despicable his actions. At the present moment, this is highlighted by the fact that one of the better athletes at his position is being blacklisted for both being a person of color and standing up for the rights of people of color. Was a cheap laugh, even if it was at Spicer’s expense, worth more than the moment of inspiration that could have come from having Colin Kaepernick on that same stage?
Some of this goes to the nature of comedy in this political moment that I’m starting to think white comedians simply don’t understand. Right now, marginalized communities need comedy to shine a light on the injustices of the world, not make light of them. This, like Tina Fey’s sheetcaking moment feel like attempts to hide from the horrors that this nation is experiencing while ignoring the fact that many people do not have the luxury of burying their heads in the sand. It feels insensitive and makes people of color and other marginalized groups distrustful of those that would be considered allies.
I’m sure this seems like I’m investing a lot of energy in something that was relatively small. Why focus on the white mediocrity of a Sean Spicer when I could be focusing on the black excellence of a Donald Glover which was on display at the same show? Why write about this instead of the re-emerging threat against the ACA? Why care at all about a show I didn’t even watch? All of these are legitimate questions. I focus here because I see a danger. It’s not just a danger of celebrating white mediocrity… that, I fear, will always be with us… but a danger of normalizing the carriers of messages that should be marginalized. For the record, I don’t blame Spicer for this. I, for one, completely understand the desire to have one’s image repaired as quickly as possible. But as someone who is still living under the accountability necessitated by my actions, I am also sensitive to people being immune from consequences, particularly when their actions have had such a corrosive effect. No, I don’t think that Spicer should be brought up on war crimes or anything like that, but I do think his first public appearances since his resignation should have been with the journalist he himself maligned, and not late night talk shows and award ceremonies hobnobbing with the beautiful people. He should have to sit down with April Reigns or Dan Rather and give account for that he did for the administration. That’s what accountability looks like to me. Of course, if there is one thing that white mediocrity hates, it’s accountability…