A Winters Tale: The protest that almost was

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“Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln,” goes the saying, “how did you like the play?”

It’s a sarcastic retort when someone dwells too much on a small issue, instead of paying attention to the more important or obvious one.

And it’s a perfect illustration of a formula some attribute to Mark Twain, others to comic Steve Allen.

Comedy is tragedy plus time.

It means, of course, that one should wait a generally agreed upon period of time before joking about painful events.

Humor in its many forms– sarcasm, irony, jokes–can help heal wounds and  make tough times pass more pleasantly, which is just plain human.

After 9/11, no one thought comedy clubs would ever open again. Today, the business of being funny is booming.  

Now, as we face uncertainty and fear in never before seen combinations, how long should we wait before we can apply some humor to salve our most recent deepening wounds?

We’ve been in the middle of the pandemic for months now, and for many it’s been long enough.

And so, now come the jokes:

Man says to a friend: “I hope this pandemic never ends. I’ve been getting so many more dates recently with this mask.”

Or:

Sign on store window: “Observe Social Distancing–Only 25 Looters Per Store.”

Funny? Or too soon?

Whatever you think, there is now a new factor to consider. Never before have Americans become so sensitive, so easily offended.

We are a deeply divided nation when it comes to our politics, and will likely continue to be so going forward, but political correctness can easily get out of hand.

When realtors announced they will no longer use the words “master bedroom” in describing a house, because “master” may remind some people of slavery, have we not crossed the line?

Which brings us to the incident in Winters last week.

From outgoing City Manager John Donlevy’s office came an invitation to an event intended to honor the longtime, hardworking City staffers (including Donlevy), who are retiring or moving on.

Like the Mrs. Lincoln line, it was an attempt at sarcasm, which is not easy to do well.

It was an invitation to “protest” the retirements of the City officials. “The rampant abuse by some people taking personal liberties to dedicate time to family, life and career simply must end,” read the flyer.

“It’s time to march on these people and hold them accountable,” it continued, adding that attendees should wear a mask and social distance.

“Bring a protest sign!” it concluded.

Using two of today’s favorite buzz words, the flyer referred to the “surge” in retirements, and that certain liberties (their new lives) be “defunded.” 

This was clearly, quite simply, an attempt at being clever, albeit clumsy. 

Indeed, in some quarters, the joke fell flat, or in the parlance of a comic met with silence, it bombed. (Its author can be forgiven for not being a professional comedian.)

But what’s noteworthy is that at least one person complained, and in today’s world that’s often all it takes to shut something down.

It was alleged that the City Manager deliberately called the gathering a protest so that it may take place under the guise of the First Amendment, instead of as a generic public gathering, which might serve to spread the virus.

If so, Machiavelli would be proud. But I sincerely doubt that was the motive.

Nonetheless, Yolo County chose to involve itself and insist that the event be cancelled, and the City of Winters relented.

The whole affair makes me sad.  

The flyer was a genuine appeal to say goodbye to some of Winter’s top officials who certainly merit a celebration. It’s hard to imagine such an event would take place carelessly.

I’m sad, too, for our nation’s sense of humor. 

Did this “protest” cross the line? Can we not joke with one another anymore? Is everything political? Have we elevated being personally offended to a high art form?

While you ponder those questions, let me wish Dan Maguire, Carol Scianna, and John Donlevy all the best in their new lives ahead.

Someday, I hope they get the party they deserve.

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