Oswalt’s attempted apology tried to strike a balance between everyone’s feelings, with the hope of making everyone happy. But that’s an impossible task.
Patton Oswalt’s apology signals a greater problem
By Matthew Fraser, Editor in Chief
Most people have a friend that they feel they sort of need to hide from the rest of the world. Someone whose jokes are a little off colour, or they can be abrupt to the point of rudeness, or they frankly just don’t know how to behave themselves. When you have a friend like that, it often feels like you have to defend them just to validate your connection to them. Worst of all is when you are publicly attacked for your association. But how do we agree on who is worthy of these attacks and how severely should we punish people who are friends with those people deemed persona non-grata?
On New Year’s eve, longtime comedian Patton Oswalt posted a picture with Dave Chappelle, his friend of 34 years. In the caption for this photo, he said: “I ended the year with a real friend and a deep laugh. Can’t ask for much more.” But Dave Chappelle can not just be a friend in todays day and age; after The Closer and its attendant controversy, Dave Chappelle is a man squarely and most assuredly worth rebuke in the eyes of many. As a result, any and all acts of friendliness must be pushed down or punished.
No one knows exactly how much anger and criticism the internet can heap on someone in 24 hours, but Oswalt got enough to motivate him to post an apology photo the very day after his initial photo. In it, Oswalt attempts to affirm his support for the LGBTQ community while simultaneously justifying his friendship with Chappelle. At one point Oswalt explains: “For all the things he’s helped ME evolve on, I’ll always disagree with where he stands NOW on transgender issues… You know someone that long, see the struggles and changes, it’s impossible to cut them off.” Oswalt’s attempted apology tried to strike a balance between everyone’s feelings, with the hope of making everyone happy. But that’s an impossible task.
However, the thing that bothers me the most is that the very need for such an apology, to begin with, makes it seem as if Dave Chappelle and his jokes are on a similar level of evil as a white supremacist or a Nazi. Though I certainly agree that there is some veracity in criticizing the jokes he made and the potential negative impacts that they may have, it seems absurd to now browbeat all of Dave Chappelle’s friends for their friendship. If anything, that may just make him more obstinant in his beliefs. Of note is the fact that Oswalt himself mentions this as a potential possibility in his post, saying: “Sometimes I wonder—did I and others cutting them off make them dig their heels in deeper, fuel their ignorance with a nitro-boost of resentment and spite?”
The sad thing is that for some people this and every other attack however roundabout on Dave Chappelle will never be enough. For them, even an attempt at an apology that is not a vocal and permanent denunciation of the offender’s friend is to be seen as a tacit endorsement of their bad ideas. Maybe it is too much to ask for people to have some nuance and resist the urge for permanent cancellation. But that could ultimately be our undoing. No one will want to change or evolve themselves and their views if every previous transgression is held against you and your friends; and for those who disagree with the public shaming and constant call-outs, there will be no point in trying to reach out and change someone’s mind. After all, by talking to them in even a marginally charitable way, you will be tossed aside as part of the problem.
It’s a shame that Patton Oswalt was targeted and forced into apologetic admission for relishing time with his friend of over three decades. We should seriously question the cultural power of the unnamed masses who can force someone to turn their back on a friend they have known personally for so long. I would wager that most of the people who attacked Oswalt are known to him only as icons and usernames, not flesh and blood like Chappelle. Hopefully, this series of events won’t cause others to end their friendship, but then again, maybe that’s the goal.