Jay Leno and the culture of banishment

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Not only have our American neighbors been going through a period of strong political polarization for quite some time, but there is also the impression that, in the media or in public opinion, there is only room for extremes.

You have surely noticed that, for each criticism directed against supporters of Donald Trump or conspiracyists of all stripes, we are entitled to a charge against the excesses of certain followers of the movement. woke. By focusing only on the extremes, you often lose the essential or, at the very least, the nuances.

It is this quest for nuance that explains why I was interested in an exchange between comedian Jay Leno and Guy Aoki, principal leader of the activist group Media Action Network for Asian Americans (MANAA). We must place their exchanges in the context of the shooting in Georgia which killed eight people, six of whom were of Asian origin.

The comedian and former host of Tonight Show wanted to apologize for old jokes in which he says he too often entertained or exploited stubborn prejudices about his compatriots of Asian descent. Nothing obliged him to do so.

After apologizing, Leno felt the need to stress that his approach should not be associated with the concept of “cancel culture”, the culture of banishment, which is being used more and more frequently. If there are abuses associated with this form of censorship of the past, Leno considers that it does not apply to him.

There is something comforting in the comedian’s approach, in his reflection. Not only does he believe he has exaggerated by repeatedly recovering the same tired images, but he explains that he was already aware, at the time, of the hurtful nature of certain comments.

Too often, he says, we think we can afford a lot under the guise of humor. Too often, too, we brush aside objections with the mistaken belief that it’s up to others to develop a shell.

I consider it healthy, in the current climate, that an artist once so powerful and influential should allow himself to intervene in the public square. He does it without constraint and without being forced to.

If we want to overcome stereotypes that are too often deeply rooted, stereotypes that sometimes contribute to nurturing hate speech or violence, we must hope for further awareness of this nature. I remind you that hate crimes against Asian Americans have increased by 150% in 2020.

Before categorizing an approach and associating it with one of the extreme positions, it is good to understand its nuances and discuss them.