Much as I hate to give this any more publicity than it deserves, which is none, I want to comment on Sarah Silverman's recent suggestion that the Catholic Church "sell the Vatican" to stop world hunger.
Where to begin? First, I want to point out that I said the very same thing when I was a dimwitted adolescent. It was an old trope then. Original and daring it ain't. The difference between me and Miz Silverman is that I grew up at some point. She didn't really steal it from me. She stole it from every grumbling crank since Nero.
But then, being a foul-mouthed comic isn't exactly the definition of "going against the flow". By falling right into line with the fashionable atheism of her social set, Miz Silverman reveals a timid and unimaginative conformism.
Then there is the irony of the kind of statement wherein one demonstrates one's deep concern for the poor by demanding that someone else do something to help them. I wonder if she texted the suggestion to the Vatican from her limo; "I would help the poor myself, but I have an appointment for a pedicure. Give 'til it hurts, Catholics!".
There is also the underlying philosophical problem of such a statement, which goes right along with the Spirit of the Age, which is materialism. By her remark, Miz Silverman sees no value in beauty or art or other intangibles (not to mention faith). For her, apparently, every symbol is an empty symbol. But then, I notice she didn't suggest we sell our national monuments... Mount Rushmore, the White House, the Capital Mall, the Washington Monument, the Lincoln Memorial.
Which brings us to her transparent anti-Catholicism, which - let's be honest - is what the remark is all about. Sarah Silverman doesn't lay awake nights worrying over the poor. She does think a lot about publicity, though, and trashing the Vatican is always good for a few days of tabloid chatter. One can't rely on jokes about rape or abortion or masturbation all the time. Trashing Christians is a very handy alternative, because it requires no courage at all, but you will be applauded for it as if you had done something significant. You will also get invited to all the right parties and cast in all the right parts.
There are two kinds of comics at work today; first, there are those of the "I-can't-believe-they-went-there" variety, who stimulate a Pavlovian response by attacking things that ordinary, normal people find important. Miz Silverman is one of these, and they are as common as dirt. This is where most of what passes for stand-up comedy comes from nowadays. Lacking a sense of humor, these performers rely on the mere shock of words. This is why we have "retard" jokes again. It's transgressive and edgy to make fun of the handicapped, see. What a fifth grader would rightly be ashamed of, these people get paid to do.
Then, there are the genuine humorists, who are more rare: Brian Regan, John Pinnette, Jeff Foxworthy, Jim Gaffigan... these may cross a line now and again, but in the main their humor is about being human, and most of the jokes are, in one way or another, on all of us. It's not even a question of bad language. There are some comics I really appreciate who swear a good bit. The words "humor" and "human" are both related to the root word "humus" ("earth"), after all. The difference is, they aren't trying to be offensive. There are times when another kind of word won't quite do.
It's odd how wide a gulf there is between being earthy and just being dirty.