Cockburn tries to be generous to comedians. In this mirthless era, it’s a hazardous job to hold. To one side is the danger of cancelation, to the other is the danger of being dull.
So in the matter of the recent ritual humiliation of Gene Weingarten, all of Cockburn’s sympathies lie with Gene. The hapless Washington Post humor writer has learned that one doesn’t joke about the cuisine of famine-ravaged countries without consequence.
Weingarten decided to write his August 19 column about the foods he doesn’t like. That seemed safe. By the time food arrives on one’s plate, it is always safely dead (except in Korea), so the food at least can’t complain about being otherized and subjected to the historical tyranny of white cisheteropatriarchal norms.
Big mistake. Did Weingarten think he was Dave Barry, writing in a decade where the country wasn’t collectively mentally ill? Because he definitely isn’t. After safe jokes about the hazards of hazelnut and Old Bay seasoning, Weingarten shared his frank thoughts on the ‘food’ of the Indian subcontinent:
‘The Indian subcontinent has vastly enriched the world, giving us chess, buttons, the mathematical concept of zero, shampoo, modern-day nonviolent political resistance, Chutes and Ladders, the Fibonacci sequence, rock candy, cataract surgery, cashmere, USB ports…and the only ethnic cuisine in the world insanely based entirely on one spice. If you like Indian curries, yay, you like Indian food! If you think Indian curries taste like something that could knock a vulture off a meat wagon, you do not like Indian food. I don’t get it, as a culinary principle.’
Based on the reaction, the above paragraph is basically the worst atrocity against India since Timur turned Delhi into a pyramid of 200,000 skulls. The piece was quickly rewritten to be less funny. A ‘correction’ was appended to note ‘India’s vastly diverse cuisines.’ Weingarten delivered a mega-lame apology on Twitter, no doubt after superiors threatened to move his office to the bathroom of an Indian restaurant.
From start to finish plus the illo, the column was about what a whining infantile ignorant d—head I am. I should have named a single Indian dish, not the whole cuisine, & I do see how that broad-brush was insulting. Apologies.(Also, yes, curries are spice blends, not spices.)
— Gene Weingarten (@geneweingarten) August 23, 2021
As he said above, Cockburn is sympathetic. But Cockburn must also chide Weingarten: come on, Gene. You’re 69 years old. You can take a risk or two. Why couldn’t you be the hero who doesn’t apologize in response to a mob of humorless dumbs?
Racism is actually being discriminatory or hateful toward other races, not poking fun at a country’s food. Come on, has anybody looked at an Indian buffet?
That pretty much looks like a color wheel of stool colors on a medical chart. And Cockburn likes Indian food!
On Wednesday, Weingarten had to endure the bonus humiliation of being singled out by Top Chef host Padma Lakshmi. Lakshmi’s piece comes off as both fake and ridiculous, as she repeatedly insists she is not angry while clearly seething in rage.
‘My issue is not his performative contrarianism (though it is tedious) or that the Indian cuisines he has tasted did not please him — but that his writing, besides being racist and lazy, is simply not funny,’ Padma whined.
Oh, come on, Padma! Nobody goes around writing angry essays in the Washington Post because the last episode of The Big Bang Theory fell flat.
This is a bizarre affectation of the modern age, where humorless people insist that they are actually the most mirthful people alive. ‘Listen, I love jokes, but…’ is the safest tell that a joyless shell of a person is about to Hoover all the happiness from one’s life.
But it’s doubly fake because Lakshmi doesn’t remotely believe what she is saying. She’s already made fun of white people for not seasoning their food:
Shot and chaser pic.twitter.com/ZCIsdiOZPM
— Amber Athey (@amber_athey) August 26, 2021
Sure, it wasn’t really a good joke, but Lakshmi shouldn’t feel bad about making it. White people food deserves to be mocked! Cockburn has a Polish friend whose parents refer to ketchup as ‘hot sauce’. In Sweden, traditional foods include blood pudding, blood soup, and fermented herring that smells like dead grandma and tastes like her too. So joke away. Because you can never love what you cannot even laugh about.