As soon as Trevor Noah was appointed Jon Stewart's successor, I knew it was coming. Without knowing anything about Noah beyond a very small number of appearances on Comedy Central's ratings juggernaut, I knew it was only a matter of time until someone, somewhere would uncover a reason that nobody is allowed to like him. Evidence that he is a Bad Person. He was going to be deemed racist, sexist, homophobic, anti-Mennonite, or something that would remind us of the imperfections of his character. It is part of the modern "callout culture," and it is fucking exhausting.
You would think that grown men and women could recognize some sort of happy medium between condoning racist, sexist, or otherwise offensive words and actions and going to the opposite extreme and deeming nearly everyone guilty of something. But who are we kidding. We lack the subtlety to do anything other than blindly accept and endorse offensive shit as Just Fine or to wildly overreact and point fingers (and level accusations) like a bunch of self-righteous teenage straight edge kids who just discovered that the bassist in that one skatecore band smoked a cigarette.
I will make no defense of Trevor Noah's jokes – which, in addition to being somewhat offensive were, more importantly, really stupid and un-funny. If he or any other person says something offensive it is fair to hold them responsible for it. What bothers me is the fact that the second he got the job, someone sat down and went through five fucking years of his Tweets until they found something sufficiently insensitive to run breathlessly to the principal's office and tattle on him.
I've been updating this site five times per week for more than ten years. Anyone with endless time on their hands could, if I suddenly became famous, mine those millions of words to find something Unacceptable. Like any human being, I'm sure that not every word I've ever said was perfectly inoffensive to anyone and everyone. And I would submit, perhaps self-servingly, that if you were able to find something I wrote in 2003 that you (or a large number of people, even) found offensive it would not be conclusive evidence of my character and fitness for interacting with human society. It might be something that would deserve attention – Does it represent the way I feel today? Am I proud of it? Do I regret it for reasons other than dislike of the consequences? Do I understand how and why someone else found it offensive? – but in terms of my underlying character as a human being I think the fact that someone read 5,000 blog posts to find a Gotcha quote speaks more poorly of their character than the quote does of mine.
This is the one and only Gin and Tacos Thing I have ever spoken to another writer about before writing. I asked, "Is there any way to be critical of this "callout culture" without sounding like a whiny white male who is sad that he can't tell racist jokes anymore?" And she told me, "No. So just go ahead and do it." I'm sure some people will take it that way. And that is unfortunate, because I honestly think there is a balance that could be struck between making sure that closet racists, woman-haters, etc are made known and this kind of obsession with finding something Wrong with everyone. And yes, I think someone sifting through five years of tweets upon first hearing of a comedian is, if not legitimately obsessive, at least on the Obsession Spectrum.
We are addicted to the rush of being offended and we love tearing down our idols. Always have, always will. I'm not going to join the Patton Oswalt brigade of "Oh dear, You People are so sensitive that it's silencing my white male voice!" I don't feel in any way censored by having to think about the way that things I say and do might offend someone else. If Trevor Noah told antisemitic jokes, then I suppose it is fair that he answer for that. It's getting ugly, tiring, and depressingly predictable, though, this drill of mining the past until we can find The Dirt on everyone in the public eye in even the most insignificant way. Let's let this guy do the new job he's been chosen to do and judge him on the basis of what he does rather than putting him under a microscope until we find something from the past that we can use to pre-disqualify him.