DEAR TOKEN: In recent years colleges and other venues have stopped inviting certain comics to them because of people's opinions of how dirty, vulgar, or offensive that comic can be. Do you think people have become more sensitive? And if so, why?
DEAR STEPHEN: Have you ever heard an older person talk about how back in their day everything was so much tougher? They used to walk uphill both ways in the snow for miles just to get to school. They got paid their daily wages in belly button lint and had to eat off of that and make sweaters for the kids. They had to fight Communists with their bare hands and find people to hook up with in person. The struggle was really
I never thought I'd be one of those oldsters, but your question's got me so tempted to start this post off with a "back in my day" story. And it's my column, so I will....
Back in my day (the early 2000s when I thought I was the shit because I had the most solos in my a cappella group) college was still a place where controversial speakers were welcomed as long as they were well-informed. The best speaker I heard at my school was Justice Antonin Scalia - rest in peace. You can imagine a jam-packed auditorium of cocky liberals all thinking they were going to be the one to stump a man who'd been studying law longer than we'd been alive. Scalia came in, was polite and respectful, and then politely and respectfully shit on our arrogance.
He didn't change my mind that day, although he earned my respect. Instead, he made me really wrestle with not only what I believe, but why.
That lesson has stuck with me. Your opinions are stronger when you're able to defend them against other reasoned ideas. If they cannot withstand a challenge, your opinions are weak and worthless.
I'm afraid that colleges have become so interested in creating "safe spaces" that the kids have gotten soft. Ultimately, being soft makes you less safe. To be clear: no one should have to take abuse; but people need to learn how to take a joke.
People who are easily offended often hold on to their own opinion so tightly that they walk around like they're constipated. And that's because they are. It's not comfortable to clench your butt that long. The longer you stay that way, the shittier your attitude becomes.
Have people become more sensitive? Yes.
The main reason is because we've become more insensitive. We feel entitled to say whatever we feel regardless of how relevant or informed that opinion is. We feel entitled to dismiss other's pain but expect the world to change its axis for our own baggage. We don't listen - we wait for our turn to talk. And we don't let pro-athletes play through concussions anymore (alright, this one's probably a good thing...).
We're selfish, soft people and it's time we do better. I think college is the perfect environment to be exposed to all kinds of new ideas and potentially offensive subject matter.
And comedians are among the safest deliverers of controversy. However dirty or vulgar they might be, they mean no harm. There's often hidden truth in what is making you squirm. The good ones will literally set you up to be offended just to break down your defenses. That sounds like a valuable service to me. Stand-up comedians should be welcomed on college campuses -- along with other controversial thinkers and provocateurs -- with open arms and a live microphone.
What do you think?