I have been a fan of Tracy Morgan since his time on Saturday Night Live, back when I was in middle and high school. I grew up with his SNL characters, such as Brian Fellow and Astronaut Jones, and they never failed to crack me up. His performance as alter-ego Tracy Jordan is, in my opinion, one of the brightest lights of my favorite show, 30 Rock. My dog is even named Tracy Jordan (TJ for short.)
So you can imagine why it has been hard for me these past few days to read about the disgusting, painfully unfunny comments Mr. Morgan made last week as part of his stand-up set in Tennessee. How do I, as a gay fan, reconcile my respect and enjoyment of Mr. Morgan’s work when that same body of work contains a stand-up act which is hateful and rhetorically violent towards people like myself?
It’s a relatively common phenomenon: the discovery that an idol, or at least a celebrity whom you admire, is, on a personal level, actually a total douche. It’s a natural byproduct of our celeb-obsessed culture. If you build someone up too much, they are inevitably going to disappoint. But there’s a difference between being merely disappointing and saying that you would stab your son if he were gay.
The question I’m faced with in the aftermath of Mr. Morgan’s rant is this – can I continue to enjoy his work now that I have the knowledge that he either believes that gay people are disgusting and deserving of violence, or at least has the capacity and audacity to say such things to a crowded room of people?
This whole situation reminds me of two other recent controversies in which Chick-fil-A and Target, two businesses that sell products that I love (delicious chicken nuggets and cute, affordable everything) turned out to support anti-gay marriage initiatives and candidates. I went through all the usual stages of grief, as is typical for an overly dramatic person like myself with an unhealthy level of brand loyalty and personal affinities towards monolithic corporations. And after the grieving (ok, grieving is a strong word!) was over, I was left to figure out whether or not I could justifiably eat or shop at Chick-fil-A or Target anymore.
After a relatively short period of deliberation and discussion, I decided I could. Maybe it’s not justifiable, but it’s what I wanted and perhaps I just managed to rationalize it. I would never buy stock in one of these companies (assuming they maintain their ties to evil politicians and I somehow ever become wealthy enough to afford even one share of anything.) But I will occasionally give them my business, because I really like Waffle Fries and Michael Graves teapots and I would really be punishing myself more than my enemies if I were to deny myself these simple pleasures. It is very likely that my priorities aren’t exactly in order, but I figure you pick your battles- and the Battle of Chick-fil-A is not the one I plan on going down in.
With all this in mind (alongside a curious craving for a banana pudding milkshake served with a smile by a bright young Christian) how do I solve a problem like the one presented by Tracy Morgan? I respect the people who say that they are going to boycott 30 Rock, but I politely decline to follow suit. I love 30 Rock, and I still find the character Tracy Jordan to be very funny. One fewer non-Nielsen Family viewer is going to hurt 30 Rock, and in turn Mr. Morgan, far less than having one less brilliant comedy to watch religiously every Thursday is going to hurt me.
I doubt I will ever watch another Tracy Morgan stand-up special, and I certainly won’t pay to go see him do his routine live (not that I ever did before, either.) But I will keep watching 30 Rock and laughing at the character Tracy Jordan’s exploits, because as a person who was born Gay (contrary to Mr. Morgan’s alleged beliefs) I enjoy laughing my ass off.