The Emmy Awards were Sunday, and on the whole, they were quite satisfactory! The winners were refreshingly diverse, spread across a variety of networks, featured a satisfying amount of political outrage (the Sean Spicer appearance aside, which I’ll get to in a minute) and—with the exception of perennial favorite, Veep, which has become the unbeatable Modern Family juggernaut of our troubled and caustic times (and, for the record, is my favorite show on television, so I’m not complaining)—gave recognition to several new and new-ish shows (Atlanta, Master of None, The Handmaid’s Tale) on several new or new-ish platforms.
So that should be that, right? Wrong! Thanks to our brave new world of constant cyberwar, we must now turn our attention to the myriad of online micro-controversies that have sprung up in the wake of the Emmys, and which have, in many ways, begun to eclipse the actual awards themselves: after all, nobody remembers who won the next day, but an Instagram feud is forever. And this year, two prominent Jewish performers have found themselves at the heart of it all.
The first is actress, comedian, and New York City cabaret legend Jackie Hoffman (who, full disclosure, is someone I know IRL and personally adore.) Nominated for her splendid turn as Joan Crawford’s long-suffering housekeeper Mamacita (who, we recently discovered, was in fact, a probably Jewish German refugee named Anna Marie Brinke; the “Mamacita” came from the fact that Crawford hired her shortly after returning from a trip to Brazil, couldn’t remember her name, and was absolutely bathshit crazy), Hoffman had a delightful meltdown when competitor Laura Dern was announced as the winner of her category, conspicuously mouthing “Dammit! Dammit!” while in full view of the cameras. It was hilarious, perfectly timed, and knowing Jackie and her shtick, something she’d probably been planning to do since the nominations were announced. The Internet erupted, half tickled, half wondering if they’d captured someone being ungracious and therefore, condemnable, and Jackie doubled down, tweeting out a litany of increasingly absurdist insults about Laura Dern, calling out her “famous parents” and accusing her of running a child porn ring and looting art from victims of the Nazis.
Because we live in an age where irony is dead, many in the media (including some who should really know better), took Hoffman more or less at face value. No less an august source than Fox News called her a “sore loser,” leading her to lament, also on Twitter: “In a world where everyone is gay, I would be universally understood.” So true, and a good reason to never stop trying to make that better, more fabulous world happen; after all, the arc of the universe is long, but it bends towards gayness.
The other, more serious controversy belongs to Jason Isaacs, the British actor best known as ur-Slytherin patriarch Lucius Malfoy from the Harry Potter movies, and currently starring in CBS’s new Star Trek series (which premieres this week), who took to Instagram to express his disgust at former White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer (who, by the way, is a Hufflepuff pretending to be a Slytherin, which is somehow more humiliating that being just a Slytherin itself) being treated as an adorable and harmless curiosity by the assembled Hollywood scenesters after his shocking appearance on the Emmy stage, riding a Segway-mounted podium a la Melissa McCarthy’s Saturday Night Live impression of him and being allowed to demonstrate he can take a joke. “What were the Emmys thinking,” wrote Isaacs in his blistering post, “celebrating this modern-day Goebbels, who was the thuggish face of Orwellian doublespeak just a moment ago?” For this he has received the predictable deluge of outrage (and probable anti-Semitism) from right-wing Twitter’s army of droids, to which he has responded admirably and courageously, like the decent Englishman he is.
It’s a fair point, and so I’ll make a confession: when Spicer came out, I laughed, and then I thought: wow, he really isn’t handing that podium as well as Melissa McCarthy. It was only after more awards had been handed out and at least an hour had passed before I started to think about what it meant to have him up on that stage, getting to be in on the joke. I’m not worried about Jason Isaacs, or Jackie Hoffman, who are both talented performers and good people; with this reaction, I’m worried about myself. We are now living in the world where we have forgotten how to laugh at the intentionally comic (Hoffman) and finding the humor in things that shouldn’t be funny at all (Spicer.) That’s an IRL reality that’s beyond disturbing, and where it leads, I’m not sure the Emmys—or the people that win them—are quite prepared to go.