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Gilbert Gottfried, Glenn Beck, 50 Cent take heat for offensive Japan comments

Gilbert What is it about a natural disaster that brings out tasteless, insensitive and downright horrifying comments from people in the spotlight? Whether it's incendiary talk show host Glenn Beck, comedian Gilbert Gottfried, rapper 50 Cent or TV writer Alec Sulkin, the inappropriate sound bites about the earthquake and tsunami in Japan have been coming fast and furious over the last several days.

The immediacy of Twitter, and its unfiltered, stream-of-consciousness nature, could be to blame for the spread of some of the thoughtless statements so quickly. The churn of a 24-hour news cycle and live TV, where CNBC anchor Larry Kudlow tripped up on Friday, also may take some of the heat.

But at the heart of the matter are the sentiments themselves, said Stuart Fischoff, senior editor of the Journal of Media Psychology, who sees a "reservoir of prejudice" against the Japanese people that's been unearthed by the disaster. See: tweets that reference Pearl Harbor.

"No doubt, there's a mordant sense of humor that comes out in times of stress," Fischoff said. "But in this case it's bringing up culturally accepted prejudice against the Japanese. We didn't see this during Haiti."

The backlash has been as lightning fast as the gaffes, with Gottfried getting fired from his long-time gig as the voice of the Aflac insurance spokescharacter after tweeting jokes about Japan. (These tweets have now been deleted.)

Joan Rivers, who's been known to use the ironic catchphrase, "Too soon?," stuck up for Gottfried via Twitter.

"Oh come on people -- this is outrageous! Gilbert Gottfried was FIRED from Aflac for making jokes about the tsunami in Japan. That's what comedians do!!! We react to tragedy by making jokes to help people in tough times feel better through laughter."

Gottfried apologized on Twitter on Tuesday. "I sincerely apologize to anyone who was offended by my attempt at humor regarding the tragedy in Japan," he tweeted, continuing, "I meant no disrespect, and my thoughts are with the victims and their families."

Beck, a well-known provocateur, called the quake and tsunami a "message from God" on his Monday radio show, and carried on in that vein.

Meanwhile, hip-hop artist 50 Cent made an ill-advised surfing joke, and Sulkin brought up Pearl Harbor. Both have since apologized.

There's a lesson to be learned here about the unedited, real-time world of Twitter, but it's not yet known whether celebrities will take it to heart, Fischoff said.

"When you're on Twitter, you're not talking to a stranger or even just your friends," Fischoff said. "There is no private conversation."

-- T.L. Stanley

Photo: Gilbert Gottfried and the Aflac duck. Credit: Charles Sykes/Associated Press

Comments () | Archives (54)

Pearl Harbor? Really? Even if you are still holding a grudge I seem to remember we dropped several atomic bombs on Japan so can't people like Sulkin be heartened by that and leave this tragedy out of it? As for Joan Rivers, if twitter had existed back when her husband committed suicide and someone had tweeted jokes about it right after it happened would she have found them funny? Not everything is a joke.

Idiots the lot of them. This situation is not funny, nor is it a message from God. It's tectonic plates, not God, or cosmic payback for Pearl Harbor or any other such foolishness. Basic science that has caused a horrific, heartbreaking tragedy. How anyone could pay reverence to a being that would purposely do this is beyond my grasp anyway. The people of Japan have shown more grace and courage than any of these jerks could ever hope to have, and I suppose that is the one comfort of this horrible event.

sigh......big GG fan but pretty bad timing really. As for GB well consider the source

Did you notice the sneak little reference to Glenn Beck in this piece. Somehow, like Gottfried, Beck has to be associated with offensive Japanese comments, I guess. Typical Left Angeles Times - never miss an opportunity for a cheap shot to the right, do they?

How is it Kobe Bryant can be criticized and boycotted for making a light-hearted commercial for a Turkish airline – presumably because various Armenians are alive who had relatives killed in the genocide – and Americans, plenty of whom lost at least grandparents if not parents at Pearl Harbor in a sneak attack, cannot comment or still be distraught about the matter?

Idiots is too kind for these insensitive morons......if God had anything to do with it...Beck would be the next on the list for encouraging hate and intolerance....

Aflac was Gottfried's only gig. I'm glad he lost it.

i agree with Elise and Lily....when this tragedy happened all i could think about was those poor people and their families...not once did Pearl Harbor come to mind or any other racial or ethnic bias.

I dont 100% disagree with Joan Rivers...although i do believe it was too soon to make jokes...we dont even know all the ramifications from the quake yet.

As for Glen Beck and anyone else who believes this was God's will....I hope when some tragedy happens in his life that someone is there to point out it was probably God's revenge on Beck for being such a TURD!!

Let's assume that a large tidal wave washes Beck, Rivers, or Gottfried out to see only to allow them to wash ashore a few days later. Can I assume that is mother nature's way of telling a joke? These people are pathetic and twitter is a joke.

Gilbert Gottfried also made jokes about 9/11 just days after the attack in which he said "Fly American Airlines! We hit the World Trade Center first before United!" I'm surprised he didn't receive any backlash then.

I find Glenn Beck to be incredibly annoying, but after listening to the audio, what he said is not particularly offensive. It's just his usual modern world doom-and-gloom stuff.

As for Gilbert Gottfried, I found a couple of his tweets on nbclosangeles.com, and maybe I'm going to hell, but I have to admit to laughing in spite of myself. Real dark, gallows humor. Unfortunately for him, "As it turns out, Aflac relies on Japan for three-quarters of its business, according to The Hollywood Reporter." "Too soon?" Probably. But even more, no business is going to risk offending its major clients.

As for Pearl Harbor, the people responsible are dead. It's like saying that 9/11 and Katrina were just punishment for our history of slavery and the slaughter and dispossession of the former inhabitants of the land.

Glenn Beck is such an idiot.

That disaster wasn't an "act of God"...no, it was Godzilla emerging from the sea, and he was "making waves"...get it?

Better to give money to the Red Cross than be offended.

Would there be something his contract, like a morals clause; because honestly, all they had to do was ask him to apologize. Can he sue them for breach of contract?

Tweets and twitters will get you in trouble every time.

Verbalocity - they were just stating the facts. Not surprisingly, your compassionate conservative poster boy Beck made an idiotic comment that only displayed the high level of ignorance that makes him a hero to conservatives such as yourself. You know what a sign from God would be? Beck, Palin, Rush, and Bachmann riding in a plane that gets struck by lightning and crashes in a forest inhabited by homosexual natives that save them through their primitive, yet accessible and affordable, health care system.

BTW...people like Gottfried only make these kind of inflammatory comments to mask the fact that they are simply just not funny.

Gilbert Gottfried was the voice of the Aflac duck? I never knew that before reading this piece. What a waste of money... Anybody can scream "Aflac!" the same way that duck did.

"God" does not want to kill 10,000+ Japanese. Please, Glenn Beck needs to stop these religious pronouncements.

Gottfried is a known quantity and should stick to letting his comedy speak for itself. Comics who triangulate their comedy fodder just aren't funny (e.g. Jay Leno). But the backlash forced a groveling apology out of Gottfried that seems more frightened than sincere and will only lead to more fallout. Beck, who's statements are the most offensive by far, will weather the uproar best: no retreat, no apologies. I would never associate with a person like this, but I can't help noticing that this technique is perversely integral to success in America.

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