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The Daily Devil’s Dictionary: Jimmy Kimmel, Sean Hannity and “Hatefulness”

Jimmy Kimmel (kind of) apologized for insulting the foreign accent of Melania Trump, America’s first lady.

Two television celebrities in the US — Sean Hannity of Fox News and Jimmy Kimmel, a late-night talk show host — used their respective platforms last week to clash in a particularly vitriolic succession of personal insults. This led to an apology by Kimmel in which, after citing attacks he had been subject to, he promised, “I, too, will give my words more thought and recognize my role in inciting their hatefulness.”

Here is today’s 3D definition:

Hatefulness:

The characteristic of being full of hate, required as the defining attribute of all people who consider themselves politically minded in the United States

Contextual note

As a medium, American television appears to have evolved — perhaps in rivalry with the internet — into a privileged vector for the expression of hatred. Hannity, though not alone, is the voice and image of Fox News, a channel whose mission, which has little to do with reporting news, is to vilify anything that can be deemed liberal. Kimmel, his adversary, is one of a group of liberal late-night talk show hosts (along with Stephen Colbert and Seth Myers) who exploit on a nightly basis their audience’s hatred of President Donald Trump.

Kimmel (kind of) apologized for insulting the foreign accent of Melania Trump, America’s first lady. As Kimmel says in his apology, “Mrs. Trump has certainly enough to worry about without being used as a prop to increase TV ratings.” He thus reveals the commercial logic of these comics’ commercial strategy: Their jokes appealing to unmitigated hatred are “props” designed to boost ratings. A commentator on CNN observed, “[B]oth of them seem to be really enjoying this … It plays to each of their bases.”

Historical note

The reason Kimmel decided to back down and apologize had less to do with an admission of guilt, or his concern with what may be “harmful to our country” (as he claims) than possible trouble with his own base. In the great “culture wars” that had been flaring for some time before sociologist James Davison Hunter described it in his 1991 book, Culture Wars: The Struggle to Define America, the conservative Republicans used a critique of changing sexual morals to attack Democrats, while liberal Democrats built a fortress of values around identity politics.

The Democratic liberal side has cultivated an audience that is officially cool with sex and drugs, aligning on a policy of tolerance that sometimes becomes joyful celebration of what those on the other side of the cultural divide consider sins, if not perversions. The sense of liberty to use openly sexual innuendo, which always draws laughs from liberal television audiences, gave Kimmel a false sense of security when he made jokes suggesting a sexual relationship between Hannity and Trump. He had unwittingly betrayed a key element of his constituency, the gay community. It was to this group, not to Sean Hannity, that he apologized: “By lampooning Sean Hannity’s deference to the President, I most certainly did not intend to belittle or upset members of the gay community and to those who took offense, I apologize.”

There is, of course, another community Kimmel implicitly offended at the same time as the gays: the immigrant community, whose English pronunciation is as imperfect as Melania Trump’s. But the American liberal class, even while championing their cause, treats them as people without a voice, to be condescendingly helped and pitied rather than cultivated, especially as they are an unlikely demographic for late-night talk shows.

In other words, Kimmel and Hannity are seasoned professionals, skilled at remaining in line with their ideological fan base. For both, it’s the key to their ongoing popularity. Kimmel made the faux pas of momentarily forgetting the sensitivity of part of his constituency, a serious marketing error in the realm of entertainment.

Three major lessons emerge from this clash.

The first is that both entertainers feel comfortable appealing to the feelings of hatred toward specific personalities. It has become the basis of their business: getting ratings. This keeps the performers themselves and their audiences locked within their respective “cultures,” which are closer to ideologies than cultures.

The second is that celebrities can never do more than partially apologize. Everyone knows that Trump never apologizes. But less narcissistic celebrities than Trump have pangs of conscience when they feel there’s a risk of alienating or losing part of their audience.

The third is that political positions in the US are defined not by who you like or what you’re for, but by whom or what you hate. Could that be why Hillary Clinton lost the 2016 election?

*[In the age of Oscar Wilde and Mark Twain, another American wit, the journalist Ambrose Bierce, produced a series of satirical definitions of commonly used terms, throwing light on their hidden meanings in real discourse. Bierce eventually collected and published them as a book, The Devil’s Dictionary, in 1911. We have shamelessly appropriated his title in the interest of continuing his wholesome pedagogical effort to enlighten generations of readers of the news.]

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.

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