I didn’t find Bill Burr’s SNL monologue funny, and Twitter lost its shit
I had never heard of Bill Burr before this weekend, when the stand-up comic and actor hosted Saturday Night Live. I don’t think that is particularly important information, but many of the people I outraged enough to call me a “bitch,” a “cunt,” or “limp wristed” seemed to think it is So, hands up, I don’t know who Bill Burr is beyond what I saw on SNL.
Why were these people so angry they felt compelled to call me names? Well, I committed the heinous crime of tweeting that I did not like Burr’s monologue:
I’m an opinion writer and gay man on the internet, so I’m used to people sharing their disdain for my views and for me more personally. But the deluge of anger and hate I received following that tweet was unexpected and of such a volume that I feel compelled to explain exactly why Burr’s monologue was unfunny to me, because it is clear that many people did not see the same problems I saw.
First, let’s clear something up. I never called for Burr to be “cancelled.” In fact, one time I did slightly chuckle at Burr’s monologue was when he blasted cancel culture, poking fun at those trying to cancel the long-dead John Wayne.
Bill Burr, however, is not dead. He is very much alive. That still does not mean I want him cancelled. I acknowledged that people like him and think he is funny. Based on that monologue, I am simply not one of them. Saying so is an opinion, not a cancellation. In fact, I was very careful not to say “Bill Burr is misogynistic,” because I don’t know him. As I copped to earlier, I’d never heard of him before this. For all I know, he just had a bad set. I criticised the monologue, not the man. I try not to judge people from my first encounter.
However, a specific monologue can be fairly criticised without knowing the entirety of a comedian’s back catalogue. “Bitch” is a misogynistic slur and calling women — any women — “my bitches” is misogyny, especially when done so in a chiding, patronising manner. We, as a society, had this very conversation earlier this year when Republican Congressman Ted Yoho of Florida called Congresswoman Alexandra Ocosio-Cortez of New York a “fucking bitch.” The context and, one could argue, the tone were different, but as one person on Twitter pointed out to me, nearly any woman who has ever been physically attacked by a man has been called a “bitch.” If that isn’t a slur, I don’t know what is.
For this reason, and others, I found Burr’s monologue obnoxious and misogynistic, and I said as much. Burr’s entire bit about white women not only felt drenched in contempt for women, but also an utter misrepresentation of the historic record. “You guys stood by us toxic white males through centuries of our crimes against humanity,” he ranted. “You rolled around in the blood money. And occasionally when you wanted to sneak off and hook up with a Black dude, when you get caught you said it wasn’t consensual. Yeah, that’s what you did. That’s what you did. So why don’t you shut up, sit down next to me, and take your talking to.”
Leaving aside the patronising optics of a man telling a woman to “shut up, sit down, and take your talking to,” Burr does have a point buried under the layers of smug contempt. It is irrefutably true that the defence of white womanhood has been used to justify violence against Black men since the dawn of this nation. This is perhaps best exemplified in Birth of a Nation, a 1915 film premised on defending white women from Black men and which sparked a resurgence in the KKK.
Yet, it also happened all too often in reality, from the Scottsboro Boys to the two white women who falsely accused Emmett Till of whistling at them to earlier this year when the “Central Park Karen” who called the cops on a Black man birdwatching. White women have called upon white men to enact violence against Black people time and again. This is a fact. Nothing I am writing is denying this reality, and I understand that for many viewers, that history alone is enough to render moot any issues one may have with Burr’s monologue.
I am not one of those viewers. Bill Burr, a straight white man, had an awful lot to say about white women perpetuating and enacting white supremacy, but very little to say about white men. Other than the “us toxic white males” line — which if you weren’t listening closely you could be excused for missing — white men do not come in for any criticism in this monologue. Yet, until 1920, white women did not have a federal right to vote. This is the same year it finally became illegal in all states for men to beat their wives. This oppression continued through the 20th century, sparking the women’s liberation movement of the 1970s which in turn produced the modern feminist movement as it exists today.
This reality is often ignored, but it is vitally important to consider. Women were legally and societally oppressed because of their sex, holding no public office and voting in no elections, when the systems of white supremacy were being constructed in this country. That is not to say white women have not benefited from them or found ways to use them to their advantage — clearly they did — but they do not bear the primary responsibility for the existence and perpetuation of these systems. White men do.
You’d never known this from Burr’s monologue, though. He complains about the “nerve” of white women for “trashing white guys,” as though white men have done nothing as bad as the “Gucci-booted” white women who “swung their… feet over the fence of oppression and stuck themselves at the front of the line.” This is an annoyingly smug way to describes any women, caricaturising them as out-of-touch, economically privileged snobs.
Burr acts as though those Gucci boots might as well be jackboots, but the reality could not be more different for most women, even most white women. I don’t know many white women who can afford Gucci, do you? Probably not. Perhaps that’s because that while women of colour make less than white women, white women still make less than white men according to a recent study by the National Partnership for Women and Families.
In other ways, too, women — yes, even Burr’s dreaded white women — are oppressed. There are more men currently serving in the US Congress than there are women who have ever served in the US Congress. As this pandemic has undeniably exposed, women still perform the bulk of society’s unpaid labour — the cooking, the housework, the childrearing — to the tune of $10.8 trillion per year if it were paid going labour rates. And, tragically and alarmingly, three American women per day are killed by a male partner or ex-partner, a statistic which includes white women.
Perhaps if Burr had acknowledged this or provided some context to his criticisms of white women, I would have found his set funnier. It certainly would have been more effective in condemning racism, both structural and interpersonal, and those who support systems of white supremacy. Instead, it sounded like he simply wanted to have a go at women and found a convenient way of doing so whilst avoiding obvious criticisms. By cloaking the misogyny of his set in the guise of anti-racism, he was able to convince a great number of people that the monologue was a brilliant defence of a marginalised group rather than one pot shot after another at women, themselves a marginalised group.
This does no one any favours. Blaming white women for the existence of white supremacy while ignoring white men’s historic and present role in constructing and perpetuating these systems of racist oppression is about as useful as cancelling a dead actor. Burr’s set felt as though he were trying to scapegoat white women. If you have any doubt, watch this clip from an appearance Burr made on Conan:
I see a pattern emerging. “Where were all these racist white guys the last two elections when they could’ve voted against the Black guy?” Burr asks while discussing Donald Trump’s 2016 victory against Hillary Clinton, again deflecting any blame for American racism away from white men. Yet, if white women have called upon white men to enact racist violence, white men have been happy to oblige. Slavery was instituted by white men. Jim Crow was enacted and enforced by white men. Birth of a Nation was directed by D.W. Griffith, a white man. Emmett Till was lynched by two white men who were then found not guilty by a jury of white men. With one notable exception (that of Amber Guyger, the white cop who killed Botham Jean in his own apartment), the cops who kill Black people are virtually all men.
Considering this, Burr’s monologue felt less like a defence of Black lives and admonition of racism and more as simply an attack on white women. If there is any doubt others viewed it similarly, you need only look at the responses to my initial tweet. A few did point out that Burr was talking about white women’s complicity in a system of white supremacy. The majority, though, simply relished in calling me misogynistic slurs some no doubt presuming, from my androgynous name and long hair, that I am a woman. Still others assumed that as a man standing up against misogyny that I must simply be trying to have sex with some woman (or perhaps any woman) — thus unintentionally revealing their own feelings towards women as nothing but sex objects. (“I hope she sees this, bro” was a common comment, along with people accusing me of “simping”.) They could not fathom why a man would possibly say misogyny is bad unless it was to get laid.
But misogyny is bad, no matter how you dress it up. We should all stand up when we perceive misogyny for no other reason than it is the right thing to do. Too many people across the political spectrum forget or ignore that women are oppressed in our society.
On Saturday night, Bill Burr was one of them.