The Problem With Samantha Bee

I never miss Full Frontal. Samantha Bee’s talent lies in her ability to channel anger into a strong, clever, compassionate, intelligent, funny show. However, when she referred to Ivanka Trump as a “feckless c***”, she derailed herself.  While I support the Full Frontal perspective, I can’t support her use of that word.

To be clear — I’m no fan of Ivanka’s. I find her belief system abhorrent, and she’s part of a regime which is breaking land-speed records for the most damage done to the largest number of people in the shortest amount of time. I have no problem criticizing Ivanka for her words and actions, for her silence and inaction. But I have a big problem with hitting her with the c-word. Calling a woman a “whore” — telling anyone “don’t be such a girl” — labeling any female a “slut” —  dropping the c-bomb — those words and expressions are all cousins. They equate female identity and female sexuality with degradation.

With cameras rolling, in front of her cheering audience, broadcast into the homes of millions — Samantha Bee holds a degree of power few of us will ever achieve. However, with power comes responsibility. As soon as she used the c-word as a weapon, she reverted to the wrong kind of power. Bluntly, she turned into a bully — ironically, in the style of our president.

In a previous post (“Fire With Fire”, I wrote about the difficulty remaining thoughtful, rational and decent in the face of Donald Trump’s provocative belligerence. Whether I like it or not (and I don’t), that’s the challenge of resistance during the Trump Era. As much as I admire Samantha Bee’s talent — as much as I like her show — I’m calling her out. I won’t be a silent bystander while anyone is bullied, even if the target is someone I dislike. I won’t endorse — either through words or silence — language that degrades women. For this moment, and only for this moment, I stand with Ivanka. 

I’d prefer to stand with Samantha, but she’s not making it easy. We all make mistakes, and our own response in the aftermath reveals the heart and soul of our core. So I watched her next show, which I found quite problematic. I respect her owning her mistake in using the c-word as a verbal bludgeon. I appreciate her expressing regret regarding the women she offended. However, she then stated that regarding the “many men…offended by the word”, she didn’t care about them. Dismissing anybody due to their gender is the same oppressive attitude women are fighting — and as I hope she’d agree, it’s no joke, especially in the current context. And yes, the “niceness” of actions matters, but so do words — ask the too-many students who are targeted verbally at school. Then came her team of “Censors” — a clever and funny idea. Unfortunately, the way the show portrayed that idea — four men in suits, barking absurd phrases at amusing moments — turned Samantha into another woman outshouted by testosterone-driven idiocy. I wish two of the four censors had been women, and I wish they hadn’t been portrayed as well-dressed clowns. I wish she had used the idea as a way to highlight the difference between censoring (which is dangerous) and filtering (which is a sign of civility). Initially, Samantha owned her mistake, but then she disowned it.

Opening the show, Samantha Bee stated that her goal was to be “challenging and honest.” I hope she finds her way back to meet her own standards, because she’s still off course. Was her apology what I hoped it would be? No. Was it enough to get Full Frontal back on track? Possibly. Will her progression going forward help our country regain its moral compass? From the bottom of my heart, I hope so.  

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