Dennis Miller made his reputation as the stand-up comic with a vocabulary. He was the smart one, with all the esoteric allusions to pop culture and history. He was also the clear thinker, the guy who used sarcasm as a machete to cut a path through bullshit in the rants he would regularly deliver on his award-winning HBO series. But that was a long time ago. Now, in the fourth year of his daily radio show, which he hosts without the benefit of a staff of writers to refine his jokes, sharpen his insights, and fact-check his references, there can be no doubt that the real Dennis Miller is — and likely always was — a far cry from the nimble and astute comic persona he presented back then.
His jokes are tired, and he recycles them constantly; a large section of his celebrated vocabulary is taken up by words of which he mistakenly thinks he knows the definitions; his references are strained, confusing, and often factually incorrect. But most distressing of all (and keep in mind this is coming from a guy who once — ages ago, it seems — spent a weekend watching stand-up specials like Mr. Miller Goes to Washington and Black and White and laughing his ass off), his thinking is as shallow and as sloppy as his sense of humor.
I was reminded of this earlier today, as I heard Miller’s reaction to the removal from command of U.S.S. Enterprise commanding officer Owen Honors. Captain Honors, as you may know, was reassigned to administrative duty following the release to the public of a series of videos Honors produced in 2006 and 2007, while he was serving aboard the Enterprise as executive officer. The videos attempt to spoof the ship’s water conservation policies by depicting male and female crew members doubling-up in the showers. Honors also dismisses the concerns of “fags” aboard the ship who might have been offended by the videos.
When news broke this morning that the Navy had removed Honors from his command, Miller treated it as a sign of the decline of the nation, if not the species. Why should Honors have been fired, Miller wondered, over something he reckoned most gay people wouldn’t even care about? Why have we become so touchy as a culture that a Navy captain loses his job over kidding around in a way that not everyone thought was funny?
Miller, in his reflexive railing against our soft, overly sensitive culture, managed not merely to miss the point, but to miss it in three different ways simultaneously.
First, Honors wasn’t fired because the videos were anti-gay. Though the then-executive officer of the world’s first nuclear-powered aircraft carrier repeatedly used the word “fag” in the videos, he lost his command because, as Admiral John C. Harvey puts it, “his profound lack of good judgment and professionalism . . . calls into question his character and completely undermines his credibility to serve effectively in command.” Unlike, say, Bill Maher, or Don Imus, or Juan Williams, Honors was in charge of one of the largest naval vessels on the planet. And he not only participated in the videos — he screened them throughout the Enterprise on closed-circuit television.
Second, whether the videos offend a particular group of people or not is irrelevant. Honors wasn’t fired for offending people. As the linked Washington Post story reports, sophomoric initiation rituals and sexually explicit humor have been tolerated in the military for generations. Honors’s mistake, according to the Navy, was going too far. The repeated sexual innuendo, and the dismissive attitude Honors displayed toward those who complained about the videos, seem to have been especially troubling to top brass.
Third, Miller’s outrage at the firing of Honors is telling. Miller is about as gay-friendly a conservative as you will find in the realm of talk radio and Fox News. He claims to have no problems with gay marriage. He speaks fondly of gay friends. And yet, as he whined about the dismissal of Owen Honors from the Enterprise this morning, I couldn’t help but wonder why Miller hasn’t been able to muster much outrage these last 17 years or so over the 13,000 men and women discharged from the American armed forces for violating the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy — men and women who did nothing wrong, but were expelled because of who they were.
The battles some people choose to fight . . .