Jimmy Kimmel used to be a professional comedian. His new job is apologizing.
A few weeks ago, the host of ABC’s late-night show “Jimmy Kimmel Live” aired a bit where a 6-year-old boy recommends killing everyone in China. Kimmel and the network have been apologizing ever since. Over the weekend, protesters besieged ABC studios around the country. They want Kimmel fired or, failing that, more apologies.
The bit was part of a routine called “Kids Table,” where Kimmel talks to cute 5- and 6-year-olds, and hilarity ensues. In the offending episode, Kimmel asked the kids what to do about our debt to China, and one boy chirps, “Kill everyone in China.” Kimmel laughs and jokingly calls it “an interesting idea,” before returning to it later when, with mock seriousness, he asks the kids whether the Chinese should be allowed to live.
It doesn’t take a well-honed sense of humor to realize that “Kids Table” is a forum for kids to say laughably and harmlessly absurd things, not for the discussion of serious foreign-policy initiatives. If the boy’s proposal for a genocidal war against China as a solution to our national debt were getting a respectable hearing, he would have been invited to debate it on CNN’s “Fareed Zakaria GPS” with deadly earnest foreign-policy panjandrums like Richard Haass and Zbigniew Brzezinski.
Nonetheless, the grim gears of offense-taking began to grind. Previously, Jimmy Kimmel’s main offense against humanity had been encouraging parents to get a rise out of their kids by telling them that they had eaten all their Halloween candy. Now, he was guilty of incitement to mass murder.
The anti-Kimmel protesters sported signs festooned with swastikas and pictures of the comedian with a Hitler mustache, accusing him of “manipulating children” and “promoting racial genocide.” Needless to say, if Adolf Hitler’s crime had been joking around with kids who innocently talked of killing people for laughs, he wouldn’t be known as one of world history’s greatest monsters.
The protesters still managed to extract an apology from ABC and from Kimmel on air, who said he thought “it was obvious that I didn’t agree with that statement.” Obviousness, though, isn’t a defense. Kimmel had to apologize in public to protesters outside his Hollywood studio in a scene that bore a distant resemblance to a “struggle session” in the Cultural Revolution wherein accused enemies of the people were humiliated and engaged in coerced self-criticism.
Kimmel said he was “very, very sorry” and bowed to the protesters, who still demanded every imaginable kind of other apology from him. No matter how sorry he said he was, they wanted him to be sorrier still. With protests demanding Kimmel’s ouster continuing to roll on, ABC has apologized yet again and emphasized its promise to tighten its Standards and Practices.
The Chinese Foreign Ministry is now in on the act, calling on ABC to “face its mistakes head on.” The Chinese government’s entry into the debate might seem opportunistic, but in fairness to Beijing, no other entity in the world has proven itself as adept at killing Chinese people en masse. The Kimmel controversy is of inherent concern since it involves its core competency.
The Kimmel kerfuffle is worthy of a Monty Python skit, but also typical of the surreal theater of offense-taking in contemporary America. Are we, in such matters, a ridiculous country? One that encourages a sense of victimhood and grievance? One that lacks any sense of proportion? Yes, yes and yes.
It would have been an invigorating blow for the culture of free speech if ABC and Kimmel had issued the following serial apologies to their tormentors: We’re sorry that you are so humorless. We’re sorry you don’t have anything better to do with your time. We’re sorry that you are cheapening every genocide in history. We’re sorry, in short, that you are whiny bullies. If you’re so offended, please go watch Leno or Letterman.
Rich Lowry can be reached via e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.