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A Professor Takes to CNN to Explain How Comedians Who Talk About Masculinity are Ruining Everything

Like pretty much every utterance out of Jerry Seinfeld's insanely successful and wealthy mouth lately, he caught hell for speaking positively about masculinity. Mainly from people who missed his point like it was a Paul Skenes heater:

Fortunately, Seinfeld's point was clear to my pal Pat. Crystal:

Seinfeld has spent his whole life doing observational comedy about where socks go in the laundry and why dogs stick their heads out of car windows. Any guy who's job is all about posting ridiculous content about sports and celebrities and UFOs can relate to a man wishing he'd done something more manly with his life. And Seinfeld could've done a lot worse than use real men like JFK, Muhammad Ali, and Sean Connery as the icons of his youth he aspires to be more like.

Regardless, self-deprecating humor is hardly breaking new comedic ground. Neither is talking about sexual politics. "Men and women are … different" has been the set up for more hack stand up bits than drunk driving, drive thrus, and airplane food combined. So no one should be the least bit put out by a veteran comic digging in that mine in search of nuggets.

Giphy Images.

But then again, not everyone is a comedian. Or a fan of comedy. Or of masculinity. Take, for example, Professor Nicole Hemmer. Her bio says she's the director of the Carolyn T. and Robert M. Rogers Center for the American Presidency at Vanderbilt University. As such, she was given space on CNN to pen an Op-Ed about this very topic. Presumably because knowing a lot about James K. Polk's re-establishment of the Independent Treasury System and Chester A. Arthur's Civil Service reforms more than qualifies you as an expert on gender roles and humor. And so, Prof. Hemmer has thoughts:


Source - Schticks about women have long been a prominent feature of stand-up comedy. But the “take-my-wife-please” comedy of the mid-20th century has gradually morphed into to something with more bite: a cultural commentary that frets over the emasculation of men and lays the blame at the feet of women.    

Seinfeld hints at this, coupling the collapse of hierarchy with the demise of dominant masculinity. Other comedians have been more explicit. Adam Carolla put it bluntly in his 2010 manosphere cri de coeur, “In Fifty Years We’ll All Be Chicks.” “Masculinity by any definition is disappearing,” he writes on the opening page. By masculinity, he means both toughness and male supremacy. He complains that he often gets called a misogynist, even though he is “simply pointing out that men and women are different.” But this is not true. He bluntly tells his readers that women are dumber, softer and less funny than men. 

Like Seinfeld, Carolla imagines parts of the 20th century as a better time. For Carolla, the 1950s were an era, he explains, when “women cooked, cleaned, took care of the kids, and mended torn dungarees. Men provided, fixed the car, patched the roof, and warded off intruders with a baseball bat.” But thanks to developments like the feminist movement … men became metrosexuals. …

In his most recent book, “What This Comedian Said Will Shock You,” Bill Maher offers a similar assessment, shot through with similar amounts of nostalgia. Noting a decline in the amount of sex Americans are having, he blames feminism for destroying men and ruining sex: “It’s the result of having it drilled into us in recent years that masculinity is itself toxic and scary and unevolved, and women don’t like it … Women aren’t attracted to these girly-men they’ve created,” he writes. “Maybe what we need these days is more sex and less gender.” …

The masculinity they defend is adamantly heterosexual, threatened not just by women but also by gay men and gender non-confirming people. Carolla’s panic is bare-faced: “No dad wants his son to go gay,” he writes in an early chapter. Though he insists he supports gay rights, he does so fretfully: “I’m open-minded but closed-behinded.” …

In his interview with Weiss, Seinfeld explains the power of comedy is to puncture the veneer of society and get to the truth. … [T]he comedian’s accuracy can be measured in audience laughs — a sign of recognition that the comedian has hit upon something we all know deep down but that no one else is wiling to say.    

But sometimes “what we all know deep down” is simply “what we all have learned,” and that can be, and often is, wrong-headed, cruel and in service of the powerful over the powerless.

First of all, Prof. Hennan sounds like she's a real hoot. The kind of gal you'd love to have over to your cookout to shoot the shit with. The sort of comedy fan you'd pay to have sit in your audience, because her howls of infectious laughter will get the whole crowd going. Nothing, and I mean nothing, is better for a joke than having someone break it down and analyze it and explain how people who actually think it's funny are actually just missing the larger societal harm that comes from lines like, "We need more sex and less gender" or "I'm open-minded buy closed-behinded." I always thought Norm MacDonald's legendary talk show jokes would've been better served if Conan O'Brien stopped him halfway through to explain that moths can't talk and there's no reason one would go into a podiatrist's office. 

Second, you have to appreciate her hustle here. Combined, the three comics she mentions have been working clubs for probably close to 100 years. Seinfeld's name is the title of the most appreciated sitcom of all time. Carolla is one of the true pioneers of the podcast space. And Maher has done literally hundreds of episodes of his various talk shows. All are bestselling authors. But what they truly have in common is that their audiences are wrong for laughing at their material. Because according to Presidential Historians, you actually can't measure their "accuracy" by how entertained the crowd is. That's what we have Vanderbilt department heads for. To be the hall monitors reminding everyone to walk slow, spit out the gum, and stop being so wrong-headed, cruel, and in service of the powerful over the powerless. Just one man's opinion, but I think we all owe a debt of gratitude to the good Professor for setting us straight on what's funny and what isn't. I wish I had her next to me keeping score while I was watching the Tom Brady Roast to let me know when it was socially acceptable to enjoy myself or not.

Finally, I realize reading this back that I myself have not been the least bit funny. So I'll leave you with this. From Carolla's aforementioned "In Fifty Years We'll All Be Chicks." Which has the subtitle, "… And other Complaints from an Angry, Middle-Aged White Guy." Which I've read twice all the way through. And bring on flights for a quick read because you can jump into it on any random page and strike gold. And which came out in 2010, so do the math. Listing the kinds of guys he can't hang out with:

MY-WIFE'S-MY-BEST-FRIEND GUY. I know I sound like a jaded dick, but you're wife's not supposed to be your best friend. She's not even supposed to be in your Fave Five. When's the last time you begged your best friend for a blow job? I don't believe these guys. I think they're just saying it to score points with their wives and to make the rest of us look like assholes. Your best friend is the guy you go to to bitch about your wife getting fat. Plus you can't brag to your wife about the handy you got in the champagne room.

That might not be the sort of gender role commentary that is university professor-approved. But as a manosphere cri de coeur it's fecking hilarous. And accurate. Which we need a lot more than we need more lectures about what's funny and what isn't from American Presidency experts. We're all set on that, thanks.