Chazelle explains democracy this way: A empowers B to elect C to serve A (where A=corporations, B=citizens, C=politicians and where corporate media is the empowering vehicle). This is a pretty radical proposition and has the whiff of Marxism. The main truth here is that the typical citizen doesn’t care about politics very much until they see it hammered on TV a dozen times. I’m not going to summarize the logic here because the original piece does it so deftly.
Comedy’s normative mode is ecologically parasitic. It feeds off society’s darker compromises by making social commentary its primary vehicle, not its primary function. Of course, social commentary as an end in itself can be funny, too (eg, Swift, Wilde, Twain). Humor, indeed, can be used as universal seasonings. But whether served as comedy or condiments, humor’s ambition is to change facial expressions, not society. The contextual dependency can hardly be overestimated. Some humor is universal but most of it is not. George Carlin’s nightmare probably featured a New York Times announcement that the "F-word" would now be spelled "fuck." Hans Christian Andersen was lucky not to live in a nudist colony, or his story about an emperor having no clothes might not have gotten the same attention. Puritanism and sexual humor are the two sides of the same coin. Get rid of one and, poof, the other’s gone, too. Juvenile societies like ours, ie, sexually repressed and anatomically obsessed, fuel their comedy with bodily functions, but for bonobos I suspect the humor gets lost in translation. (Mere speculation on my part, of course.) OK, it wouldn’t be fair to leave this statement gender-neutral since it’s without a doubt the Y-chromosome that drags down the average emotional age of comedy. It’s not even cultural (pace male comics)—it’s molecular.
Satire exposes the absurd in the social and political spheres while leaving the nonabsurd hidden. Eye-opening and inspiring though it may be, it is still based on a deception: just because A is bad does not mean that not-A is better. In fact, A might be an ugly compromise that allows humans to get by, whereas world B, unexplained and unchallenged, might be hellish. A society without white lies would be unlivable—when a homely girl asks you if she’s pretty, are you supposed to say no? Uncompromising humor can be quite funny, but its pleasures are tainted. Jon Stewart’s comedy is innocuous but the authoritarian temptation in Bill Maher’s anti-religious rants is unmistakable. Mr Maher knows that religious belief is so world A. But then he goes on to postulate a world B of metaphysical common sense, as though there were such a thing. He forgets that the obvious is not the sole alternative to the absurd. Why is religious belief, which he rightly calls superstition, any less world B than the myths that claim squatter’s rights in his own psyche? Doesn’t Mr Maher celebrate birthdays and frown upon cannibalism? What’s rational about that? His selective, wholesale ridiculing of the sacred stems from a totalitarian impulse. And I say this as someone who appears to share most of Mr Maher’s views on organized religion.
Humor is an alarm bell, an attention-grabbing signifier with no particular signified. Bill Maher and Sacha Baron Cohen (Borat) make the same mistake of imparting a comedic signified where there is none. Jon Stewart makes the opposite mistake: an unwillingness to follow through with noncomedic substance. As he readily admits, he won’t let a serious thread run for more than 2 minutes without killing it with a joke. In his own words, it’s "only" a comedy show. Indeed, and Paris Hilton is "only" a bimbo. Selling short is still fashionable in some circles, I guess. Humor will not make you think: it will merely suggest that you should do so. Good comedy should be an appetizer that stimulates your appetite. But late-night TV comedy is digestive, dessert-time humor. To go to battle, you need compassion, courage, outrage, and, preferably, a plan. And, oh yes, please bring humor along just in case you lose.
Chazelle’s original article was published in Tiny Revolution a blog I’d frequently stumbled upon but never actually read. But I never recognized the satirical edge until now. See for example this piece by Jonathan Schwartz about why citizens rarely complain when their country is being invaded. Here’s Schwartz uncovering about what happens when Noam Chomsky uncovers an occasion when George Will has gotten his facts wrong (hilarious!)
Speaking of satire, Tom Tomorrow resurrects a satirical right-wing parody blog. Highlights:
I’m glad to see we’re almost on the same page, but going to one nationalized time zone only increases the power of the centralized goverment.
It’s intelectually wrong, and also will make it just that much easier for Kofi and the UN to roll in someday and make us all live like the French.
I have to say, I think the true libertarian positon on this (not to mention conservatives, since I haven’t been a conservative in months) is to decntralize and deregulate time zones, letting the free market decide. If consumers demand noon for six hours a day, then by God, that’s what the stores will all say it is, and everyone will be the richer for it.
What do we want? Time zone reform! When do we want it? Now! And for a while!
More satire: Onion Tech Trends video news report on a new Sony product (Video, warning: language!)
Happy Valley News Hour picks the best Bushisms (most of which I had not heard before):
- “Thank you, Your Holiness. Awesome speech.” April 16, 2008, at a ceremony welcoming Pope Benedict XVI to the White House.
- “And they have no disregard for human life.” July 15, 2008, at the White House. Bush was referring to enemy fighters in Afghanistan.
- “I remember meeting a mother of a child who was abducted by the North Koreans right here in the Oval Office.” June 26, 2008, during a Rose Garden news briefing.
- “This thaw — took a while to thaw, it’s going to take a while to unthaw.” Oct. 20, 2008, in Alexandria, La., as he discussed the economy and frozen credit markets.
- “The fact that they purchased the machine meant somebody had to make the machine. And when somebody makes a machine, it means there’s jobs at the machine-making place.” May 27, 2008, in Mesa, Ariz.
My favorite of course: “Free societies are hopeful societies. And free societies will be allies against these hateful few who have no conscience, who kill at the whim of a hat.” (Jacob Weisburg has more).