December 15, 2021
Whoopi Goldberg is a comic. Or so I’ve heard. Can’t say I’ve ever actually seen her being funny. Nevertheless, seeking a break from my customary heavy reading, I picked up her 2010 book, Is It Just Me? Or Is It Nuts Out There?
Shocker alert: that’s not her birth name. Whoopi isn’t short for Wupaleena or something. (It was Caryn Johnson.) The name “Whoopi Goldberg” is obviously supposed to be funny. Playing on ethnic incongruity. In fact, there’s traditionally been tension between Black and Jewish communities, with Goldberg a stereotypical Jewish name uttered by Blacks in a hostile way. If Whoopi was trying to satirize that, it seems a bit disturbing.
The book (with no fewer than six two-letter words in its title) is a collection of short peevish essays. A misanthropic self-indulgence. Not funny.
The first chapter hits drunk driving. Not a topic lending itself to hilarity. Whoopi thinks anyone driving drunk should have their cars taken away. Likewise for texting while driving.
Well, okay. And why do we need Whoopi Goldberg’s opinion on this?
Drunk driving is just one of many common behaviors she doesn’t like. Much concerns how people interact with Whoopi herself. Like criticizing her wardrobe choices. Well, okay. But if you put yourself out there as a big celebrity, that kind of comes with the territory. And panning how Whoopi dresses doesn’t seem quite on a par with drunk driving.
She doesn’t mention noise pollution, one of my own peeves. Neighbors running loud mowers, leaf blowers, even chain saws, while I’m trying to enjoy the weather out on my deck.
Several of Whoopi’s chapters address flight etiquette. One earnestly implores readers to turn off computers and phones on a plane when so instructed. A full page lists malodorous foods you shouldn’t bring on a flight. There’s a chapter on how to pack for a plane trip. I’m not kidding. She’s annoyed with people not packing smart. It’s actually pretty sensible advice. But I didn’t buy a book by a comic for that sort of thing.
All the foregoing I scribbled up after a few chapters. But, as with a car wreck, there was a weird fascination that kept me reading. And eventually I began to see the book differently. Shelves are full of self-help advice books, but this one is actually kind of unique. Covering not big philosophical and character matters, but mostly mundane everyday stuff. Expressing things many of us feel. But who would think of writing a book in that vein?
A companion to John Rawls’s A Theory of Justice this is not. Yet taken all in all, it does have something significant to say. Running through it is a basic premise that too many people just don’t think enough about how their actions affect others. Whoopi is taking a stand, and it’s one worth taking. Even writing an unfunny book about. Doing so was gutsy.
Human beings operate with what’s really a remarkable degree of rationality, but are imperfect and sadly subject to lapses of rationality. While Whoopi concentrates on personal life, and that’s worthy, what bugs me more are so many people’s larger beliefs that are so divorced from reason.
Beliefs about evolution, the drug war, guns, conspiracy theories, migrants, white supremacy; belief in Trump, belief in religion (connected). A perfect storm of irrationality coming together in vaccine resistance, exactly what Whoopi was talking about — disregard for how one’s actions affect others. In this case, literally killing them.
Like Whoopi, I wonder: Is it just me? Or is it nuts out there?
I think I know the answer.