About the first thing Stephanie Miller did during her Asheville Civic Center show awhile back was shove some poor fan's camera phone down her pants. As part of her Sexy Liberal Comedy Tour, Miller was giving a hilarious example of how to make instant Congressman Weiner-like Facebook postings. It was also surreal and funny when she and her partner rolled around on the ground simulating tea-bagging Tea Baggers. But watching her slouch and leer like a slim Jabba the Hutt while sneeringly delivering nonstop cursing and blaspheming quickly became boring. I was grossed out — and embarrassed for the guy sitting next to me, a fervent Christian liberal.
Maybe I'm missing something here. Perhaps I'm still mired in the puritanical fundamentalisms that have made America into one of the most prudish, lewd, schizoid nations on earth. But I don't think so. I was raised on George Carlin's "seven words you can't say on TV" and Lenny Bruce's hourlong riffs about the F-word — as well as a fervent dedication to making creative love, not war. But those comedians tackled many other subjects as well; Miller rarely did.
The performance reminded me of the semiprivate dinner I attended with Kurt Vonnegut in Asheville back in 1995, a fundraiser for The Writers’ Workshop. Vonnegut, famous partly because of the profanity he used in Slaughterhouse-Five, started arguing with some professors about Andres Serrano's "Piss Christ" (a crucifix in a jar of urine). Surprisingly, Vonnegut denounced the sculpture, saying there's no reason to provoke conservatives into murderous self-righteousness just so one can exercise free speech to the unnecessary max.
Miller's first 15 minutes consisted mainly of preening, cursing and staring distractedly at a tattered notebook, making me wonder whether she was so crocked she might fall off her chair. To be fair, she eventually did some good imitations of Sarah Palin, Michele Bachmann and the latter’s gay-acting-yet-gay-bashing husband. And her sidekicks, Hal Sparks and John Fugelsang, were nothing short of wondrous, pouring out a torrent of ideas worthy of a top-notch Asheville poetry slam.
Sparks gave a spirited exegesis of the Book of Leviticus, saying it contains the only biblical passage threatening hell for "men who lie with other men." Yet the book mandates the same hellish fate for anyone eating even a single shrimp once in their life, and Sparks also noted that it says nothing about women who lie with other women.
Miller, though, provided few such moments of brilliant insight — and liberals are trying to save America, not persuade everyone to become sexual adventurers. I understand why someone who’s oppressed because of their sexuality might harbor a white-hot anger at conservatives and find immense pleasure at sticking post-Puritan values in their intolerant, murderous faces. In fact, it’s one of my own favorite pastimes.
But enough. We're now trying to prevent far-right conservatives from locking down our country — and we may need some conservative votes to do it, as well as the conservative portion of many independents’ and liberals’ brains. Grinding their ears in our post-Puritan ability to squarely face sexuality in all its miraculous permutations won't help, however much fun it may be.
Will we be able to control our anger and forgive the fence sitters enough to win next year’s presidential and congressional elections and the 2013 state Legislature contests? If so, we might then be able to defeat DOMA, control the military-industrial complex's rampaging through the Middle East, and provide basic cradle-to-grave security and civil rights to all our citizens — gay or straight, black or white, Hispanic or whatever.
Touting titular testimonials
During Miller’s show, the packed house was frequently reminded that state Sen. James Forrester had branded Asheville a "cesspool of sin" in response to the recent topless demonstration. But Asheville's fundamental decency came through during the brief question-and-answer period. The first question came from a muscular bald guy whose confident, rambling monologue left me wondering whether he was brilliant or cognitively disabled. Declaring himself a Christian, he implored Miller to quit blaspheming. The second person begged Ashevilleans to vote. But Miller’s third questioner asked her to "show us your tits," accurately reflecting the level of discourse she’d established. (Alas, she flashed only her sexy black bra.)
When it comes to sexuality, conservatives are extremely naive. They can be driven violently mad by something as mundane as a wardrobe malfunction, whereas liberals may be on the verge of directing the vast energies unleashed by a healthy, uninhibited approach to sexuality toward a happier, more peaceful community. Let's continue this intrepid exploration without hassling those still imprisoned by the monogamous missionary position any more than is necessary to secure robust civil, economic and social rights.
I came away from the show thinking about one of Jesus’ great insights: the blessedness of forgiveness. To some extent, the future of civilization depends on how well liberals and progressives can forgive conservatives — and their own inner conservative — and thus keep the lines of communication open enough to win elections. Contemplating and exacting revenge is mainly a waste of time: It yields very little positive benefit while holding considerable negative potential. But gratuitously insulting revenge is what most of Miller’s monologue felt like to me.
— Asheville resident Bill Branyon, a freelance historian, is currently marketing his latest book, Liberating Liberals: A Political Synthesis of Nietzsche and Jesus, Vonnegut and Marx (Groucho, not Karl). To learn more, visit http://liberatingliberals.com.