Local Syndrome: Parsing Our Sensitivities

By on May 16, 2018

Expressing unpopular thoughts on well-intentioned ideas

Ryan Stolp

JACKSON HOLE, WY – Despite my comedic résumé, I try not to make a habit of being too critical of my hometown or the people who live in it. I’m not in the business of pissing people off or burning bridges for the sake of comedy; I usually wait for a speedy spring snowmelt to wash those bridges away for me.

My I Can Ski Forever theatrical trilogy was always intended to be pure satire, plugging a gaggle of recognizable stereotypes into scenes that feel familiar and honest. A year after its premiere at the Pink Garter, I still receive questions as to which community members inspired which characters.

The truth is that the stereotypes I parodied were so general and silly that it was only natural that a few people would watch the shows and think, for better or worse, “Is that supposed to be about me?”

Last week this column poked some harmless fun at the Chamber Mixer, and prior to writing it, I took to Facebook to post a status update simply asking for people’s thoughts on the event.

Within minutes of me posting the status, a Chamber employee messaged me: “What’s your angle on your status??” Fair question. I am, after all, the person who has now made a name for himself lampooning Jackson culture, businesses and everything in between. But am I truly that intimidating?

Small town journalists, especially those in Jackson, are required to be very selective with their criticisms. Giving a poor review to a local theater production or a nonprofit event is absolutely out of the question. News publications need advertisers to fund the paper’s existence, and a shitty restaurant review would likely cause said restaurant to pull hundreds of dollars in ads, permanently. This, ladies and gentlemen, is a total crock, but it is the reality of living in such an incestuous community of thin-skinned business owners and executive directors.

“Gasp! Is that supposed to be about me?” you might wonder. Yes. Probably.

I look at comedian Michelle Wolf’s unapologetic and brilliant performance at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner. Every year, people tend to forget that the event is meant to be a total roast of the current administration and current events.

Wolf’s cutting humor was a little too much for some folks, especially when she discussed Sarah Huckabee Sanders: “I think she’s very resourceful. Like, she burns facts, and then she uses the ash to create a perfect smoky eye. Like, maybe she’s born with it; maybe it’s lies.”

Interestingly, folks who back a president that has made scathing critiques about women’s appearances also criticized Wolf—a comedian—for tearing down another woman’s appearance. She should have been more sensitive and supportive, they said. Even liberal media commentators joined in, demanding Wolf apologize.

The very fact that the joke caused such a negative reaction showcases Wolf’s shrewd comedic skill. As a comedian, you must push buttons and cause a stir; the day we start dictating what can and cannot be poked fun at is the day all comedy, and free speech, dies. Have you ever seen a devout group of sexless Mormon men do improv comedy? I have, and, you know, it wasn’t great.

Everyone in America should be able to say and think whatever the fuck they like, as long as no one is injured. No—“offended” is not the same as “injured.” The same thing goes for a small town like Jackson. We should be allowed to say what we want without having to worry about people getting emotional, pulling advertising or unfollowing us on Instagram.

We need more Jacksonites to honestly express their opinions about what doesn’t work, because those opinions have the chance to challenge others—artists, businesses, nonprofit organizations, etc.—to do better. And we need to do it publicly and openly, and not hide behind some anonymous screen name or email.

I wonder what would happen to this little town if we were finally honest. What would happen if you expressed if you hated last month’s Laff Staff show? What if you wrote a letter about why you don’t eat at Pinky G’s anymore, or about your theories into why Sara Flitner lost her mayoral reelection? What would happen if you said that you think the #HereForYouJH campaign is more focused on the marketing than the message, or that the Trust for Public Land board doesn’t know what they’re doing, or that you think Andrew Munz is a fat, arrogant idiot who writes terrible comedy and even worse PJH articles?

Rather than hit back in offended anger or pull ads, we should listen to criticisms and reevaluate. We should communicate with those that disagree instead of shrugging them off as unqualified or uninformed. Honesty has the power to challenge and to elevate the conversation.

The more Jackson Hole keeps circle-jerking and congratulating itself, the less progress we will see.  

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