Quickest Way To Lose In The Schoolyard

Take a moment to travel back in time with me. Sit somewhere comfortable, close your eyes, and drift back to your childhood. Remember those times on the playground where you either watched, taunted, or were taunted by someone. Roasting you nicely, your opponent, cheered on by a group of equally ass-like kids, hit you right where it hurt. Your comeback?

“That’s not funny!”

And immediately, the observers were shamed, turned, walked away from your tormentor who – seeing the evil of his ways – reformed and never teased again.


What actually happened was that your indignation and frustration was met with increased taunting and laughter from the audience. “That’s not funny,” is never, ever an effective deterrent of disfavored behavior. It encourages it pretty well, however.

Here’s the deal. Having now watched the “controversial” SFPD tapes, I can officially agree with the many rank and file cops and other residents, newscasters, commentators and observers who conclude – again – that San Francisco has no sense of humor. It’s gone. R.I.P. or R.I.P.C. – you can figure out what the P.C. stands for.

Maybe I’m missing the parts that are homophobic, sexist, or generally offensive. What I saw was this (based on the order of the clips in the link):

Pt.1 – The roasting of cops, playing to the stereotypes of cops as lazy, slow to react, etc. Bonus source of potential biting social commentary: the headline on the newspaper heralds the selection of Heather Fong as police chief. Is this video perhaps condemning – or even faux-mourning – the pre-Fong era in which the SFPD was in sorry shape? To me, the image implies the days of such Tai-Chi, job-ditching in the department are over.

That would be a good thing.

By the way – the video as accessed via the cbs5.com website features a title card omitted from the above link in which the cop characters are named “Hamster and Big Dummy.” ‘Nuff said.

Pt.2 – A condemnation of the war on drugs that sucks up dozens of officers in pursuit of tiny amount of crack while piles of coke snorted above Market go undetected? A hyperbolic, congratulations of a high-achieving subdivision? An inside joke portraying the undercover drug cops’ jobs as effortless when the intended viewers – beat cops, etc – is probably no laughing matter at all, thick with danger, etc? Probably. Offensive? I’m going to go with no.

Pt. 3 – More self-mockery of the stereotypical cop who looks like the fool when compared to everyman bum he runs over. Think deeper guys. If you think this video means SFPD approves of running over the homeless, you need to go back to your high school English teacher and apologize profusely for missing the point.

Pt. 4 – Makes fun of guys! Makes fun of chauvinist pigs! Shit, this one actually made me laugh. Who’s the mug here, people? The cop! I’d love it if the outrage from City Hall or elsewhere came from concern that cops were too full of self-loathing and might need a self-esteem boost. But what this who thing demonstrates a MASSIVE overreaction.

There is also a mock hot-guy video featuring a captain who – quite believably – contends that his participation its production was non-existent. The video’s producer used outtakes of the Captain flubbing his lines. Now the guy’s name is toast in the community and for what?

But hey, I’m not about to tell the unfunny that they aren’t funny. Though, technically, I could do so since it doesn’t violate my Not Funny Not Funny Rule since it wasn’t meant to be funny to begin with. I urge you all to click around, watch the videos, read the coverage, google it up as much as you can and make your own decision. I was expecting to see something FAR different from what I saw given the Mayor’s and Chief Fong’s rhetoric. Especially moving where local news interviews with beat cops who decry the overreaction, correctly saying that we, the general public, can’t possibly understand how important humor is as a release from the stress of what they face everyday.

There’s a reason I’m not a cop – I don’t know if I’m strong enough to face danger, an increasingly and more heavily armed public, or to be able to sleep nights seeing what they see: death, sadness, misery, decay, etc, etc.

I think the Mayor fumbled this badly. And I take any offense on humor quite seriously.

No joke.

9 Comments so far

  1. joann Landers (unregistered) on December 9th, 2005 @ 7:30 pm

    I second that emotion.

  2. renegade (unregistered) on December 10th, 2005 @ 12:34 pm

    I agree that humor is a needed release, no one is denying that. But what’s funny to one person is insulting to another, mothers whose children were killed by gang violence or the police, for instance.

    Despite the content in the video, the largest insult is that the videos were made with public resources by police officers at the Bayview station, a neighborhood known for outstanding crime and poverty and persistent neglect by the city. People are dying. It’s the Mayor’s duty to take this seriously. Let the cops make prank videos and get comic relief on their own time. Morale could be boosted by seeing some progress in the Bayview.

    As a videographer, I think that Cohen can better serve the the community by doing documentaries about the work police are doing in the neighborhood.


  3. cd (unregistered) on December 10th, 2005 @ 12:45 pm

    Do you disagree that the cops are the ones most mocked in these videos? That they are the butts of the jokes more frequently than any of the other characters in them?

    Here is the main article I have found about the Officer who produced the videos: http://sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2005/12/09/MNGHEG5GMB1.DTL

    It seems to me that part of his official duties was video production. These, clearly, were not assigned tasks, however, I have yet to see evidence that he toiled away for hours producing these at taxpayer expense. Do read the article and read about his multiple honors and the time he has spent producing the sort of videos you imply that he should – on his own time:

    “At the time the scandal about his holiday video broke, Cohen, working mostly on his own time, had just completed a documentary about police work in the Bayview district, which has the highest homicide rate in San Francisco. It includes interviews with black officers, community leaders and crime victims. Many of the critics of the spoof video are African Americans, who feel it is an example of police disrespect.

    “The notion I’m racist is ridiculous,” Cohen said. “I’ve worked my entire career to foster a better understanding between police and the communities. I’ve been the biggest advocate for opening the door between the community and the Police Department.””

    So, he has made the videos you say he should. And many others to serve the department, both internally and in its interactions with the public.

    As for whether his videos were funny or not funny, you’re right – I can’t impose my humor upon you. But I can ask for a more objective discussion of why it is offensive with specific examples to the content of the videos.

    And for what it’s worth – I spent an extensive amount of time studying comedy academically in school. Yeah, who they had classes on that, but they did – there’s piles of theory out there on why things are funny and how – and the power of humor to undermine authority and shield truth-tellers from those who would silence them.

    See e.g., Show, The Daily.

    I will continue to maintain that those most mocked in these videos were cops themselves – but even then, not in a heartless manner.

    It’s tragic that the producer and the captain are going to have decades of service ruined by an overreactive, unburdened-by-nuance City Hall.

  4. Jason D- (unregistered) on December 10th, 2005 @ 3:37 pm

    I agree that the Mayor dropped the ball on this one. These are no big deal at all. Not even a small deal! They’re blowing off steam in a mostly self-depricating fashion so wtf is going on here that we’re not seeing? Smells to me that the Mayors office has another agenda here and maybe they’re looking to replace a bunch of the Bayview officers and command and this is just an opportunistic move and not a very savy one at that. As Judge Judy says, something here doesn’t have the ring of truth. Either that or some people need to pull their heads out of their asses and have a laugh every now and again. It’s good for you. Gavster -= 1.

    I just wisdh they had done a trapped in the closet parody instead.

  5. Susan (unregistered) on December 13th, 2005 @ 12:32 am

    Well said! I am all agree. Thanks.

  6. cd (unregistered) on December 13th, 2005 @ 9:00 am

    You’re absolutely right on that, Emily.

    But the roastings here weren’t about the Mayor. Or Heather Fong.

    I would argue they were about rank-and-file cops – who seem to get the humor and don’t seem offended.

    Even the captain who held the press conference didn’t seem angry at the videos – just the reaction to them.

  7. seamus (unregistered) on December 13th, 2005 @ 6:01 pm

    CD, I totally agree with you about the videos. They were funny. They weren’t racist or anything-ist. They were just dumb fun. Everything has been blown out of proportion.

    That said, I think Newsom is just doing his job, which is letting the cops know that they can’t be doing this kind of thing, especially when they’re letting 80% of their murders go unsolved.

  8. anna (unregistered) on January 3rd, 2006 @ 10:41 am

    I think that the videos didn’t work on a humor level. Your interpretation of how they were funny lent it to being funny, but when I first saw them, I didn’t think they were that humorous. I think the problem is that the Hunter’s Point situation hasn’t been well advertised or communicated to the overall SF population. If we knew more about the frustrations of policing there, and the inherent social problems, it may have been far more funny in how off-base it was, and therefore an obvious satire. Since the guy was working on a documentary (which I just saw is going to be screened @ 4-star) that obviously should have gotten the press time that the mockumentary did. It proves the power of sex, scandal, insults, etc. and how that gets far more video time.

    Despite having tons of Asians in the city, I think bureaucrats need sensitivity training in dealing with them. I could recount several awkward and poor interactions, the major one being: I saw an elderly asian man get hit by a car. We were doing a 4-person translation from him to the cop through three bilingual people. The cop was unwilling to get a direct translator from the garage behind us. As a visibility factor I think it’s great Hong got elected. But that doesn’t mean her position is as secure as to poke fun at it.

    I think the quick, hard response that Newsom & Fong took was calculated to take away any accusations of being un-PC. Everyone has pretty much written about that. I think it was effective for what they wanted to achieve, but it wasn’t necessarily fair to the force.

  9. cd (unregistered) on January 3rd, 2006 @ 10:55 am

    I’m not sure where you live, but I haven’t lived here that long and it STILL didn’t take long in SF to get a feel for what goes on in Hunter’s Point. I may not know the extent of how bad things are down there – but I don’t think it takes much to understand that the SFPD must have a difficult time down there.

    Whether or not you think the satire is appropriate or out-of-line is a different question from whether they could fairly interpreted as satiric in nature.

    Additional, let’s not forget that these videos were produced for an audience that would’ve keenly understood both their meaning and the motivation behind them.

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