Many are those whose careers have been negatively impacted by being considered too outspoken. Especially when such speech rattles the cages of those in power, there may be consequences disproportionate to a particular issue raised.
Many examples through history illustrate this conundrum. We don’t have to look past our current age to see this conflict play out.
Take the case of American comedienne and social activist Kathy Griffin.
Griffin, a two-time Emmy winner, a Grammy winner, and current holder of the Guinness record for most televised comedy specials, had her career come to a staggering halt almost exactly one year ago (May 30, 2017). This followed the widespread release of a picture featuring her holding the head of a Trump mask with ketchup.
This image was quickly and widely condemned. She lost sponsors and gigs, personal representation, and friends. While this choice of visual was clearly of debatable taste and merit, it was in essence a mocking, satirical image, similar to the sentiment of other political satirists’ verbal commentaries before, then, and since. Presumably such expression is covered by the umbrella of free speech. It was not, as knee-jerk reactionaries relayed, a call for a beheading; as Griffin pointed out subsequently, there are no shops around for purchasing severed heads.
In addition to ostracization, she has had to endure the possibility of federal charges for threatening the ‘accidental’ (as she calls him) President, as well as a plethora of death threats. Apparently, the latter became so numerous that the FBI actually graded them in three categories, from most to least dangerous. Just as regrettable, if not more so, threats were also directed to her 97 year-old mother, as well as to her sister, who was dying in hospital.
Quite a price to pay for a prank gone way wrong!
After a period of keeping below the radar, she emerged later last year with a European tour, with destinations predicated on their being in countries opposing Trump. She appeared in 23 cities in 15 countries.
But she wanted to retrench closer to home. After some determined efforts, combining begging with strong-arming, she managed to rekindle her fan base backing into a North American tour, starting with five dates in Canada, the first on Wednesday this week in Ottawa. Interest and support seem to be high for her tour: as well as selling out the Ottawa venue weeks before the performance, she has sold out iconic venues in Toronto and New York, with tickets moving for numerous other cities in the U.S.
What yours truly, an attendee at the Ottawa show, did not realize, notwithstanding a long-time recognition of her efforts on the satirical, activist stage, was the degree of eclecticism there is in her following. If the Ottawa show is any guide, her supporters are a multi-aged, multi-racial, and markedly multi-sexual mix. Her range of personal experiences and encounters, over nearly 40 years of performing and interacting with other celebrities, provides a wealth to draw upon. Moreover, in the tradition of the best storytellers, she delivers her accounts with flair and energy, with vocal variety adding context with style; to this formula, she adds pointedly naming names.
Although the performance content was largely personality driven, one of the more serious issues she raised, likely to surprise many, is the extent of the still prevalent, disproportionate pay scale, for male versus female performers. As a personal example, which she indicated is roughly in line with such inequalities, she is to be paid one-eighth for her sold-out show in a New York venue in June as a male comedian received for doing the same last year. Male hands remain in control of pulling the strings in this business.
From a practical standpoint of the paying audience, again based on the Ottawa show, she has the consideration for her fan base to start nearly on time and for some duration (this event was two and a half hours).
She’s not everyone’s cup of tea, to be sure. Indeed, in the best of circumstances her content and language would be inimical to many. But then, at least some people will find flaws with every performer. And the more strident are the performer’s expressed convictions, the more overt controversy both positive and negative is bound to follow.
Receiving remuneration for speaking out often leads to the speaker paying a price with a different currency.
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