None of the Disclaimer’s business?

Mountain Xpress has already heard from a few readers who were offended by this week’s Asheville Disclaimer page, and we may well hear from a few — or many — more.

One took issue with the bit about “Killer,” the lovable pit bull, but most weighed in against the Disclaimer’s parody of Women in Business, an annual Xpress advertising supplement that triumphs local women who have made good in the commercial realm.

Underlying both the advertisements and the Disclaimer’s parody are issues of gender and equality. So the folks who produced the Disclaimer clearly pushed some buttons when they offered up a parody report about sexism in the workplace.

What was their intent? Where do they come down on questions of gender equality at work? And are some topics too hot too be funny? Those are just a few of the questions already spinning out of the debate over the Dislclaimer’s latest salvo.

To help answer them, Xpress has gone to the source: the woman who created and co-produces the Disclaimer. Our conversation with her appears below, but first, a bit of background.

The Asheville Disclaimer was founded by Michele Scheve in 2002, and lived for three-and-a-half years as a freestanding publication. Along the way — and through her publication (but that’s another story) — Michele met her husband, Tom Scheve, who today co-produces the Disclaimer feature. When it stopped publishing in early 2006, Xpress persuaded Michele and Tom to contribute a one-page version to our newspaper on a weekly basis.

Now, with a number of readers concerned about the substance and tone of the Women in Business parody, its seems an ideal juncture to hear from Michele about what, exactly, she and Tom are trying to do with their often-raw satire.

Below, a conversation with Michele about the business of parody, from a female humorist’s perspective. And consider it just the beginning of the discussion: Feel free to weigh in with comments of your own about whether or not the Disclaimer has crossed some line in poking fun at yet another serious issue.

— Jon Elliston, managing editor

Mountain Xpress: Is your Women in Business parody sexist, as some are claiming?

Michele Scheve: It’s meant to be silly, and a parody of sexism, in its actuality and perception. The bit was audacious and overboard by design. It had an over-the-top quality that was intended to suspend belief.

MX: Does it inadvertently legitimize sexism?

MS: There is always the argument that there is someone out there who won’t “get it,” and that this person will process a given bit as being supportive of that which is being satirized — in this case, an over-the-top sexist attitude. We can’t start trying to protect dumb people from their own opinions. Also, nobody has ever admitted to being this dumb person or knowing them personally, but a lot of people assume this person is out there, poring over satirical news articles in alternative newsweeklies, so dumb they forgot to put on their pants this morning; alone and naked in the world, unable to process local media in a manner that does not put others at risk. If this person does exist, he is not our target demographic. One of our writers, perhaps. But not our audience.

The target audience of this piece isn’t misogynists, but self-empowered women. The Asheville Disclaimer strives to make fun of everyone equally. It is a place where anyone of any religion, political viewpoint, creed or socio-economic status should be able to come and find humor, at their expense.

MX: Do think sexism is still a phenomenon in our society?

MS: Of course sexism still exists in our society. I have been witness to it just doing the Asheville Disclaimer and being a woman. But I do not think that by virtue of existing, it removes itself from the table as a topic for humor.

Sexism will never completely go away, but we don’t think that that’s because of our work this week. The last thing we want to do is denigrate an entire gender, but, unfortunately, we don’t always get to do what we want to do. Sometimes, in life, we have to denigrate an entire gender.

You know, a former writer for the Disclaimer was quite fond of making fun of Christians and Christianity. In fact, we never did enough ribbing of Christians, in that writer’s opinion.  Every week, the writer would suggest a new anti-Christian story. Then one week we hit on Catholics and the writer freaked out because a relative of hers is Catholic.  She was really mad at us and told us never to print a story making fun of Catholics again. We tried to explain that “Catholics” believed in “Christ,” and that if she were offended by this story, she should probably be offended by all the others that she herself had been writing along the way. We were never trying to make fun of or sway religious beliefs in the first place; it just happened that the Pope had been in the news a lot that month.

So, sometimes, people will go along with it, laugh along with it, and light-heartedly enjoy the satirizing of things they are against, but when the number comes up for a group they belong to or have some connection with, then it’s, “Wait a minute!”

MX: Was it bad timing to parody Women in Business in the Women in Business issue?

MS: I myself am a woman who owns a business, and this week my business is making other women cry.

It takes a lot of drive and energy to create and run any business. Being a woman who has run a business, I cannot say if it is more difficult for a woman (or a half-Lebanese dyslexic) to run a business than it is for a man. The point is that it is up to each person, woman or not, to empower themselves.

That said, the sexist humor in this week’s Disclaimer was meant to be too silly and too outrageous for any woman, especially a businesswoman, to find it truly offensive. In fact, almost all of the businesses that I frequent in Asheville are owned by women. To me, it is a woman-run world, full of strong women who would not think twice about the seriousness of this week’s parody. With the exception of the Xpress advertising sales team, who may have a legitimate complaint regarding the timing of our parody, I do not apologize for making fun of a group — that is, by nature, intelligent and independent — simply because they are also women.

MX: Looking at this week’s Disclaimer feature — like many you have produced over the years — it seems that a number of parties, if they take your parody in a certain way, are apt to be offended. Potential offendees with this feature include women, women who own businesses, feminists (both female and male), mothers, fathers, children, right-wingers, left-wingers, “country bumpkins,” cattle farmers, pit bull owners, pit bull victims and their friends and families, prudes, City Council member Jan Davis, racing fans, people who use personals services, people who place advertisements in the Mountain Xpress, Xpress advertising representatives, etc. Which begs the question: How much, if at all, do you worry about who you might offend when you turn your skewering, satirical eye on Western North Carolina?

MS: We’re not trying to offend anyone, but we can’t let the possibility of doing so dictate the subject matter. When we find bits funny, we hope the subject of the satire finds humor in it as well. Every group has a number of members who aren’t going to like being poked fun at. So that would pretty much take every group off the table. If you give protected status to one group or topic, you have to give it to every group or topic. In this case, the subject matter is “successful women.” If we can’t make fun of them, who can we make fun of?

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About Jon Elliston
An Asheville-based mountain journalist: Former Mountain Xpress managing editor. Investigations and open government editor at Carolina Public Press. Senior contributing editor at WNC magazine.

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31 thoughts on “None of the Disclaimer’s business?

  1. I think that the Disclaimer should try to offend people. Comedy should be uncomfortable. I thought the issue was funny for a Disclaimer piece. By that I mean, “worth a chuckle and then I move on, but not exactly laugh out loud funny”.

    There are too many people in this town with way too much time on their hands to be offended. People are looking for reasons to be angry instead of reasons to laugh.

    If the sex had been reversed and the brunt of the jokes had been white males, noone would have taken offense, but since the Disclaimer dares to make a joke that might challenge the way people think or stir a few uncomfortable stereotypes, they get their own little blog because of all the whiners.

    Everyone needs to relax and stop being so sensitive. May I recommend making fun of the handicapped next time?

  2. Lisa

    First, in the interest of full disclosure, I work at Mountain Xpress (but not as part of the Xpress advertising sales team). For me the issue is not the content of the Disclaimer’s parody on Women in Business so much as the timing.

    This was the week for women entrepreneurs to shine in our paper and nothing should have taken away from that. I love this issue because in my eyes it celebrates women and how far we’ve come, and gives women business owners a chance to toot their own horn. As usual I read through the Women in Business’s ‘advertorials’ (55 this year) and felt both encouraged and proud – but then I got to the Asheville Disclaimer and my heart just sank.

    Again, for me, it was the timing that was inappropriate more than the content. And I think, unfortunately, that it would have been much more obvious to everyone if we had run an African Americans in Business issue and then the Disclaimer had parodied African American business owners in the same issue.

    I have always been really proud of the fact that there is a clear line between advertisers and editorial content in Mountain Xpress. What is printed in our paper isn’t effected by advertising dollars. In other words, we can’t be bought. But in this case this was more than simply advertising – this was a chance for women business owners to toot their own horns (with help from writers in our editorial department) and marketed as such to them. Nothing, absolutely nothing, should have dimmed that great sound this week.

  3. Maybe we should take the wind out of their sails a bit. Maybe the Disclaimer should tackle African American business owners next. For god’s sake, it’s comedy. You’re supposed to laugh.

    It’d be a lot different if they had attacked certain businesses, or something like that, but this was satire aimed at common stereotypes and preconcieved notions.

    Part of this whole equal rights thing is the willingness to take it on the chin every once in a while, even if it is poorly timed.

  4. sasquatch

    I have a gut feeling–no proof, of course, but a gut feeling–that the same folks who are offended by something as simple and obviously satirical as this week’s Disclaimer piece would be the same folks who would go to see, say, “Balls of Fury” and laugh at the Asian people being parodied in that film.

    The reason people get offended is because it likely strikes a nerve. I am a woman in business as well, and I thought the Disclaimer piece this week was funny enough. And, you know, a lot of it is funny because it’s true, in a way. I mean, there is no getting around the whole sexual and gender tension thing if you’re a woman and you work. It exists. Could we laugh at it please instead of treating it with this deadly serious, NPR-esque melodrama which should be reserved for the stuff that’s really going wrong in this town? Like, when is someone going to get offended that I work my butt off at two jobs, have a college degree, a great work ethic and a ton of skills, but can barely afford to live here, while they’re putting up million dollar condos half a mile away on my street, specifically built for people who don’t work here? THAT is offensive. The Disclaimer is funny.

  5. DonM

    Comedy is always at another’s expense. Everyone gets their turn “in the barrel” one day. Good call, Jason.

  6. donaldoro

    i’m offended by people who are easily offended, and then believe it is the world’s job to contort around issues they find offensive.

  7. Orbit DVD

    As a store owner who has been skewered several times by the Disclaimer I say keep it up!

    marc

  8. lunchbox

    Well what a conundrum! Perhaps the mountain xpress should stop running the women in business section so that they can allow all parts of the paper artistic freedom. MS brings up a good point about the christian thing; of all the women offended by the Disclaimer, how many of them regularly find humor in the Disclaimer. Is Arnold’s advice column not funny once one realizes that there are problems with homlessness and child neglect here in our fair city?

    P.S Lisa – in the telling of a joke….timing is everything!

  9. curmudgeon

    God help me, I agree with Jason Bugg! But I think a parody about the nerdy dude who gets up early to be the first to post a witty, insightful and oh-so-hip blog would be hilarious.

  10. The real question should be why are we letting women run businesses to begin with?

    This is just another example of how the leftists in this country hate America, and make the baby Jesus cry with their homosexuals and “liberated” women.

  11. James P. Fisher

    Just a clarification from the Xpress ad crew. The women on our staff were offended as women, not ad reps. The consensus in our group of women and men is: just not that funny. The “humor” was a one-trick pony-all sexual stereotypes, some bordering on obnoxious. And when you play around with forced sexual contact as a comedic device, well, people might get pissed, parody or not.

    The Women in Business advertising section is amazing this year. We have 55 businesses in there-I suggest you take a look and learn what is going on in the real world. All of these arguments/debates/whatever are fine, if you’ve got the time.

    To sum up:
    The Xpress Ad staff understands parody and satire. That does not mean we have to enjoy it when it misfires. The Disclaimer has its moments (my view), such as the recent English Games take on Scottish Highland Games. As a first generation Scot, I found it funny. Others may not have, and may well have gone Braveheart on your ass, Disclaimer. Now THAT would be funny!(Just kidding,c’mon!…)

    Anyway, I look forward to Bugg’s snappy retort. We have work to do, so seeya!

    James Fisher
    Advertising Director
    Mountain Xpress

  12. E

    Lisa,

    Xpress didn’t champion women this week. Xpress sold them a bunch of advertising. It was no more “women’s week to shine” than it was EarthFare’s week to shine in its paid advertisement. The women’s special advertising section was just that — a section of paid advertising, right?

    It is at least as difficult for you to justify the existence of this particular advertising section than it is for them to justify a satirical send-up of it.

    At least they’re skipping the “Holier-than-thou-because-we-gave-women-the-chance-to-pay-more-in-advertising-this-week” thing you’re doing.

    Xpress did not do any biographical sketches of business owners or features on interesting female entrepreneurs; Xpress sold ads and grouped the ads together.

    It is a completely arbitrary grouping of businesses for the sake of generating additional advertising revenue. There is nothing wrong with that, and no doubt it’s a great way for these business owners to get extra exposure for their business, but don’t dress it up like yall have really gone to bat for women by up-selling them for this issue’s advertorial spread.

    It is folly to hold it up as if some noble and righteous act has taken place. It’s no more righteous than the summer sports guide or Christmas shopping guide you guys do. At least with other advertising sections throughout the year, there is some justification for doing so — people look through the summer sports guide because it’s released at the beginning of summer and people are looking to buy new gear for their recreational needs, right? Relevant merchandise is featured.

    Both the timing and the content of the “Women in Business” advertising section are completely random, and likely owe more to the fact that no other special advertising sections are scheduled for this time of year.

    Are female-owned businesses underrepresented the other 51 weeks of the year in Xpress’ advertising? Do they receive a different rate for the “Women in Business” issue than other advertisers that participate in other special advertising sections? Would Xpress feature a “Woman in Business” regardless of whether she bought additional advertising for that issue?

    In this case, Xpress is not championing women in business. It is strictly “pay-to-play.”
    This was not some altruistic gesture to support women or women in business. If a woman in business couldn’t afford the extra ad space, was she included in the Women in Business section? The Disclaimer ‘mocked’ the women-in-business with tongue firmly in cheek. Is one any more cynical than the other?

  13. curmudgeon

    Jason, sorry for the confusion. I was thinking of Tim Peck. But your posts are good, too. Really.

  14. This thread just goes to show you that you could make a joke about The Wizard of Oz in this town and someone would tell you that a house fell on their mom.

  15. James P. Fisher

    To answer the previous post, “real world” refers to Virtual (blog) versus Actual (bricks ‘n sticks).

    And, to answer the excellent post from “E”, Women in Business is clearly an advertising section. We take care to label it such on the front cover of Xpress and every page of the supplement itself. Whether this is viewed as a “chance to shine” or “pay=to=play” is somewhat irrelevant, so long as Xpress does not portray it as anything but a Special Advertising Section. This is our 12th year of publishing this Special Advertising Section. It has been well-received in the past by both the advertisers and readers. Skip it if you like, read it if you like. I suggest giving it a read, but then again, I am biased!

    James
    Ad Director
    Xpress

    ps Is the post about “baby Jesus crying”,etc. comedy? It is rather hard to tell, but I will leave that to “professional” bloggers.

  16. James,

    it wasn’t comedy, it was truth! And why are you speaking for the women on your staff, are they not allowed to type for themselves?

    To sum up:
    not all parody and satire is meant to be enjoyed.

  17. Lisa

    E,

    Just to clarify: I didn’t write as a representative of Mountain Xpress – I simply noted for the sake of full disclosure that I am an employee.

    I wrote as a woman reader who looks forward to the Women in Business section each year for the reasons I mentioned – I find it really encouraging to read about all these women entrepreneurs and what inspired them to start their own business.

    I think you need to reread my initial comments. I did not say that the Women in Business section is a “noble and righteous act” by Mountain Xpress – and I didn’t say anywhere that Mountain Xpress claims to have “really gone to bat for women” with this issue’s advertorial spread. In fact, I totally agree with you that if this was truly a ‘Women in Business’ issue,’ the paper would, as you said, “have biographical sketches of business owners or features on interesting female entrepreneurs.” In fact, it is no small irony that the cover story was about a male-owned business this week!

    I in no way claim to speak on behalf of Mountain Xpress or the paper’s purpose in running this section every year – no doubt originally started for “the sake of generating additional advertising revenue” as you say – but that doesn’t change the fact that these ‘advatorials’ were marketed to these women advertisers as a chance for them to shine their light (which I believe it does no matter what Mountain Xpress’s purpose for doing it may be), and that these women put a lot of time and thought and money into their ads. Whether the paper’s editorial coverage did justice to the supplement’s ‘Women in Business’ theme (and I don’t think it did),these women, all 55 of them, still put their heart into this, and as a woman reading the section, I put my heart into it too. And because of that I think that editorial’s decision to run the Disclaimer’s parody the same week was a mistake.

    As a woman, a reader and a Mountain Xpress employee, I was disappointed. That’s all I’m saying! End of conversation! I’m ready to let this go! Just needed to clarify!

    — Lisa Watters, assistant office manager

  18. James P. Fisher

    Truth. OK.

    The women on my staff can indeed type. In fact, they went straight to the source and emailed Disclaimer directly. And Disclaimer took time to immediately respond. From what I gather, it was a fruitful discussion.

    I entered the post as Ad Director with all present ad dept. staff reviewing my comments before I posted. Did not want to clog up this thread with too many posts…Know what I mean?

    ps I am somewhat inexperienced in all things blog, but I believe this has become a “flame war”? If so, I apologize. The real issues should be addressed here. That said, have a great weekend, even you Ms. or Mr. Pants!

  19. James,

    not that it matters, but this is not a flame war…flame wars are childish personal insults hurled back and forth for no other reason than to inflame. I was just giving you a little good natured ribbing.

  20. Jon Elliston

    Thanks, Lisa, for your clarifications and comments. As the paper’s managing editor, I’d like to offer some clarifications as well.

    Lisa speaks to “whether the paper’s editorial coverage did justice to the supplement’s ‘Women in Business’ theme.” To clarify: Xpress did not do editorial coverage of the theme, with the exception of an introduction to the advertising package. What appeared in the Disclaimer was not “editorial coverage” — it was a parody prepared by the people who prepare the Disclaimer, who are not Xpress staffers.

    Lisa also comments, as many have, that “I think that editorial’s decision to run the Disclaimer’s parody the same week was a mistake.” I hear you, and appreciate you offering your opinion on the matter. But because this was in fact the issue that carried the Women in Business supplement, the timing of the parody seemed fitting.

    In addition, I should explain that we’ve agreed with the folks who produce the Disclaimer that Xpress is not exempt from their parodies — that they can satirize our newspaper just as they can satirize other facets of our community. That’s a policy we plan on continuing, regardless of which advertisements are appearing when.

    — Jon Elliston, managing editor

  21. James P. Fisher

    See, I am a total novice at this!
    Anyway, the whole topic is so complex that I personally (me, not Xpress employee) see no end to the discussion. Basically, my understanding of satire is that it is meant to provoke, to act as the court jester, especially regarding sensitive subject matter. Disclaimer succeeds often in this and I am glad to see them in Xpress. There are times,however, when one person’s humor is another’s insult. Nothing can change that,it is up to the individual.

    G’night!

  22. Wow, I actually agree with everything Bugg says in this thread.

    I’ve been burned several times by writing something I thought was humourous, but which some folks found offensive. It’s the nature of the blogging/writing biz, peeps.

  23. Miss Daisy

    Unfortunately, it’s just not funny. Had the feature actually been funny, the content might have been excusable. The whole page was weak, but anyone can have an off day. I’m otherwise a fan.

    Ms. D (not a Mountain Xpress employee, not a woman who owns a business)

  24. Nam Vet

    What’s the flap for? Those who are upset don’t have a sense of humor. It’s fine when the Disclaimer is joking about others, been when one’s own area is skewered the P.C. intolerance comes out. It’s a joke ladies. Laugh at yourselves and it will just blow past and be forgotten. Whine about it,and it will stay around.

  25. ohforshame

    hm… based on comments you’ve written for the Fonda article, nam vet, somehow i don’t see you being the type to have a good laugh over disparaging remarks over things you hold dearly whether done with supposed “humor” or not.

  26. Nam Vet

    LOL, ohforshame, now what do my comments about Hanoi Jane Fonda have to do with this subject? Nothing. You assume I am a chauvinist because I take Hanoi Jane to task for her treasonous behaviour? Quite a stretch. I stand by by my remarks here. Ladies…don’t take yourselves so seriously. Learn to laugh a little and let life flow. The Disclaimer should enjoy full free speech rights to skewer whatever group or subect they choose. I applaud the courage of the female writer to take on this subject!

  27. sonjia

    What about that funny piece the disclaimer did about delusional so-called former veterans of an illegal war, who get in a ‘flap’ when someone who they have been conditioned to have a knee-jerk response over comes to give a speech at a women’s conference in the nearby town?

    It was funny cuz its true.

    Remember that one guy who took himself so seriously when it came to that one lady who is a huge Atlanta Braves fan?

    My favorite piece so far, minus the one about warring montford bed-and-breakfast owners from 3 years ago.

    Again, only when it hits a group you dont like, right? when it hits home,… oooooh, that hurts.

  28. DonM

    I’ve always heard that when ya throw a stone at a pack of dogs, the one that yelps is the one that got hit.

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