Columns, Opinions

Liang ’19: Dear Jesse Watters

By
staff columnist
Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Dear Jesse Watters,

Last week you visited your favorite campus to interview students about toxic masculinity and the Women’s March. Many students found your visit polarizing, to say the least. You broke one of my Facebook group chats, that’s for sure. Several of my friends got to talk to you and were asked questions that eventually became a piece that many, including myself, found humorous. After all, there are clips of you skating down College Hill. Who skates past the age of 30?

You tweeted back in October that you are a “political humorist,” and that your segments are “intended to be a light piece.” But that’s the thing about humor. Humor works because it either alienates or validates an audience; we either laugh with someone or laugh at someone. I am reminded of your last piece that went viral, “Watters’ World: Chinatown Edition,” as an example of the latter. When you play “Kung Fu Fighting” or fake bow to someone in Chinatown who doesn’t speak English that’s definitely not laughing with them. You said on Twitter that offense taken from the segment fills you with regret. I don’t want regret. I want an apology.

You remember when you came to Sex Power God, right? It’s that segment where you, a thirty-something at the time, filmed a bunch of college students making out and then broadcast it on national television without their approval. The clip was offensive to a lot of people. So, while we no longer hold Sex Power God at Brown, you will forever be intrinsically linked to it in my mind. In fact, up until this week, you were Butt-Naked Guy in my head.

As you might be able to tell, I am trying to be funny about a topic many people took seriously in the hope that it will change your mind about how you handled that situation. See? Useful humor.

Of course, as The Herald has reported, you were within the legal boundaries to film and publish interviews with students. Sometimes I even welcome your televised segments. Call us out on our lack of knowledge of political topics and policy. Hold us to a higher standard. What I can’t support is using footage to mock us special snowflakes, laughingly point out our supposed ignorance for strangers nationwide or paint a picture that isn’t true. Like an alternative fact, I suppose.

Comedy is a fickle tool when dealing with the hot-button issues of today. It’s hard to find an audience to laugh about sensitive topics and even harder to find someone to tell the joke. For topics like toxic masculinity, you can try to use humor to bridge a gap between those who smirk at safe spaces and those who may actually need them. Parts of your segment were funny to me, but I was left dissatisfied. Humor at its best minimizes harms while attempting to create change, and I didn’t find your comedy particularly effective at either.

I’m not going to lie: The left has a problem with alienating humor, too, possibly because the Republican Party gives them so much material to work with (so, so much). Late-night hosts mock and shame the right, most of the entire entertainment industry does the same and the modern conservative is left out in the cold. Aziz Ansari put it best in his recent Saturday Night Live monologue: “Some people are like, ‘Everyone that voted for Trump is a dumb racist, misogynist, (and) homophobe.’ Hold on. We’re talking about 63 million people. You know? Don’t judge them by their worst.”

And so, Jesse Watters, despite a track record I can’t possibly condone, I won’t judge you by your worst. But I do ask you to consider what purpose your humor, which is televised in thousands of homes, serves. Your colleague Bill O’Reilly said, “We do this … because we want to.” Hold yourself to a better standard than that. I wonder how many people felt like they were laughing with you on Saturday’s segment. I wonder if anyone learned to empathize with different opinions. I wonder how many people felt alienated, or worse, vindicated to continue their own harmful agendas after watching you on that television.

Huh. Maybe I should go out on the streets and ask.

Mark Liang ’19 can be reached at mark_liang@brown.edu.  Please send responses to this opinion to letters@browndailyherald.com and other op-eds to opinions@browndailyherald.com.