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What the Steve Gleason 'joke' and 790 The Zone teach us about being awful

It was obviously a terrible and offensive choice for three sports talk knuckleheads at Atlanta's 790 The Zone to make fun of ALS-afflicted Steve Gleason, a former New Orleans Saints special teamer ... so how did they still manage to get this wrong?

Derick E. Hingle-US PRESSWIRE

For everything that a heated Internet conversation about the boundaries of comedy can be -- the first two that come to mind are "oddly punctuated" and "depressing" -- it's possible to say with some certainty that said discussion won't be settled before everyone gets sick of talking, hearing or reading about it.

It's maybe more accurate to write that said arguments are generally settled at the start and that the small sliver of rhetorical real estate that's being fought over is pretty insignificant -- both in general and often to the people doing the arguing, relative to the amount of common ground in play. There are some people who insist on simply "not getting" certain obvious and generally agreed-upon things, but there are far more people that do.

When the Internet gets into an argument about rape jokes and rape culture, for instance, however -- as it recently and wearyingly did -- the generally agreed-upon part of it is what matters most: We agree that rape is terrible and should be taken seriously; that comedy can be powerful in both positive/redeeming and negative/wounding ways; that comedians would do well to follow the same don't-be-an-asshole rules as the rest of us and that everyone is entitled to an opinion, though there's no right to be agreed with.

The rest are details, although these are the details that people who care to do so will argue about. Give or take some absolutists and ghouls -- who will ghoul it up absolutely forever and ever -- there's a broad agreement across genders and perspectives on both what we're talking about and the basic principles of how we should try to talk about it.

The same can be said for -- and I know this is kind of a hard-to-believe example, but bear with me -- breaking out an extended comic skit lampooning people suffering from Lou Gehrig's Disease. The general public can agree or disagree on abstract questions about various boundaries and specifics of taste, but pretty much everyone knows a nauseatingly callous, historic dick move when we see it. In fact, we knew this before it became possible (although by no means mandatory because I couldn't get past the 90-second mark on this thermonuclear wince event) even to hear it. We don't really need to hear it, honestly, because assholery of this magnitude is visible from space.

The people who run Atlanta's 790 The Zone knew that running the skit was wrong, for instance, and even the radio personalities responsible for the skit figured it out eventually -- even though it obviously wasn't quite in time to not do this incredibly nauseating and stupid thing or prevent themselves from getting fired. Unfortunately, though, sports talk radio somehow keeps forgetting that most basic don't-be-an-asshole thing. Usually not quite in as awful a way as this, but often enough to remark upon it.

"Seriously," Matt Yoder wonders at Awful Announcing, "what is it with sports talk radio that it produces these stories more often than other mediums?"


There are several answers to this question with maybe the bleakest being that the people doing these shows think so little of their audience -- which they know as a male, sports-fan demographic with certain habits as consumers and (thus? also?) apparently horny, rage-filled idiot werewolves -- that they believe this is the sort of thing that their audience wants. The term batted around for it is "guy talk" and the implicit assumption is that somehow this sort of hard, dim buttheadedness is what male sports fans think about and laugh at when they're not thinking about sports. I mean, one co-host of Mayhem in the AM goes by "Steak" for fuck's sake.

There's a regrettable portion of the Internet --the same portion that spends hours solemnly (and a little angrily) masturbating to Aeon Flux as far as I can tell -- that's dedicated to identifying an imagined anti-male agenda at work in America's popular culture. It says a lot about these guys that they seem to typically make their dubious points by finding examples of hapless dads in vacuum cleaner commercials and then mounting a critique that amounts mostly to "See? SEE?"

This has never rattled my saber, this imagining myself into the plot of Red Dawn -- and I say this as a pretty devout Powers Boothe fan -- but there are a great many people that tend to be safe, comfortable, relatively powerful, and male who generally enjoy imagining themselves as insulted, oppressed, and under attack. They yell loudly about their being silenced into a deafening echo chamber already reverberating with similar cries from similar guys. This is their right, of course, because we can all make whatever sounds we want. To reiterate, however -- and as most everyone knows even without reiterating -- it's always a good idea to remember that other people might hear the sounds we make and therefore we should take into account the feelings and possible differences in opinion of those other people.

Maybe I'm off topic, though, because it's a good principle -- maybe the best and most important -- to remember that other people are also people and that we owe them the same consideration we'd hope to receive from them.

I am obviously not the originator of this precept, but if that particular golden rule is the most fundamental and damning thing these heat-seeking sports radio turds -- those goonish, bullying 'Beefer and The Squelch' types that frantically wave their awful glottises around in drive-time, flailing and failing to fill four hours with the easiest and ugliest noise that comes to mind -- keep forgetting, then it's worth remembering the other insult buried in their quickness to forget the first principles of not-being-an-asshole: That being the fact that they're doing this because they think their listeners will be into it.

It's here that we should give those on a permanent, peevish lookout for anti-male insults some grudging credit. If this is what 790 The Zone -- and, to a less-egregious extent, a great many other sports talk radio venues -- thinks of "guys," then they really don't think very much of us at all.