Celebrity Activism Flames Out at the Oscars

Patricia Arquette, best supporting actress winner for her role in "Boyhood," poses with her award during the 87th Academy Awards in Hollywood
Lucy Nicholson—Reuters Patricia Arquette, best supporting actress winner for her role in "Boyhood," poses with her award during the 87th Academy Awards in Hollywood on Feb. 22, 2015.

Brian Moylan is a writer and pop culture junkie.

Hollywood needs to get off its soap box until it realizes it has the same problems with race, gender, and discrimination as the rest of America

Each year, more and more movies about issues bring home the big trophies at the Oscars, and, as a result, the acceptance speeches are full of people calling for change or visibility for whatever pet cause got them to the podium in the first place.

Last night, Best Actress winner Julianne Moore brought attention to Alzheimer’s disease, while Best Actor winner Eddie Redmayne did the same for ALS. Best Supporting Actress Patricia Arquette, with her reading glasses on and piece of paper in hand, called for the end of the wage gap between men and women. Kicking off the trend, Best Supporting Actor winner J.K. Simmons wanted to make sure everyone in America calls their parents more often. And no texting either. That doesn’t count!

They weren’t the only ones. It seems like almost everyone had some sort of cause to bring to the attention of the world. Best Original Song winners Common and John Legend (or Lonnie Lynn and John Stevens as they were confusingly identified) spoke about continued racial inequality, Best Documentary winner Laura Poitras wants the world to be more leery of government surveillance, Best Adapted Screenplay winner Graham Moore told the weird kids that it gets better, and Best Documentary Short winner Dana Perry wants there to be more suicide prevention.

Let’s not forget Best Director and Best Picture winner Alejandro González Iñárritu, whose Birdman cleaned up at the awards. He asked not only for immigration reform, but also for the Mexican people to band together to create a better government.

But those are not the issues that America will be talking about on Monday morning. No, instead we’ll be rehashing the joke that Sean Penn made while giving Iñárritu his second Oscar. “Who gave this son of a bitch his green card?” he said in front of about 50 million people. No wonder Iñárritu had to make a sincere plea for the country’s immigrant population when this super wealthy white man just made an insensitive racial joke during a Mexican man’s big moment.

Patricia Arquette, who garnered much good will for her call for women’s equal rights during the ceremony (most visibly from Meryl Streep and Jennifer Lopez), undid some of that when she continued her comments backstage. “It’s time for all the women in America and all the men who love women and all the gay people and all the people of color that we’ve fought for, to fight for us now,” she told the press corp. Yes, feminism is a noble cause that we all need to strive for, but isn’t it hard for a privileged white women to tell gay people and people of color, who still don’t have their own equality, that they should give up their fight to help women?

That was the funny thing about these Oscars. Everyone seemed to have some sort of agenda to push, but their real behavior betrayed some sort of deeper reflection of how the system really works in this country.

Neil Patrick Harris, the host of the show, got in on the action early. His first joke of the night (and one of the few funny ones) was that the Oscars were the night to celebrate the “best and whitest.” This was in reaction to the sentiment that many deserving people of color were snubbed this year. However, in a bit where he tried to prove how British people can say whatever they want and get away with it, he made black British actor David Oyelowo, himself snubbed for his excellent performance in Selma, deliver the punch line to a bad joke about the remake of Annie, which reimagined the orphan and her father as black. Harris and his crew of writers probably didn’t see the racial undertones to that joke, but from the look on her face, Oprah Winfrey, who was seated behind Oyelowo, did.

Do I think that Sean Penn, Patricia Arquette, or Neil Patrick Harris is a racist? No, I do not. There are ways you could defend all of their remarks. Penn’s was a joke directed at a friend of his. Arquette was merely reminding those that fight for civil rights that women still don’t have equality yet. Harris, well, he didn’t think the joke was about Annie being black, he thought it was just about the movie being really, really crappy.

But the way Hollywood was behaving was like John Travolta putting his hands all over Idina Menzel’s face. He thought he was doing something nice, but he was really sexually harassing her before our very eyes. All of these other assertions, that plenty of people will deem offensive, weren’t meant as such, but they were, regardless. They were born out of privilege and ignorance and are the product of a system that has racism, sexism, homophobia, and all sorts of other ills baked into it. None of these stars were out to cause harm, but because racism and sexism are so intrinsic to the ways that we think and communicate they can’t help but rear their heads.

And I’m glad that these are going to be the things that people are talking about when rehashing the Oscars with their coworkers. After all, who cares what Margot Robbie had on when we can get into discussions of American racial privilege over donuts in the break room. And that is the real issue that this country needs to face. Yes, Alzheimer’s is awful as is ALS (and not calling your mom enough), but Hollywood needs to get off its soap box until it starts addressing the fact that it has the same problems with race, gender, and representation that so many other segments of our society have as well.

Sadly some of this will overshadow the inspirational moments from those issues-based speeches. It’s sad that we have to talk about Sean Penn rather than letting a very successful Mexican director make a heart-felt plea to his people to better their government and for our government to allow more people like him to succeed in our country. It’s sad that we’re going to be talking about Patricia Arquette’s views on race rather than Common and John Legend’s impassioned speech to end racism and the imprisonment of so many black men. Oprah especially liked that part, so it must have been good.

Though it was detracting, hopefully this thoughtless (though I don’t think malicious) behavior of Penn and others could be the catalyst to illicit frank discussion about these topics and might illicit real change. Or maybe it will get someone to produce a movie about racism in Hollywood, which will go on to be nominated for some Oscars of its own. Ha! Who are we kidding? A movie like that would never get nominated.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Culture

What Kanye West Can Learn From the Olsen Twins

Vivien Killilea—Getty Images Kim Kardashian and Kanye West attend the Robert Geller show during Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Fall 2015 at Pier 59 on Feb. 14, 2015 in New York City.

Brian Moylan is a writer and pop culture junkie.

To become a successful fashion designer, Kanye needs to retire from music

Kanye West wants very, very badly to be accepted by the fashion establishment. Remember his 2013 rant about how he invented the leather jogging pant but didn’t get the credit? As usual this New York Fashion Week, Kanye is ubiquitous, including a show for his Kanye Wext X Adidas Originals collection. Sorry, Kanye, but there’s only one way you’re going to do fashion justice, and that’s to quit music.

The collection, West’s first since a mocked 2011 debut in Paris, looked a lot like a bunch of torn up sweatshirts and other items of clothing you might find on a trendier hobo. Many noted that the work was derivative of others, but many also noted that this was his best effort to date and the one that looked the most like a collection. “He is an amazing performer, but his merits as a designer are still in doubt,” Cathy Horyn writes in The Cut. “Kanye’s clothes…just fine if you want to look like you’ve forgotten to get dressed,” says the always colorful Daily Mail.

Yes, Kanye has made great strides, but if he ever want to be taken seriously by the fashion establishment, if he really wants to run his own fashion house, then he needs to quit music and focus on his design work. Otherwise he’ll be like James Franco, doing a million different projects and not doing any of them well.

There are plenty of musicians who have tried their hands at fashion (including Jessica Simpson, whose line of basics brings in literally billions, with a B), but as far as celebrity fashion designers go, Kanye couldn’t have a role model better than the Olsen Twins.

Mary-Kate and Ashley’s line The Row is a super-high-end luxury brand that makes $39,000 backpacks and is a favorite of fashion editors around the world. This did not happen by accident. The pair decided that they were done with acting and, in 2006, launched their brand. Since then, they have attended to that and a handful of other fashion lines including Elizabeth & James. They don’t make movies, they don’t sing songs, they just design. While we see Kanye trying to rush the stage at just about every awards show, we only see the Olsen twins on stage at the award show for the Council of Fashion Designers of America. And when they’re up there, they’re winning for best accessories designer of the year.

By keeping a low profile and showing the fashion world that it has their undivided attention the Olsens have not only honed their skills, but they’ve also paid their dues, something Kanye doesn’t want to do. And he knows it! “As I work on clothing more, I’m not rapping as much. . . I’m not rapping as much, I’m not having as much finances,” Kayne said in that 2013 interview. “I’m losing relevancy. The relevancy is part of my power that allows my brand to be big.”

It’s that relevancy, not his fashion prowess, that gets Anna Wintour seated in the front row of his show next to his crying baby. Kanye does have a lot of powerful fashion friends in his corner, like Givenchy’s Riccardo Tisci, but is that because he’s such an interesting person who can bring the spotlight that follows him to their brands, or because he really is a talented designer?

The one thing that is certain is that those who opt for fashion as a second career need to work hard and show that they’re serious. The Olsens have done it, as did Victoria Beckham, the artist formerly known as Posh Spice. Gwen Stefani tried her hand at it for some time while on hiatus from No Doubt, but decided, in the end, that she wanted to go back to music.

Kanye clearly has a choice in front of him: quit music and dedicate all of his time and talent to the fashion world, with its year-round schedule of shows, orders to ship to retailers, and other sundry details. Or he needs to quit fashion and get back to the mic. For my money, I’d rather have him rapping than sewing. He can still influence the fashion world through his style and his other public output (tour costumes, video shoots, what he wears when he tells everyone Beyoncé deserves more awards). But the choice is his to make. Sadly, he can’t have his cake and force someone to wear it too.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Media

Just Cancel The Daily Show

It’s the best thing for Stewart, for whichever poor soul has to step into his shoes, and for the audience.

The news that we’ve been expected but hoping not to be true finally came on Tuesday night. It was sort of like finding out that Santa Clause wasn’t real or that the epic twerk fail video was a hoax. Yes, it was the news that Jon Stewart is leaving his place behind The Daily Show desk after 17 long years of skewering just about every administration since then and earning more Emmys than Anna Nicole Smith had pills.

It was sad news indeed and both Twitter and the press reacted with its typical “oh it’s so sad” keening. There have already been the inevitable “Who Should Replace Jon Stewart” posts in various corners of the Internet. I’m sad about the news as well and that’s why I think the best person to replace Jon Stewart is absolutely no one at all. In fact, Comedy Central should cancel The Daily Show entirely.

Just think about it, though it was created two years before Stewart started, The Daily Show is infused with Stewart’s indelible DNA. No one remembers that tall blonde guy who hosted it before him (his name was Craig Kilborn and he’s gone on to do, um, not much else) or that the show was more like a late-night version of The Soup and didn’t get nearly as political as it did once Stewart took over. The structure of the show, the tenor of the jokes, the way that Stewart ranted and raved and yelled and screamed and made you angry at the news but not at him is a trademarked approached. He’s the one that did it first and he’s the one that did it best.

So why should someone else try to out-Stewart Stewart? They shouldn’t. The show should be cancelled.

That’s what Comedy Central wisely did with The Colbert Report when Stephen Colbert announced that he was taking David Letterman’s old post at CBS. They did the right thing and gave the slot over to Larry Wilmore who is creating a panel show that is shaped in his own image, one that has less to do with aping right-wing idiocy and more about creating consensus around the stupidity of the world at large.

The Daily Show seems like it is something like The Tonight Show, something that can be passed down from host to host and remain somewhat intact. In fact, Stewart said in his goodbye, that it’s time for someone else to have the opportunity. He is wrong. No one watches “The Tonight Show.” They watch Johnny Carson or Jay Leno or, for that brief shining moment, Conan O’Brien; even though the format was similar, it was the host people favored. Recently Jimmy Fallon came along and converted The Tonight Show for the internet age. He’s shortened the monologue considerably, gotten rid of all of Leno’s old formats like Headlines and Jay Walking, and replaced them with sketches of his own and games with celebrities. It is an entirely new show. So why is it still called The Tonight Show?

I feel like the same thing needs to happen to The Daily Show. When John Oliver took over so Stewart could go shoot his first feature film, he pretty much was just a mouthpiece for Stewart, working with the same writers and serving as a place holder until the boss could come back from sabbatical. His show on HBO is so much different from what The Daily Show does, and it’s so much better for it. It’s allowed Oliver to do actual journalism, find his own voice, and see what he has to contribute to the conversation.

That’s what was always so great about The Daily Show. It was entirely Stewart’s vision, and we won’t have that vision without Stewart. Now that he’s gone, let’s give the show a rest and let someone new figure out how to take down our establishment one comedic peg at a time.

These think pieces and all their needless speculating are asking the wrong thing. It should not be “Who should replace Jon Stewart on The Daily Show?” they should be asking, “Who out there has a new voice to create the next revolutionary show in late night television?” Whoever that is shouldn’t be shackled with the legacy that Stewart created any more than Larry Wilmore should have to put on an American flag pin and try to be “Stephen Colbert.” Cancel The Daily Show and find someone out there who can create a wonderful gem of her own. It’s the best thing for Stewart, for whichever poor soul has to step into his shoes, and for the audience — whether or not they’re willing to get over their grief and admit it.

Read next: 7 Potential Replacements for Jon Stewart on The Daily Show

TIME Media

Amal Alamuddin Clooney and the Rise of the Trophy Husband

When George drags his human rights lawyer wife to the Golden Globes, we realize how petty these awards truly are

It started when she arrived on the red carpet, the star of the Golden Globes show, the woman who came across as the big winner at last night’s ceremony. The funny thing is, she wasn’t nominated for anything. She has never even been in a movie or TV show or even a high school musical. But the Guardian got it exactly right when it said, “Human rights lawyer Amal Clooney and her husband have arrived.”

It’s not an overstatement to say everyone fell in love Sunday night with Amal Alamuddin Clooney, the woman who finally nabbed confirmed bachelor George Clooney.

I can’t say it better than Amy Poehler and Tina Fey (can anyone say anything better than these two?), who joked, “Amal is a human rights lawyer who worked on the Enron case, was an adviser to Kofi Annan regarding Syria and was selected for a three-person U.N. commission investigating rules of war violations in the Gaza Strip. So tonight her husband is getting a lifetime-achievement award.”

MORE Watch George Clooney Pay Tribute to Wife Amal in Golden Globes Speech

On the red carpet, when asked what she was wearing, Amal didn’t discuss the designer who made her dress (it was Dior), perpetuating the marketing scam in which celebrities, the richest people around, are paid hundreds of thousands of dollars by billionaire designers to get attention for their gowns. No, she pointed out that there was a “Je Suis Charlie” button on her purse to show solidarity with the men and women of Charlie Hebdo who were killed by terrorists for exercising their right to free speech. She couldn’t care less about the garment industry; there are real-world issues that she wants to give attention to.

She wasn’t the only celebrity to show solidarity with our brothers and sisters in Paris, but she was one of the few wearing gloves on the red carpet, a choice many of the professional fashion advisers thought was tacky. But Amal does not care. Those gloves said, “O.K., fine, I will play along and get dressed up in formal wear for this event, but I think these gloves are cute and I’m wearing them, and I don’t care how many episodes of Fashion Police I’m on because I don’t even own a television set, so there.”

When George finally had his big moment, he tried to make it not about himself but about his wife and the Charlie Hebdo attacks. “Amal, whatever alchemy brought us together, I couldn’t be prouder to be your husband,” he said, before reminding people about what was going on in France. Clooney’s speech tried to take away the importance of his movie roles (remember Leatherheads, anyone?), and instead focused on what is important—and that is Amal. Even George defines himself not as a movie star but as a man who is married to an amazing woman. He could have settled for Stacy Keibler or Renée Zellweger, but instead he married an Oxford graduate who could probably beat Hillary Clinton for President, if only she were American.

MORE Review: From Cosby to Charlie, This Golden Globes Had Something to Say

Husbands were getting ignored all over the place Sunday night. Channing Tatum, currently one of the biggest box-office draws in Tinseltown, was on “train patrol” for his wife, the much-lesser-known Jenna Dewan Tatum, fanning out her long dress for the wide shots on the red carpet. When Naomi Watts and Liev Schreiber walked down the red carpet, he was generally ignored next to his wife, even though they were both nominated. That’s what being on television will do to you, Liev. Reese Witherspoon’s power-agent husband was with her at her table inside the event, but Cheryl Strayed, the woman she played in Wild, was the one who walked beside her when they stood next to Ryan Seacrest.

Maybe Reese’s man just didn’t want any part of the spectacle. When the camera would cut to her at any time during the evening, it was like she was considering all the things she would rather be doing with her time, like fighting for civil rights and making the world a better place. For her part, Amal looked like she was barely tolerating being there, like a wife dragged to her husband’s boring work dinner. And that’s all this was with her in attendance: someone else’s professional convention.

In fact, having Amal at the ceremony certainly threw the whole thing into perspective and threatened to undermine the legitimacy of the proceedings. We’re being duped into thinking that very rich people who are given every advantage in life, getting more accolades and awards, is somehow news. That it is something that should be covered rapturously by every news outlet in the world, with even more slide shows and reviews than the protests in Paris or Ferguson or wherever they’re happening these days.

MORE Golden Globes 2015: See All the Winners

When George drags Amal to the Golden Globes, we realize how petty these awards truly are, just more of Hollywood breaking its arm patting itself on the back and duping us into buying more movie tickets, watching more shows, consuming more commercials, feeding the consumerist beast that Amal Clooney is trying to fight back into a cage every damn day. We always thought that she was the woman who finally snared George Clooney, but it’s the other way around. And we’re all better off for it.

Moylan is a writer and pop-culture junkie who lives in New York City. His work has appeared in Gawker, Vice, New York magazine and a few other safe-for-work publications.

Read next: Great Storytelling Was the Real Winner at the Golden Globes

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TIME women

Russell Crowe Doesn’t Seem to Have a Clue About Hollywood’s Sexism

OZAN KOSE—AFP/Getty Images Russell Crowe is seen during a press conference at Turkish the premiere of "The Water Diviner", on December 5, 2014 in Istanbul.

Brian Moylan is a writer and pop culture junkie.

The actor thinks women in Hollywood should 'act their age'

Russell Crowe, a man who once threw a phone at a hotel employee, has some thoughts about actresses in Hollywood, namely that they need to “act their age.” He has no idea how wrong and sexist his remarks are.

When shilling for his latest film (and directorial debut), The Water Diviner, the 50-year-old actor told Australian Women’s Weekly, “The best thing about the industry I’m in – movies – is that there are roles for people in all different stages of life… To be honest, I think you’ll find that the woman who is saying that (the roles have dried up) is the woman who at 40, 45, 48, still wants to play the ingénue, and can’t understand why she’s not being cast as the 21 year old.” Remember, he said this to a women’s magazine. I have a feeling Russell Crowe is one of those guys who does something really jerky to his wife and when she gets angry he doesn’t know why and when she won’t tell him, he throws his hands up in the air and says, “Ugh, women,” and then sits down to have a beer and watch a rugby match like he never did anything wrong even one second of his life.

Anyway, he uses Meryl Streep to prove his point. “Meryl Streep will give you 10,000 examples and arguments as to why that’s bullshit, so will Helen Mirren, or whoever it happens to be,” he said. “If you are willing to live in your own skin, you can work as an actor. If you are trying to pretend that you’re still the young buck when you’re my age, it just doesn’t work.”

Strangely enough, Meryl Streep agrees with Russell Crowe. She told The Telegraph, “I agree with him. It’s good to live in the place where you are,” pointing out thatCrowe even said that he couldn’t play his Gladiator character now at age 50. She tells the reporter that when she turned 40 she was offered three different roles of witches and turned them all down. Now, at 65, she is playing one in Into the Woods. Why the change of heart? “Because I felt it was age appropriate. I felt it was time, and it was not time at 40.”

Because I love Meryl Streep, I would like to believe that she didn’t quite understand what Crowe said, or it was given to her in an odd context. I would like to believe that if you ask Meryl Streep about roles for women in Hollywood, she would say that there are not nearly enough, especially for women her age. The fact that Streep, generally considered the greatest actor of this entire generation, is the one exception to this rule shows just how bad it is for women of that age. Of course Meryl Streep can play whatever part she wants, and of course she’s still getting offered roles at 65. She’s Meryl Goddamned Streep! What about all the other actresses out there who do not have three Oscars?

Now let’s try to be sympathetic to Mr. Crowe for a minute. I understand what he’s saying about women not being comfortable in their own skin. There are several actresses (Meg Ryan, for instance) who have done such damage to their faces with plastic surgery that it is hard for them to get work. I agree that this is a problem, and I bet Meryl thinks this is a problem too. And I have a feeling that is what she is responding to.

However, it is a problem because there aren’t enough roles for women over 40, so of course actresses need to continue to look younger longer than someone like, let’s say, Russell Crowe, who can get wrinkles and gray hair and look “distinguished.” These actresses inject and lift and burnish their faces so that they can extend their working lives as long as possible. If there were more roles for mature women, maybe they won’t have to go through such horrible facial mutilations to try to maximize their earning potential.

Earning is part of the problem. A study of the top 265 film actors by the Journal of Management Inquiry showed that actresses’ salaries plummet after the age of 34. However, men make their most money at the age of 51. Let’s ask Crowe how he feels about how much he makes in 20 years, when he’ll finally be on par with the actresses who are his age now.

A look at the winners of Best Actor and Best Actress Oscars also shows that men peak older than women. The average age for Best Actress winners is 36 and the average age for Best Supporting Actress winners is 40. The comparable male winners ring in at 44 and 50, a full decade older than women in similar categories.

And it’s not just the age of available roles, it’s the availability of roles in general for women. Only 15% of the top movies in 2013 featured women in leading roles. A study of movies made the same year shows that only 31% of speaking roles were for women.

Let’s get this straight: there are fewer roles for women and when those roles are available, they only get paid for them until their mid-30s. No wonder women always want to play the ingénue. I would only write for teen magazines if they were the only ones paying me too! Then Crowe goes and blames this all on the women, as if they are somehow creating the problem for themselves. Maybe if they could go to all the female studio heads and complain about it. Oh wait, most Hollywood executives are men. Never mind.

The problem is not that Crowe said what he said about actresses. At least he was being honest and we finally can see the sexism of the institution laid bare. No, the problem is that Crowe doesn’t even realize what he said was wrong. He thinks that everything is fine and dandy for women in films and the problem is that they want younger roles or are getting too much plastic surgery. It doesn’t occur to him that the problem might be, hmm, that the Hollywood system is inherently broken and only values women when they are young and beautiful and can pair 50-year-old male stars with 20-year-old romantic interests without anyone batting an eyelash.

Brian Moylan is a writer and pop culture junkie who lives in New York. His work has appeared in Gawker, VICE, New Yorkmagazine, and a few other safe-for-work publications.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Opinion

‘Offensive’ Is the New ‘Obscene’

John Lindsay—AP Photo Lenny Bruce, refused entry to Britain earlier in the day "in the public interest," makes a V-sign as he leaves U.S. customs office after returning to New York's Idlewild Airport on Apr. 8, 1963.

50 years after Lenny Bruce's sentencing, the world is still deciding what a comedian is allowed to say on stage

Reading about Lenny Bruce’s arrest for obscenity 50 years ago makes me think about a popular sketch Amy Schumer recently did on her Comedy Central show. On Dec. 21, 1964, Bruce was sentenced to four months in a workhouse for a set he did in a New York comedy club that included a bit about Eleanor Roosevelt’s “nice tits,” another about how men would like to “come in a chicken,” and other scatological and overly sexual humor.

How does this relate to Amy Schumer? In the sketch called “Acting Off Camera,” Schumer signs up to do the voice of what she thinks will be a sexy animated character, because Jessica Alba and Megan Fox are doing the voices of her friends. When she arrives to work she sees that her character is an idiotic meerkat who defecates continuously, eats worms and has her vagina exposed. She says to her agent, “My character has a pussy.” Schumer is the first woman to say that word on Comedy Central without being censored, a right she fought for. Her struggle was commended by the press for advancing feminism because the word had been banned even though four-letter words for male genitalia were given the O.K.

A word that could have landed Bruce in the slammer 50 years ago is now available for public consumption, and its inclusion into the cuss-word canon is applauded. These days each of George Carlin’s “seven words” seems quaint. There is nothing so raunchy, so profane or so over-the-top that it could land a comedian in jail.

However, they have other reasons to censor themselves — namely Twitter.

The most dangerous thing that a comedian has to face today is offending political correctness or saying something so racist or sexist that it kicks up an internet firestorm. In 2012, Daniel Tosh made a rape joke at a comedy club, which everyone on the internet seemed to have an opinion about. Many were offended and he later apologized for the joke. Just last month comedian Artie Lang tweeted a sexist slavery fantasy about an ESPN personality and was met with harsh criticism. Saturday Night Live writer and performer Leslie Jones, a black woman, also took heat for making jokes about slavery; her critics said they were offensive, but she defended her comments, claiming they were misunderstood. Most of this exchange took place on Twitter.

This is a common cycle these days and one that can derail a comedian’s career (just look at what happened to Seinfeld alum Michael Richards after his racist rant became public). It’s also something that comedians are hyper-aware of. “I stopped playing colleges, and the reason is because they’re way too conservative,” Chris Rock said in a recent interview in New York magazine (referring to over-prudence, not political ideology). “Kids raised on a culture of ‘We’re not going to keep score in the game because we don’t want anybody to lose.’ Or just ignoring race to a fault. You can’t say ‘the black kid over there.’ No, it’s ‘the guy with the red shoes.’ You can’t even be offensive on your way to being inoffensive.” In a world where trigger warnings are becoming popular, how can a comedian really push the envelope?

In the interview, Rock says this policing of speech and ideas leads to self-censorship, especially when he’s trying out new material. He says that comedians used to know when they went too far based on the audience reaction within a room; now they know they’ve gone too far based on the reaction of everyone with an Internet connection. Now the slightest step over the line could land a comedian not in the slammer but in a position like Bill Maher’s, where students demanded he not be able to speak at Berkeley because of statements he made about Muslims.

That’s the difference between Lenny Bruce and someone like Leslie Jones. A panel of judges decided that Bruce should face censorship because of what he said. Now Leslie Jones gets called out, but the public is the judge. Everyone with a voice on the internet can start an indecency trial and let the public decide who is guilty and to what degree. (The funny truth is, depending on whom you follow on Twitter, the party is usually universally guilty or universally innocent.)

What hasn’t changed as we’ve shifted from “obscene” to “offensive” is just how unclear the scenario could be. The Supreme Court famously refused to define “obscene” but instead said they know it when they see it. The same is true of “offensive.” One comedian can make a joke about race or rape and have it be fine, another can make a joke on the same subject matter and be the victim of a million blog posts. There was even an academic study to determine which strategies were most effective for making jokes about race.

Whenever one of these edgy jokes makes the news, a rash of comedians come to defend not the joke, necessarily, but that the person has the right to tell it in the first place. The same thing happened at Bruce’s trial when Woody Allen, Bob Dylan, Norman Mailer and James Baldwin all showed up to testify on Bruce’s behalf. Bruce never apologized for what he said. Though he passed away before his appeal could make its way through the courts, he received a posthumous pardon in 2003. Then-Governor of New York George Pataki noted that the pardon was a reminder of the importance of the First Amendment.

In 50 years a lot has changed, but comedy, like the First Amendment, really hasn’t. There are always going to be people pushing the boundaries of what is acceptable, because that’s what we find funny. What has changed is who is policing that acceptability — and that makes a big difference. We no longer have too-conservative judges enforcing “community standards” about poop jokes, telling people like Lenny Bruce that they can’t say one thing or another. Instead, today’s comedians are policed by the actual community, using the democratic voices of the Internet and social media to communicate about standards around race, religion, sexuality, gender and identity. The community doesn’t say comedians can’t offend, but that they’ll face consequences if they do. Their First Amendment rights are preserved and, though it may get in the way of the creative processed once used by people like Chris Rock, online feedback can often lead to productive conversations.

In a world where nothing is obscene, it doesn’t mean that things can’t be offensive, as murky as both those ideas might be. At least we’ve taken the government out of comedy, which seems to be safer for everyone. Now they can stick to dealing with the important things, like Janet Jackson’s nipple.

Read TIME’s original coverage of Lenny Bruce’s conviction, here in the archives: Tropic of Illinois

TIME Media

Forgive Mark Wahlberg’s Cinematic Crimes, If You Like—But Not His Real Ones

AFI FEST 2014 Presented By Audi - "The Gambler" Premiere - Arrivals
Gregg DeGuire—WireImage Actor Mark Wahlberg arrives at the AFI FEST 2014 Presented By Audi - "The Gambler" Premiere at Dolby Theatre on November 10, 2014 in Hollywood, California.

Brian Moylan is a writer and pop culture junkie.

The actor wants to be pardoned from a violent and hateful crime he committed as a teen

That Mark Wahlberg has a long and varied rap sheet may not surprise many. And I’m not talking about his cinematic crimes, like the latest Transformers movie and that M. Night Shyamalan movie he made with Zooey Deschanel. In 1988 Wahlberg served 45 days in jail when he was 16 for beating up two Vietnamese men (one with a five-foot-long wooden pole) who he called “gooks” and other racial slurs. He also had an injunction against him for chasing down fellow residents of Dorchester, Massachusetts, and calling them racial slurs while throwing rocks at them. In 1992, after he had morphed into rapper Marky Mark, he repeatedly kicked another man in the head. And there was also a 1996 arrest for driving a boat under the influence.

Wahlberg is looking for a pardon from his arrest for beating up those two men, for which he was charged with attempted murder and convicted of assault. No one should grant him one.

On November 26, Wahlberg filed a petition to have his conviction expunged from his record. If Governor Deval Patrick issues any pardons, he should not waste one on Mark Wahlberg. Patrick’s record of being stingy with clemency will only make it look like a rich white celebrity can get anything he wants, even if that includes having his past forgiven from any youthful indiscretions. But based on the racially motivated nature of Wahlberg’s crimes, they seem to be a lot worse than shoplifting, small amounts of drug possession, or the odd DUI (though he has one of those too) that can plague many people.

This comes at an especially bad time with the protests in Ferguson and New York City, where black Americans are expressing their anger at being treated unfairly by the cops. Then in walks Mark Wahlberg, with his huge wallet, showing everyone that if you are white and privileged in this country, you should get special treatment. Wahlberg may have the necessary funds to pay for all the lawyers to shepherd through his pardon (again, something many people can’t afford), but he needs to pay for a better publicist. Not only is this appeal bringing more attention to his past arrests, but also making him look more like a jerk than he really is.

Having a conviction on your record can keep many people from voting or securing a job, so why is the artist formerly known as Marky Mark so concerned? It’s not like he has any shortage of money. So why the need for a pardon? He lists a few reasons.

“My prior record can potentially be the basis to deny me a concessionaire’s license in California and elsewhere,” he writes. Well, that hasn’t stopped him from opening several restaurants, including Wahlbergers, which has it’s own A&E show. And should the court really be concerned that a very rich man is not able to get even richer in a certain field? No, it should not. Doesn’t Wahlberg and his considerable capital have every available outlet to expand his fortune? Yes, he does.

He has other reasons. “I have become close with many members of the local law enforcement community in Boston and Los Angeles, including as a member of the board of directors of the L.A. County Sheriff’s Youth Foundation, which is dedicated to helping at risk youth,” he writes. But his record keeps him from working with at-risk youth.

This seems like a legitimate concern, but that doesn’t mean it’s insurmountable. As Gwynn Gilford points out on Quartz, the issues that effect Wahlberg because of his conviction affect many recovered felons. Rather than making things easier for a mediocre film actor, there should instead be new policies that make it easier for all recovered felons.

Why isn’t Wahlberg out there speaking out for reform in those areas and trying to repeal the silly laws that keep convicts from working in food service, for instance? That’s the sort of policy work he could do quite easily with his public profile. Look at what Jenny McCarthy has done for vaccine nuts, and she’s not nearly as famous or as likeable. Just like Wahlberg can have any job he wants, he can also do any sort of outreach he wants for any number of other issues, conviction be damned.

But that isn’t the real reason that he wants a pardon. “The more complex answer is that receiving a pardon would be a formal recognition that I am not the same person that I was on the night of April 8, 1998,” he writes. “It would be formal recognition that someone like me can receive official public redemption if he devotes himself to personal improvement and a life of good works.”

Wahlberg seems to be on a bit of a redemption tour. In 2013, Wahlberg finally got his GED. He’s gotten some tattoos removed. But not everything is erased as easily, and not everything should be. I don’t doubt that Wahlberg is a much different person and regrets what he did, but the state isn’t the one that needs to tell him that. If he decides that he is a different person and has cleaned up his life, he should work that out in therapy and keep the prison board out of it. Seeking recognition from others isn’t a reason to do good things. Wanting the approval from the world at large is the kind of vanity you would only see from a celebrity. I’m sure the men he beat up, one who was left partially blind, wish that they could file some paperwork and never have been senselessly beaten on the street, but they can’t. Why should their attacker be able to do it? Because he executive produced Entourage?

Finally, and incorrectly, Wahlberg makes his plea for forgiveness seem altruistic. “My hope is that, if I receive a pardon, troubled youths will see this as an inspiration and motivation that they too can turn their lives around and be formally accepted back into society,” he writes. No, Mark, they won’t. They will see that if they get rich enough or famous enough, it won’t matter what they did as kids, they’ll be able to make it go away like a bad Etch-a-Sketch doodle. They will see his fame as the mitigating factor, not his redemption or considerable charity work. It will just give everyone another reason to want to be famous.

Also, shouldn’t he want to go in there and change these kids’ lives before they commit a felony? Shouldn’t he be speaking at schools saying, “Kids, before you commit a crime, remember that if you are convicted you won’t be able to work in a restaurant or help a charity. If you commit a crime, even if you become as rich and famous as I am, your life will still be incredibly messed up. So, kids, don’t commit crime, because that can never be erased”?

That is the message that Wahlberg should be putting out in the universe if he really wants to help kids. Now all he’s saying is that he’s above the law and, contrary to what he would like everyone to believe, that helps no one but himself.

Brian Moylan is a writer and pop culture junkie who lives in New York. His work has appeared in Gawker, VICE, New York magazine, and a few other safe-for-work publications.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Culture

Why You Should Be Ashamed of Yourself for Hate Watching ‘Peter Pan Live!’

Peter Pan Live! - Season 2014
Virginia Sherwood—NBC From left to right: Allison Williams as Peter Pan, Christopher Walken as Captain Hook, Christian Borle as Smee.

Brian Moylan is a writer and pop culture junkie.

Caving to lousy preconceived notions before even tuning in is the worst sort of cynicism that Internet culture has to offer

On Tuesday night, I noticed a tweet from a writer friend in my timeline. “I’m watching Girlfriend’s Guide to Divorce and…I don’t hate it…AMA.” The joke, other than the “ask me anything” trope, was that he was watching Bravo’s first scripted show in the anticipation of hating it and, it turns out, found it to actually not be that bad.

This is the problem with hate watching, the Internet’s new favorite past time. Anyone with basic cable and a Twitter account knows the drill, where you watch something – especially a movie event, a live program, or an awards show – just so you can joke along with all your friends about how awful it is. It’s so popular that even Allison Williams, the star of NBC’s Peter Pan Live!, which airs Thursday night, knows that plenty of people are tuning in just to make cruel cracks about her performance.

“Watch it the way you watch everything, watch it critically, do whatever you want,” she tells Vanity Fair. “But even if it’s just secretly, go along for the ride.”

Williams picks out the major problem with hate watching pretty quickly, that people will be tuning in under the assumption that it’s going to be bad and they’re going to make fun of it no matter what. That’s kind of sad. Sure, The Sound of Music Live!, Peter Pan’s predecessor in hate watching, had some technical troubles and wasn’t the best thing in the world. But Peter Pan Live! deserves to be judged based on its own merits – or lack thereof.

Part of the reason why anyone tunes into a live broadcast on television is to see if people mess up. It’s like watching Saturday Night Live to see if the actors break character, NASCAR to see the crashes, or a Mariah Carey Christmas concert performance for her voice cracking. That’s only natural and, if it happens, I think it’s fine for there to be dozens of GIFs of the gaffe all over Tumblr within seconds. But as for the overall quality of a program, shouldn’t we wait to actually see if it’s going to be awful before making up our minds? As Williams says, can’t we go along for the ride?

Going into a show you’ve never seen before with 140-character bursts of vitriol in your soul is the worst kind of prejudice. No matter how good Peter Pan is, no matter how many high notes Allison Williams hits, no matter how many soft shoes Christopher Walken does as Captain Hook, people are going to laugh and jeer. That is the worst sort of critical failure. It’s like adoring every single one of Beyoncé’s songs because The Beygency might get you. There are good and bad things about every performance, song, and wig (yes, Allison Williams, I’m looking at yours) but caving to lousy preconceived notions before even tuning in is the worst sort of cynicism that Internet culture has to offer. There’s no defense from that. No matter how good the show might be, people have already tried, convicted, and sentenced it.

Peter Pan Live!, of course, is meant to be an event and consumed with social media. That’s the only way networks can figure out how to get a surge in viewers these days, and I wouldn’t be surprised if we have to get #Tinkerbell trending in order to save her life at the beginning of the broadcast. It’s like the 21st century version of clapping to show you believe. Programmers are relying more and more on the “second screen experience” to get ratings, but that doesn’t mean our tweets have to be bad-natured.

As Pollyanna-ish as NBC is, the networks are as much to blame for this rise in hate watching as the fans. Some people have expressed that they think Peter Pan Live! is intended to be hate watched, and they’re not entirely wrong. While it seems like this musical is sincere in its intention to amuse the masses, there are certainly plenty of other TV movies that are made with the intention of being torn down.

SyFy has seen tremendous success with their burgeoning Sharknado franchise, whose popularity is built on people’s outlandish reactions to its foibles on social media. Sharknado is winkingly awful though, wallowing in its campy plotting and riding the wave of social media scoffing all the way to the bank.

Lifetime isn’t as postmodern about using this tactic. Their intentionally awful but not winking biopics about things like Saved by the Bell, Aaliyah, and Brittany Murphy lure you in with the promise of something good but, based on the Lifetime brand, audiences are predisposed to it being absolutely wretched. (Since we’ve already brought up bad wigs, can we talk about the one in the Brittany Murphy movie?)

Hate watching is now an actual strategy that some channels use, so when something like Peter Pan Live! comes along, we can’t help but feel like it’s the same bait. It is not. Even those shows meant to be ridiculed should be critically considered by the audience based on their achievements. Sharknado 2, while not going to change the course of cinema, was at least enjoyable in its own tongue-and-cheek way. Does that make it good? Maybe it does. (But it probably doesn’t.)

I’m not saying we can’t hate watch things. Nothing gives me more pleasure than going on a 20-minute tear about how absolutely horrendous The Newsroom is. But that is information based on watching several episodes of the show over several seasons. It is not, like so many people’s feelings about Peter Pan Live!, an initial impression based on nothing.

We don’t have to like everything. Heck, we don’t even have to like most things. But I think it’s the responsible and intelligent thing to at least keep an open mind and wait for some actual evidence before making up our minds. And, hey, if Allison Williams can’t hit those high notes – then #HaveAtIt.

Brian Moylan is a writer and pop culture junkie who lives in New York. His work has appeared in Gawker, VICE, New York magazine, and a few other safe-for-work publications.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Media

Thank You, Duggars, Your Homophobia Is Really a Public Service

Duggar family - Woodbridge, VA
The Washington Post—The Washington Post/Getty Images Reality telvision celebrities, Jim Bob Duggar, center, and his wife, Michelle Duggar make a stop on their "Values Bus Tour" outside Heritage Baptist Church on Wednesday October 16, 2013 in Woodbridge, VA.

Brian Moylan is a writer and pop culture junkie.

When gay marriage is passing in state after state, it’s easy to forget that not everyone is on the bandwagon

You would think that, decades after Anita Bryant went on a crusade to rid gay people from public life, we’d be sick of hearing D-listers call us names and voice their hatred against us in public. The latest to really take a stand against gays is Michelle Duggar, the human baby factory who is the matriarch on the reality show “19 Kids and Counting.” This may sound strange, but I would actually like to thank her for her recent behavior.

The Duggars stirred up controversy when they recently asked for people to post pictures of married couples kissing on their Facebook page and then deleted a picture of a gay married couple kissing. (Hello? Who do you think is keeping TLC in business?) When the news of this leaked, activists directed people to sign a Change.org petition to “end LGBTQ fear mongering by the Duggars” and calls for the show to be canceled because of their behavior. It now has well over 120,000 signatures.

For what it’s worth, this isn’t Michelle’s only recent offense. She also recorded a robocall asking that the people of Fayetteville, Arkansas, vote to repeal a law that stops discrimination based on gender identity. Basically she wants people to be able to discriminate against transgender men and women.

Now some people think that we need to silence the Duggars and those like them. I think we should let them keep going. Nothing defeats complacency like knowing exactly where gay people stand with millions of Americans. Now, it’s not a shock that the overly religious Duggars don’t like gay people. That’s sort of like saying that Paula Deen likes butter. But, when gay marriage is passing in state after state, it’s easy to forget that not everyone is on the bandwagon. There are still large groups of Americans out there who want to rob us of our rights, and if we don’t stay vigilant, we’ll never win the war.

Right now we’re having a bit of success in dealing with pop culture homophobes. In May, HGTV decided to cancel a show they were planning to air featuring David and Jason Benham when it was discovered that they had made some nasty comments about gay people very publicly.

Phil Robertson of Duck Dynasty made some very homophobic comments to GQ this January, and was mouthing off once again this May about how gay sex is unnatural. He was suspended from A&E briefly for his behavior and the ratings for the show tanked after his disclosure.

That’s why we need these people to keep talking. There’s no doubt in my mind that there is hatred in the hearts of many people for LGBTQ men and women in this country, but if that hatred just stays in their hearts they’ll be working against us without our knowledge. The louder they become, the easier it is to target them. And when we can target them, well, we’ve seen that we can do things to shut them up. If only we could give them all a pie in the face like Anita Bryant got.

Having loudmouth opponents also serves as an effective recruiting tool for allies to gay civil rights causes. Like it or not, reality stars like the Duggars and especially the Robertsons–whose most recent season finale still clocked almost 4 million viewers–have a huge stage. When they make these sorts of remarks there is always a media firestorm and each time that happens, I would like to think that there is at least one fan out there who thinks, “God, what an idiot.” Hopefully that opens up some minds and shows those out there who may not be very hospitable to the “gay lifestyle” that bigotry is distasteful no matter how it manifests itself.

We don’t get to teach these lessons, show our strength or fight these battles if these people are silent. We need people like Michelle Duggar to be loud in order to get the hard work of activism done. So no matter how much it sucks, we have to just take it on the chin every time one of these yahoos has the bright idea to spout off. Trust me, it’s for the greater good. Every time a reality star says something ignorant about the LGBT community, a gay angel gets her wings.

Oscar Wilde, one of the world’s most public and tragic gay men, said “True friends stab you in the front.” There is no doubt in my mind that there are plenty of misinformed people in America carrying daggers against gay people, including those who have a public forum to discuss those views. Why would we want them hiding that hatred in the shadows when, out in the open, it can be diffused, acted on and used as a teaching tool to get more people on our side. We should all thank Michelle Duggar. She thinks that she’s stabbing gay Americans in the front, but what she’s really doing is bloodying herself.

Brian Moylan is a writer and pop culture junkie who lives in New York. His work has appeared in Gawker, VICE, New York magazine, and a few other safe-for-work publications.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Etiquette

‘Man Spreaders,’ There’s No Excuse for Not Closing Your Legs on the Subway

Couple sitting on urban subway
Steve Prezant—Getty Images

Brian Moylan is a writer and pop culture junkie.

All you jerks with wide stances are breaking the social contract that we need to abide by in New York City

There are lots of things that men do that are crazy, like insist on trying to impress people by regurgitating lines from Adam Sandler movies and investing scores of time in that imaginary monstrosity that is fantasy football. But there is no worse, man-centric behavior than manspreading on the subway. Seriously guys, it has got to stop.

You know what I’m talking about: the dudes who sit on the subway and expand their legs to bar anyone from sitting anywhere near them. It’s like they have an imaginary sumo wrestler sitting on the floor in front of them (or an imaginary cat, as this meme would lead us to believe). The problem has gotten so bad that the MTA, the agency in charge of New York City’s subways, is starting a campaign to curb the phenomenon. But, really, do we need subway posters next to those cute little Poetry in Motion poems and Dr. Zizmor ads to tell the bros not to do this? No, we should not. We should already be showing everyone some R-E-S-P-E-C-T, as Aretha says.

As a human male who possesses a penis, I can say that there is no possible way that your package is that big that you need to sit with your legs spread like the Grand Canyon. And if you have a package so large – as in an actual parcel – that is making you sit like this, you probably should do yourself and the world a favor and spring for a cab.

Also I know that your unit is not throwing off that much heat, even in the blistering days of the summer when the subway feels and smells like someone set the Gowanus Canal on fire. As an owner of a set, I know that testicles do not get that sweaty and even if they did, sitting as such would not create an adequate cross breeze to cool them down. If you are having such intense grundle fires, then you probably should consult a doctor and you should not be rubbing your junk all over public transportation. Or maybe just go commando.

That is the crux of the situation. The problem with leg spreaders is that they are breaking the social contract that we need to abide by survive in New York City. It is the same contract that says you stand on the right and walk on the left on an escalator and that you never shout at a celebrity when you see one on the street (this isn’t LA!). There is just not enough room for everyone in this city and, in order to accommodate everyone, we need to take up only our allotted bit of space.

The thing about the subway is that the seats and benches are divided to tell you just how much room you have. That little indent should not only fit your butt, but also your legs. If they are spread past that indentation, your stance is wider than Larry Craig’s in an airport restroom. If you’re on a car with those blue benches, which are meant to fit precisely six people and there are not six people on the bench, you are also spread too wide. Everyone paid $2.50 and they get only one seat. The same goes for backpacks on the seat, setting your bicycle or stroller in front of a whole row of benches, or passing out on an entire row on the F train on the way home from an East Village bar at 2 a.m. Sure, if the train is a little bit empty, you can be at ease, soldier, but never to the degree that it would intimidate someone else who might want to sit next to you in the event the train gets more crowded.

This is the most visual manifestation of patriarchal privilege and that is why it is especially angering. It says to everyone, “I find this comfortable and I am a man so my comfort comes before all else in this entire universe and especially you.” That’s why people hate this. It’s because men are saying that they don’t care about anyone else, and that is awful. They think that it is somehow manly, by claiming their territory. That is not manly. A real man is courteous and thinks of others and only takes as much as he is allowed. That’s what we need to tell our sons.

Whenever I see a leg spreader, I intentionally sit right next to him and spar for my bit of room. I want to let him know that it is not okay to stake claims to things that don’t belong to him in the first place. It’s like picking the tulips that grow in Central Park and putting them in a vase on your table.

Contrary to our reputation for being easy to anger, New Yorkers get by only by being nice to our fellow man. It’s the only way that we can survive crammed onto this tiny island at the center of the universe. The only place where this doesn’t happen is with men on the subway trying to prove something to the rest of the world (also in line at Trader Joe’s).

All you jerks with wide stances need to get over it. You are not losing anything by sitting with your legs together. It’s not that much worse. If you don’t like it, you can buy a bike and just ride everywhere. And if you really don’t like it, then you can move. Or better yet, you can stand. There are some of us who would also like a seat and we know how to use it.

Brian Moylan is a writer and pop culture junkie who lives in New York. His work has appeared in Gawker, VICE, New York magazine, and a few other safe-for-work publications.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

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