Mediocre comedian Tracy Morgan’s angry outburst last week, an out of control tirade against gays, was most troubling for his claim that if his son turned out to be gay, he’d kill him. A comment made in a public setting like that is tantamount to inciting to murder, and should be a criminal act. Freedom of speech, as in the case of yelling “Fire!” in a crowded movie theater, does not extend to incendiary remarks, such as deliberately fueling anger and paranoia in a mob to lynch someone.
There is something so anti-funny about the notion of a father killing his own son – the term for such things is “filicide” – that Morgan’s rant revealed a dark side so vile and menacing that no mere career-salvaging attempt at an apology can suffice.
To be sure, although this is about Morgan, it is not only about him.
There are two levels of profound wrong in his comments. The first is that one human being can presume to judge that another human being has no right to live, just because of who he or she is. The second is that a father can presume to have the right to impose his will in this way on his offspring.
The first level is reminiscent of some very ugly developments in our not-so-distant past, revealed painstakingly in Robert Jay Lifton’s new book, Witness To an Extreme Century. Lifton had the unenviable task as a psychologist of interviewing a number of Nazi war criminals to ascertain what kind of mental state could contribute to perpetrating the Holocaust.
It is an excruciating examination, all the more troubling because so many of his cases were people that appeared outwardly to be courteous, model citizens.
If there were any surprises in this work, it would be that the Nazis based their genocide on their twisted view of science. “Science” in their minds was central to their ideology, including for Hitler, himself.
Therefore, their killing was justified strictly as a matter of scientific necessity, the “necessity of intervening to ensure the elimination of morally inferior human beings…of exterminating the Jews for the recovery of the world.”
Perpetrators of the heinous crimes at Auschwitz became “integrated into the whole thing” who came to feel that they “had a task there to fulfill,” and “any inability to join in the Nazi mission of killing Jews (and gays-ed.) was a matter of personal weakness.”
They viewed National Socialism as a “world blessing” in absolute contrast to the Jews as “the ultimate evil.”
At the core was not a practice, but a Nazi principle of destroying what was called “life unworthy of life.”
How far removed from this, one might ask, is the genteel and “loving Christian” who strides into a pulpit to insist on purging homosexuals because they violate God’s will? How dare Tracy Morgan claim there is any such thing as a “life unworthy of life?”
While it is one thing to order mass murder as a regime official, it is still another for a father to claim such a right with respect to his offspring.
In our male dominated society, much more attention and concern is placed on patricide (the son killing the father) than filicide.
There is an unspoken rule that the father retains an inalienable right to dictate whatever forms of control and coercion over the life of his offspring as he, and an assisting spouse, wishes. This is in the domain of a man’s private life over which society should have no say.
Therefore, if a father threatens the life of his son simply because the son is gay, that’s the father’s prerogative. While there are laws against following through with such a threat, they come into play only at the point of a violent act.
But often enough the outcome takes the form of the child’s decision to take his or her own life, to carry out the perceived wishes of the father through suicide.
The Morgan outburst should remind us that it’s not only school yard bullying that can ruin lives, but more intimately and ominously, it’s parental bullying that makes the deepest and most lasting impression.