Watching video clips of the earthquake and tsunami in Japan and the aftermath are well, shocking, even to a media-overstimulated world. It almost needs a disclaimer. “These are not disaster-movie special effects. This is real.”
For everyone in public life, the reaction should be one of horror and sorrow. But in recent years, the definition of “public life” has expanded dramatically with the rise of social and electronic media. It now includes a class of people that has no class.
Dan Turner, the allegedly savvy press secretary for Gov. Haley Barbour, resigned after sending an e-mail news digest with a joke referring to the Otis Redding hit “(Sittin’ on) the Dock of the Bay,” to which he added “Not a big hit in Japan right now.” Idiot.
Some found themselves ticketed by the Tweet Police. Those forced to clean up their Twitter mess included rapper 50 Cent, who joked that the earthquake forced him to relocate "all my hoes from L.A., Hawaii and Japan." He -- or more likely his agent -- tweeted in apology: "Some of my tweets are ignorant. I do it for shock value."
Alec Sulkin, a writer for the Fox cartoon “Family Guy,” one of Hollywood’s most offensive TV programs, proved just how offensive he could be on Twitter. “If you wanna feel better about this earthquake in Japan, google ‘Pearl Harbor death toll.’” Even he apologized: “Yesterday death toll = 200. Today = 10 thousand. I am sorry for my insensitive tweet. It's gone.”
But it was shrill-voiced comedian Gilbert Gottfried that made national news. He was fired Monday as the quacking voice of the duck mascot of insurance giant Aflac after tweeting Japan jokes such as "They don't go to the beach. The beach comes to them."
Since the only thing the Aflac duck says is a quacking “Aflac” in varying degrees of duck distress, most Americans have probably never connected this series of vocal performances to Gottfried. It could also be argued that even with nearly 80,000 Twitter followers, not very many people saw Gottfried’s tweets. But the tasteless tweets are particularly problematic for Aflac. It does 75 percent of its business in Japan.
Surely, Gottfried wasn’t expecting the negative repercussions. After all, why wouldn’t he be free to misbehave on Twitter the same way he does on television? Are we to think Twitter has greater standards of decency then does the Idiot Box?
Gottfried’s been doing the duck voice since 2000. In 2009, Gottfried appeared on a Joan Rivers roast on Comedy Central and cracked that Robin Quivers, the Howard Stern sidekick, was “proud” of being molested by her father and “won't shut up about it...Oh, the shame that poor man must have felt having to hide the fact that his molestation standards were so low!”
Where was Aflac then? The obvious answer is that thousands hadn’t died. Still, that didn’t disturb the sensibilities of anyone in Aflac Land?
Predictably, some of Gottfried’s tasteless-comedian pals aren’t coming to his defense. Gottfried removed his Twitter jokes, but has since posted comedian Lisa Lampanelli joking, “Some said ‘too soon’ but in his defense, Tokyo IS 13 hrs ahead of us!”
Does anyone think Gottfried isn’t already returning to form? Gottfried posted this to his Twitter followers. “Been reading your tweets. More than a few of you have said, ‘F--- 'em if they can't take a joke.’ Yup, those are true Gilbert Gottfried fans.” Does this sound like a man apologetic for his actions?
On ABC’s “The View,” Joy Behar won the prize for the most ridiculous Gottfried defense. When Sherri Shepherd asked who in Japan was feeling better for these mean-spirited jokes, Behar replied: “Maybe people who just need relief from the terror of it all. I don't know, but I mean, I'm sure people in concentration camps made jokes about each other, about the Nazis, about their situation. That's the way people relieve stress.”
Don’t feel too bad for Gottfried, and don’t applaud Aflac, either. He has a new book coming out in April with the transgender-joke title “Rubber Balls and Liquor.” Publishers Weekly promises “[Oral sex] and masturbation jokes punctuate a mix of memoir, angst-ridden anecdotes, and observational humor...and his fans will eagerly skip ahead to a chapter titled ‘Too Soon’ about his now famous Friars Club performance two weeks after 9/11.”
That’s when he made a joke about a direct flight into the Empire State Building. Thousands died in New York, too – but apparently not enough thousands for Aflac to fire him back then. Or was it just that the dead were Americans?