I love the "NBA on TNT," and I love the unpredictability that comes with any live Tracy Morgan appearance. So I tuned in to the comedian's "Inside the NBA" cameo, smiling dimples into an un-dimpled face. After some riffing, TNT’s Kenny Smith asked the "30 Rock" star whom he preferred between Tina Fey and Sarah Palin.
Morgan: “I think Sarah Palin is good masturbation material! The glasses and all of that ... great masturbation material!”
The ebullient, gross response was met with childish giggles, nervous shifting, and co-host Ernie Johnson’s dyspeptic frown. Tracy had gone too far.
Kenny Smith was the one who objectified both Fey and Palin, though it was tacit and therefore OK. When Morgan brought the question to its natural conclusion, the comedian likely earned a life ban from TNT, and a bag full of frothing death threats. Had he simply chosen Fey, or Palin, the situation would have floated down the memory hole on a cloud of harmless jock cackles. Instead, Tracy’s unvarnished, lewd honesty revealed the unsavory nature of Kenny’s question line, and made Morgan a momentary pariah.
Within minutes, a Turner spokesman apologized: "It's unfortunate Mr. Morgan showed a lack of judgment on our air with his inappropriate comments."
I’d say "judgment" is the key word here. It takes a certain social judgment to grasp that our TV mores accept the vague objectification of famous women, but not the explicit stating of how this objectification manifests. Of course, Tracy might have known better, and cared less.
In non-televised life, I've heard many guys say exactly what Morgan said. And it's undeniable that Palin is fetishized in conservative circles and that this fetishization gives her a certain political cachet. But, we're a Puritanical culture, replete with public euphemisms. We also have modern gender sensitivities that I wouldn't dismiss as mere "political correctness." So, when Tracy Morgan exposed his brain, he uttered something that can only publicly exist within the paradigm of a comedy set.
Plus I’m not sure you can say "masturbation" on a live cable sports show.