New York Times media guy David Carr is in big trouble for going on Bill Maher's HBO show and making a joke about how Kansas, Missouri, and other "middle places" are "the dance of the low sloping foreheads." (That means "dumb," for anyone reading in Kansas or Missouri.)
He's being scolded by thousands of people on Twitter! He's being scolded by bitchy former Timesmen! He's even being scolded by Glenn Beck, America's conscience! And although we tried to ignore this story for days—on the grounds that it is dumb—the scolding continues. So allow us to offer this opinion:
Shit talking, for lack of a better word, is good. (Even better than plagiarism.) Shit talking—which we will define here as "talking trash for fun," is a fundamental skill that should be ingrained in all American children at a young age. Not only the ability to talk shit, but the ability to recognize when shit is being talked, and to react properly. A surprisingly large percentage of internet commenters and media pundits, sadly, appear to have never learned these valuable lessons.
There is a fancy word for shit talking: catharsis. Yes, it's possible to achieve catharsis by chopping off some asshole's head with an axe, but we discourage that here in the land of the free. Instead, you can talk shit about that person. The proper response to someone talking shit about you is to talk shit back to them. Then you both have a nice laugh at the end, and go on your merry way, feeling much better, thanks to catharsis.
Have you ever read a weighty academic essay about the history of "the dozens" and its social and racial history and implications and blah blah blah? God it's the worst thing ever. Way to take the fun out of something fun, academia! The point is that "the dozens" was what they called shit talking like a hundred years ago, when everyone tried to come up with the best put-down of each other's mom, while sitting around campfires and being poor. It was essentially a game, and everyone knew it was a game, and that's what made it work. Today, the culture of "the dozens" has faded out somewhat, as you know if you've ever made a "your mama" joke to someone who immediately threatened to punch you in the face. That "someone?" The national media.
David Carr made the equivalent of a "your mama" joke about Middle America. It was a joke. Whether you thought it was especially funny or not is not important. What is important is that you recognize that it was a joke. When I lived in Florida, I talked shit about New York whenever I got the chance. Now that I live in New York, I talk shit about The South whenever I get a chance. Here is the secret: neither New York nor The South (nor anywhere else in the world!) is or should be immune from being insulted, for fun. Shit talking is an art—one which ultimately survives because it provides good entertainment for those with thick enough skins to enjoy it.
Our entire national system of spectator sports is nothing but a huge, socially acceptable proxy for us all to talk shit about each other. Denigrating rival sports teams is a proud American tradition. It's understood to all be in good fun. It also helps us to release our primitive feelings of rage without having to go to war with one another. David Carr's little comment was the talk show equivalent of the governor of Ohio tossing off a few chuckly old pokes-in-the-ribs while betting the governor of Michigan on the annual big college football game. It's ritualistic, it's traditional, and it's all in good fun, even if it's not particularly funny in a particular instance. If you don't like the shit that someone is talking about you, talk shit about them! Or their city! Or their state! Give back the equivalent of what you get, and everything will remain in balance. Run home crying about it, and it's no fun playing with you.
Get over it, Midwesterners. You can't even figure out what's a joke and what's not. No wonder people think you're dumb.