June 12, 2009

Comedians make inappropriate jokes all the time. This time, it was David Letterman who overstepped when his Top Ten list mocked Sarah Palin's family situation. Possibly due to a misunderstanding over which of Palin's daughters was at a particular baseball game, the 14-year-old or the 18-year-old, Letterman ended up using terminology which implies rape (due to sex with a minor, who cannot legally give consent).

While Jay Leno hosted The Tonight Show, the jokes were in line with the comfort level of a middle class who leaned toward right-wing policies, while carefully avoiding uncomfortable extremes. Watching Leno, one could understand entirely how California, a seemingly left-wing state, could vote down gay marriage, why indeed rejection was inevitable. Leno's take brought the primary night talk show choice to either middle class, soft right wing (with appeal to each coast), or working class right wing (with appeal to the midwest).

However, with Conan O'Brien's promotion to The Tonight Show, the after-11 viewing audience in the United States is now divided almost perfectly among gender and party lines. Republicans and older persons tend to be uncomfortable with Conan's style of humour. Especially by contrast, Letterman comes across as a comfortably edgier Mr. Rogers -- who has now overstepped the acceptable limits of that edginess.

Despite Letterman's apology and Palin's acceptance of that apology, many continue to protest his show on the basis of that joke. Many continue to demand that Letterman be fired. Such is the vehemence of the reaction that the Wikipedia page dealing with Letterman is currently under an almost unheard of full editing block.

Letterman's current contract is on its final months. Before this whole thing blew up in his face, he had been expected to sign an extension this month which would last until 2012. Now -- firing probably is not a financially reasonable decision, and unless advertisers are pulling out, it seems unlikely that it would be. What I do know is that the resolution of this issue, say, a few months down the road, will demonstrate the current level of real power of the Republican hard right.

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