Former Disney CEO Michael Eisner got into trouble yesterday on Twitter after sharing a sexist remark (or what sounded like one to Megan Ellison and others) during an interview with Goldie Hawn at the Aspen Ideas Festival. No one’s arguing that Eisner, 73, is an enlightened feminist, but what he said, however clumsily put, wasn’t entirely divorced from reality.
Former Disney CEO Michael Eisner during Thursday night’s discussion with Goldie Hawn at the Aspen Ideas Festival.
“In the history of the motion-picture business,” he said, “the number of beautiful, really beautiful women — a Lucille Ball — that are funny, is impossible to find.”
What Eisner should have said, first of all, is not that it’s “impossible” to find really beautiful female comedians but that for the most part they’re few and far between. (I know — that sounds dismissive in itself but I’m trying to modify here.) And then he should have explained himself a bit. But now that the milk is split and outrage is spreading, allow me to explain for him.
Innately talented people, including comedians, don’t tend to develop their gift unless life has instructed them to do so or else. He meant that if you’re doing pretty well on your good looks or trust fund you’re probably not going to develop your potential as much as those who aren’t grade-A beauties or who don’t come from a rich family. Every creatively successful person has been goaded early on by disappointment and frustration in life. They’ve been told that if they want a bountiful career or a big income or if they want to meet interesting people they’ll have to develop their creative potential or, in the case of would-be female comics, learn to be fucking funny. Because if they don’t they’re going to be driving a cab or waiting tables or doing telemarketing.
Eisner was basically saying that beautiful women are less likely to be schooled by hard knocks than less-beautiful ones. Is it sexist to say that highly attractive people tend to have it a little easier in life? Well, it’s not.
Megan Ellison is an exception to Eisner’s rule because she obviously could have sat on her Oracle assets and become a kind of Paris Hilton, so naturally she’s offended at the idea of privilege being a hindrance to inner development. The fact that Julia Louis-Dreyfus is a first-rate comedian despite having been born into tremendous wealth is another exception to the rule. But again, Eisner was addressing the notion of Rahshaan Roland Kirk‘s “invisible whip” as it applies to female comedians, and what he was saying, essentially, is that everyone would be surprised if a woman came along who had a mind and a mouth like Amy Schumer‘s but the face and bod of a Kate Upton.
Eisner can’t win this one, of course, because he’s insulted every female comedian on the face of the planet, but what he said he wasn’t totally crazy.