Wednesday, May 31, 2017

What Kathy Griffin Did Wrong

By now, everyone's heard of and/or seen the image of Kathy Griffin holding a severed, bloody head largely resembling our current POTUS. Also, by now, most of you have heard the clip of her apology for doing so, for erring, for pushing the line and stepping over the line of social acceptance (and possibly, the law).

And at this writing, at least one comedy show of hers has been canceled by promoters, and her ritual New Year's Eve gig with Anderson Cooper? Gone.

I've read and heard a ton of content and debate today about Free Speech, comedic license, dark humor, double standards (she's famous ... a random dude in a rural area would be considered quite differently) ... and potential Secret Service intervention tweeted, in fact, by the official @SecretService Twitter account.

It's an interesting and fiery debate and rightfully reveals strange bedfellows. Even Chelsea Clinton condemned the imagery ... the daughter of the woman POTUS publicly vilified hundreds of times in the past two years. For once at least as far as this story and subsequent apology was couched by the perpetrator herself I can agree with the anger of the grand POTUS, to a degree.

I don't know the proper, politically correct term for Ms. Griffin. Comedienne? Female comic? Or more simply, comedian?

What I do know is that if, as is surmised by some, she intentionally pushed the bounds of comedy/satire, she has her moment a few letters up from the D-List and is being taken to task for it, justly so.

What's real is this. I'm at best a passing fan of her work. But I can assure you that, while being disrespectful of the Office and even the man holding that office, in no way was she either:

  1. Tipping her hand in a plot to assassinate the President;
  2. Conspiring to incite others to do so.

Where Ms. Griffin went wrong was spin.

The one angle I have not heard since this story broke pertains to marketing. Ms. Griffin is an experienced professional, a New York and Hollywood veteran. We know her as a comedian (however you want to spell it out these days). She allowed and even compounded that designation in her apology.

What her photo shoot was, in actuality, was performance art. Protest art, even.

In what universe she imagined she was pushing the edge of comedy here, I have no clue. And embarking on the project from a comedic perspective, however dark, was just plain stupid on the surface.

Performance art, on the other hand, has a long, rich history of reallllly pushing the bounds of social and cultural and even legal acceptance.

Had she simply characterized her photo shoot as a performance art piece from the outset, this controversy would be minimized by several million verbal/digital megatons.

That she fessed up to conceiving of it as a "comedy" piece tosses her off the refuge of wildly misunderstood artists and into the, "Oh, crap! Did I just break the law?" without the conviction of character to stand behind her modernistic, "Game of Thrones" visual statement.

Ms. Griffin, you messed up in more than one way here. On stage or screen, you're a performer. Creating your own identity and path through writing legit comedic pieces makes you an artist. What you did that splashed across the news streams and social media feed could legitimately be considered as performance art shocking and making people think but you chose to classify it as a failed attempt at humor. For that, you're fired.

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