18 June 2009


By Andy Weddington
Friday, 19 June 2009

Before evolving into a thirty minute prime-time program on Fox in December of 1989, The Simpsons, initially created as an animated short, first appeared on The Tracy Ullman Show in the spring of 1987. Since its debut, the wildly popular cartoon sitcom has run more than two decades, garnered dozens and dozens of awards, been the subject of a feature-length film, like it or not has left an imprint on American culture, and made hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of millions of dollars. Ain’t capitalism great!

William Bennett, while serving as Secretary of Education under President Ronald Reagan, was asked his opinion of cartoon character Bart Simpson—son of Homer and Marge. Bennett, doing his damned best to get American education heading in the right direction, responded, “There’s nothing wrong with Bart Simpson that a soap sandwich, paper route, and a Catholic school can’t fix.” Enough said Mr. Secretary and ditto. Bennett clearly saw the woes that a rude, disrespectful, sarcastic role model—even if a toon—was going to leave on society; especially children—of all ages. No question—a soap sandwich would have done wonders for Bart Simpson. Not to mention a paper route and Catholic school.

Bart Simpson alone provides enough material for a slew of commentaries. But today’s commentary is not about the Simpsons. It’s about the remarkable corrective power of a “soap sandwich.”

A week or so ago CBS late night “funnyman” (that’s a matter of opinion), David Letterman, made some incredibly mean-spirited, distasteful comments—under the guise of monologue jokes—about Governor Sarah Palin (R, AK) and her young teenage daughter, Willow, while the Palins were visiting New York City. Ol’ Davey boy first insulted the governor’s personal appearance by likening her to “slutty flight attendants” (never mind the slap-in-the-face to professionals that have a big hand in safe air travel—how soon we forget the heroics of Captain Sullenberger and his flight attendants; in New York City) and then remarked that young Willow—all of fourteen—was “knocked up” by a Yankee baseball player (someone just mumble “greaseball”?) during the game the Palins attended.

Well, 62 year-old Letterman is beyond the help of Bennett’s paper route or Catholic school remedies. But a “soap sandwich” works wonders at any age.

Following his tasteless diatribe Letterman made several pathetic attempts of apologizing to the Palins. Making light of his comments, the first couple of stabs at “I’m sorry” did not go over too well. Not too well—at all. In fact, his tone and demeanor came across as not only canned and insincere but smug and defiant adding insult to injury. Governor Palin was having none of Letterman’s nonsense (as they say in the Big Easy—“You go girl”). And neither was anyone else with a sense of decency.

The governor, not one to be intimidated or run from a fight—as her nature and political success attests, made a good account defending herself and her family. Then the public engaged to defend Palin. Then the National Organization for Women (NOW) even took a step forward to defend Palin. Hard to believe but they did. In fact, there was widespread non-partisan outrage. The furor was not simmering—it was a roiling boil. The pressure on Letterman to offer a sincere apology not only to Palin but the fairer gender—young and not-so-young—was escalating; and inevitable. Davey boy was cornered.

The feeble attempts by Dave and his dunderhead supporters to defend his “jokes” were not playing well. His weasel explanation of mistaking 14 year-old, Willow, for Palin’s 19 year-old unwed mother, Bristol, fell on deaf ears. It was stupid. No one was buying it. Like Bart, Davey boy just kept on mouthing off. He further made light of the situation—hoping it would just go away—by saying Palin had called and invited him to go hunting. Good one—but stupid. What Letterman did not know—Palin planned to outfit him with a pair of moose antlers, as “camouflage,” and not let him carry a weapon. Her ace-in-the-hole surprise was sharpshooter Dick “Eagle Eye” Cheney had accepted her invitation to join the hunting party. Now that sounds like big fun in Alaska.

Finally, Davey boy—in compliance with the first law of holes: when in one quit digging—came to his senses and did the manly thing. He dropped his shovel and went on the air. He offered as sincere of an apology as he could muster—with a spoonful of sugar. Finally. As Richard and Robert Sherman penned in their famous Mary Poppins tune, “A Spoonful of Sugar”— it “…helps the medicine go down in a most delightful way.” Delightful going down or not that medicine—“soap sandwich”—lingers. I know it does. Right, Davey boy?

Did Letterman’s long-overdue apology stem from a guilty conscious and change of heart? Not a chance. Reality is that his conciliatory words—regardless of what some are saying that no one tells Letterman what to do—were driven by the big three: public outrage and ratings, nervous advertisers, and the umbrella factor—money. No doubt about it, Letterman was given a great big “soap sandwich.” And boy was it awful. Anyone believing that Dave brought out the peace (or bubble) pipe having a moment of conscious and genuine change of heart needs to stow their bong. In America, whilst we are slipping away from capitalism, even the self-perceived famous and powerful are still subject to the cha-ching of the dollar—even big Dave Letterman.

And subservience to the dollar was further validated when one of the wacky women (a loudmouth whose name is not worthy of mention), a supposed comic, on ABC’s “The View” flip-flopped from jumping on the Letterman bandwagon to becoming a strong defender of Palin. You better believe “JB” was seeing (and hearing—whispers in her ear) her livelihood go right down the toilet. Any explanation of her having a guilty conscious or change of heart is likewise pure nonsense—baloney. It was all about the money. Oh, those “soap sandwiches” are just awful.

Granted Letterman does not write all of his “jokes” but he must take full responsibility for what he says. What did he see and what was he thinking when the Palin script came across his desk? If the truth were known, he was blinded by his disdain for an influential politician and a female, at that, that stands for all contrary to what he believes. This time Davey boy pulled a Bart Simpson once too many times and his toon brother’s “Don’t have a cow, man” repartee was not going to cut it as an “apology.”

Everyone likes a good joke. Laughter is good medicine—science has proven it. But some matters, even if veiled in the name of humor, simply are not funny; regardless of context and how delivered. Rape of a child is one of them.

Letterman was way out of line. He’s fortunate his out-of-pocket cost was only an apology and a “soap sandwich.” There was a day in America when a justifiably angry husband and father—defending the honor of his wife and daughter—would have been applauded for rearranging his face. And thought of as a wimp had he not done it. Thanks to a law suit-happy culture, and the restraint of Alaska’s “First Dude,” Davey boy escaped with his mug in tact and saved a fortune in medical bills.

In the end, Palin accepted his apology and Davey boy, whether he admits it or not, learned a few things: 1) he can be forced to say some things; 2) the public’s (and advertisers) love for him is not nearly as deep as he believed; 3) there are all kinds of “soap sandwiches;” and 4) there’s at least one woman who can kick his ass.

To preclude future missteps—and “soap sandwiches,” Letterman would be well-served by keeping a copy of John T. Phillips, II “George Washington’s Rules of Civility” within arm’s reach. Rule 47 is especially germane:

“Mock not, nor jest at anything of importance. Break no jests that are sharp and biting, and if you deliver anything witty and pleasant, abstain from laughing thereat yourself.

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