Follow-up on Garrison Keillor:

(1) Peter Hsu and Matt Bower confirm that Keillor made a similar joke about stripping born-again Christians of citizenship on his Prairie Home Companion. Here’s the audio file — it starts at about 3:30.

(2) Some people suggested that the criticisms of Keillor betray a lack of a sense of humor. I don’t think so; I think one aspect of a sense of humor is a sense of what humor is mean-spirited and what isn’t. One reader, for instance, pointed me to this post by Stephen Bainbridge and suggested it was similar to Keillor’s gag:

[Post title:] The kind of multiculturalism I can get behind

I discovered that owning a dog easily accomplished what many diversity training programs have failed to do for years. Regardless of our race, color, religion, or country of origin, we were one community of civilized dog lovers. (Source: Slate)

Except for those unAmerican cat lovers, all of whom should be sent to Guantanamo forthwith.

But what makes Steve Bainbridge’s post amusingly absurd, rather than mean-spirited, is that it’s completely obvious that he and his audience don’t really dislike cat lovers. It’s not just that they don’t want to send them to Guantanamo (of course they don’t, just as Keillor wouldn’t really endorse a proposal to strip born-again Christians of citizenship); it’s that they don’t really dislike them. On the other hand, I suspect that much of Keillor’s audience does dislike born-again Christians, and that a considerable chunk even holds them in contempt. I also suspect Keillor also in some measure dislikes or disapproves of them: Check out the audio, which lists his various complaints about them — these are exaggerated for the sake of humor, but they seem to me to bespeak real disapproval and not just absurdist self-conscious magnification of trivial differences.

Suggesting the deportation of people with whom you obviously have no meaningful grievance is absurdist. Suggesting it as to people whom you do dislike, even if you suggest it facetiously, is mean-spirited. Or at least that’s what my sense of humor tells me.

(3) Finally, if you’d like another analogy, imagine that a born-again Christian commentator, speaking to a mostly born-again Christian audience, said the same thing — in jest, of course — about non-Christians, or “secular humanists,” or atheists. Just some innocent absurdist humor? Or something that seems mean-spirited enough that it’s worth speaking out against (though of course not banning)?

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