I’m as tired of thinking about politics as I imagine most of you are, which is why I’ve let a few recent things slide without posting. Here’s a few links worth a look, though.
Posts Tagged ‘satire’
I’ve been griping about Jon Stewart’s McCain-love for some time now, and Thursday night he finally came out and said that if McCain had won the GOP’s nomination in 2000, he would have voted for him, instead of Gore. (The video‘s here, but be warned: you have to watch several minutes of Bill Kristol, love-child of Goebbels and The Joker, to hear the quote.)
Today’s installment of NPR’s Fresh Air featured an interview with SNL head writer and “Weekend Update” anchor Seth Meyers. He came across as an articulate and pleasant fellow, generous in his praise for colleague Tina Fey, boss Lorne Michaels, and recent guest-star Sarah Palin — and as an uninspired and workman-like creator of mass-market comedy. Seth Meyers is to comedy what an Applebee’s entree is to food: reliably palatable, but nothing memorable.
On further reflection, that’s pretty unfair to Applebee’s. Maybe he’s more like a Denny’s Grand Slam: not great, but readily available and unlikely to make you actually vomit.
Two things from the interview jumped out at me as worthy of comment. First, he called Amy Poehler’s delivery of the Sarah Palin rap (I’m paraphrasing, but this is close) “one of the best performances in the history of Saturday Night Live.”
Okay, maybe the Denny’s comparison is too generous. How about Jack in the Box: usually okay, but with occasional e. coli poisoning.
Sarah Palin’s cameo on SNL doesn’t seem to have moved the needle very much, on way or the other, in terms of the public’s perception of the GOP VP candidate. To borrow a very nice turn of phrase from New Hampshire journalist/blogger Gina Carbone, I don’t think it will turn out to be her “saxophone moment.” It was probably both too little (she didn’t risk very much in her two rather staid spots on the show) and too late for that.
Still, she came off reasonably well: she looked like a good sport, didn’t trip over her lines, seemed to be in on all the jokes, and generally performed like the former broadcast professional she is (given her train-wreck performance in unscripted interviews, it’s easy to forget she was once a TV sportscaster — as long as she’s got a teleprompter, she’s fine). Indeed, Lorne Michaels said afterward that Palin could easily have “her own show” — a compliment, though perhaps a back-handed one. (Though if, as Mark Evanier speculates, Palin has given up on succeeding Cheney and is instead gunning to be the next Ann Coulter, I guess she passed the audition.)
The thing that I find so compelling is that right now Obama’s whole campaign strategy is simply [to] speak to people as though they were adults and trust that the truth of the world situation will be evident to them. For him to be attacked as a friend of a terrorist, for “palling” around with terrorists and to simply go back and say, “No, I’m not”? That was such a refreshing political moment. …I’m enchanted by the idea that a politician can come along and speak simply and clearly and truthfully to an electorate as though they are grown-ups and to feel the electorate respond to that. I’ve found that to be astonishing and especially now that we are in the end game and you see basically the McCain campaign has nothing left but conspiracy theories to throw at Obama. It really has become a fight between fantasy and reality, and although I don’t make my living off of it, I endorse reality.
Unlike Sarah Palin’s favorite Joe (Sixpack), Joe the Plumber is at least a real person.
He’s less of a real plumber, or at any rate not an average one: the average, journeyman clog-wrangler earns about $42 grand a year. Joe Wurzelbacher is worried about the possibility that he will soon climb into the $250K+ bracket which would, indeed, mean his income tax rate would go up under Obama’s plan. (Though he appears not to really understand the distinctions between personal income and the value of a business, to say nothing of the various deductions of which an entrepreneur can take advantage. Maybe Joe the Plumber needs to have a chat with Stu the Accountant.)
Time‘s James Poniewozik has some interesting insights into the possible impact of Tina Fey’s impression on the public’s impression of Sarah Palin. On the one hand, he notes, an impression that succeeds in capturing what the public sees in a candidate — as Fey’s Palin surely has — can be devastating because it is “shamanistic; it’s like owning a voodoo doll: capture your target’s soul, and you can make her dance just by waving your arms.” Fey “owns” Palin’s image in this sense.
And make no mistake, that is a powerful thing. Chevy Chase’s depiction of Gerald Ford, though it was not even really an impression — let alone a very convincing one like Fey’s Sarah Palin — had a huge claim on the public’s perception of the man, and probably contributed to his political downfall.
Before I get to the whining, the New York Times’s Bill Carter, the Woodward and/or Bernstein of the late-night comedy beat, has an interesting article on how the election is boosting the fortunes of SNL and other shows. It includes some interesting ratings info, showing the Comedy Central shows’ strength in the 18-34 year-old male demographic.
Via Mark Evanier, news that tonight’s prime-time SNL special will be a weekly feature up until the election. For some reason, this news fills me with foreboding.
One reason is the fact that, in addition to the easy (if funny) shots they’ve been taking at Sarah Palin, SNL has, in the name of “balance,” also become one of the Mainstream Media’s principle conduits for the dissemination of bizarre, right-wing talking points. A case in point is the angry, tedious bailout sketch I wrote about a few days ago, which presented an Oliver Stone-like conspiracy theory that managed to blame everybody but the party that’s been running things for most of the last eight years for the current economic mess.
There’s a strange non-review of An American Carol in last week’s Time magazine. It begins like this:
There are the things you admit to in Hollywood–that you’ve been to rehab, that you wrecked your first marriage, that it took 12 people to pick out your outfit. And then there’s the thing you don’t admit to: that you vote Republican. “I preface it by saying I’ve been convicted of child molestation, and that breaks the ice,” says director David Zucker of sharing his political views with liberal-leaning colleagues. “Then being Republican doesn’t seem so bad to them.”
You can read the rest here. Non-review movie articles are certainly not unheard of in the newsweeklies, though they often accompany a review, which is not the case here. It is also noteworthy that this article does not carry the byline of Richard Corliss, Time‘s main movie guy.
I would suggest that Time‘s curious treatment of this right-wing satire tells us a lot about how effective conservative criticism has been in spooking the “MSM” (MainStream Media) into a posture of cowering deference. I suspect that Time wouldn’t dare review this movie — rather, they wouldn’t dare review it negatively; and since the consensus of those who have reviewed it seems to be that it stinks, that means it’s safer not to review it at all.
I am loathe to give credit to Tom Shales, because I think he’s gratuitously mean and often clueless (he doesn’t get Mad Men, and thinks Lorne Michaels is a genius and SNL is still cutting-edge funny), but I think he’s onto something here: Sarah Palin is not only not defying the caricatured version of herself Tina Fey and others have created, she’s deliberately embracing it.
To update my last post, nope — McCain’s refusal to look at Obama hasn’t become a thing yet. SNL made no reference to it in their debate sketch, which surprised me, given the attention it had gotten elsewhere. Not only that, they had a joke about Jim Lehrer insisting that the candidates look at each other — not an innaccurate depiction (except I remember him admonishing them to talk to each other more), but an inclusion that made the exclusion of lack-of-eye-contact-gate all the odder.
The return of Tina Fey as Sarah Palin has gotten a lot of attention already, and I can’t add much, save to join the chorus of those noting, as I just heard Joan Walsh say on Hardball, that some of the parody dialogue was pretty much a verbatim transcription of the real interview. The writers didn’t have to work very hard on that one.
Which brings me to today’s question: do the writers of Saturday Night Live even follow the news, beyond the bare minimum their jobs require? I’m not just being snotty because they didn’t go the way I predicted with the debate sketch (and I’ll point out I wasn’t advocating that comedians should focus on the eye-contact business).
I’ve been critical of Jon Stewart for what I perceive as a tendency to pull his punches when dealing with John McCain. But The Daily Show did a pretty good job responding to McCain’s ridiculous and reckless “suspension” of his campaign.
There’s still a tendency, shared by many “straight” pundits and late-night comics, to treat McCain 08’s excesses as strange anomalies—as if McCain himself is somehow not responsible for them. Even as Letterman was pummeling McCain for his dishonesty about jetting off to DC the other night, he put it in these terms. This was not, Dave said, “the John McCain I know.”
“Something doesn’t smell right.” That may well stand as the public’s verdict on John McCain’s surprising “suspension” of his campaign yesterday. Perhaps it will even end up being McCain’s political epitaph.
Lyndon Johnson knew he’d lost the public’s mandate when he “lost” Walter Cronkite. With this judgment, McCain just lost David Letterman.
Awards shows are usually dull viewing, but last night’s broadcast of the Emmy Awards was so bad it was almost shocking: not just lame (I expected that), but unprofessional. It was like a public access show with better-looking people and better production values.
On top of its general crapitude, ABC also managed to make the occasion a pretty impressive display of cowardice, cutting away from John Adams writer Kirk Ellis, just as he was about to make the shocking charge that George W. Bush is inarticulate. Heavens! We can’t let our viewers hear such heresies!
Leave it to Stephen Colbert to figure away around the suits’ preemptive censorship.
Pardon my French—and Latin—but I’ve noticed that David Letterman and his writers have introduced a new variation on the kind of joke traditionally told by mainstream, “equal opportunity offender” late-night comics. These are jokes that focus on the personalities of candidates—or really, on one or two caricatured traits—and have, at best, only tangential relevance to the ideologies and policies the candidates represent. The Latin phrase ad hominem (literally, “at the man”), as some of you may have learned in Freshman Comp, is a logical fallacy in which one attempts to win an argument by attacking the person making it. For late-night comedians, the ad hominem strategy allows them to make fun of politicians without really talking about politics. No one can accuse you of “bias” (accepted idiot-speak for “caring enough about an issue to have an opinion”) if instead of dealing with what a politician says about, say, the mortgage crisis, you just make fun of his haircut.
Thus, the hotly-contested and highly consequential 2000 presidential race was, as far as Dave, Jay, Conan, and SNL were concerned, merely a choice between a dumb guy who couldn’t pronounce big words, and a guy who bragged about inventing everything from the Internet to the phrase “Don’t go there, Girlfriend” in a robotic monotone. In 2004 it was the dope vs. the flip-flopper with the rich wife, and in 1996, the womanizing Bubba vs. the old guy who referred to himself in the third person. There were some funny lines along the way, to be sure, but no real satire, because none of this was really political—it was just personal.
And that is the case with this new subset of Letterman jokes, too. But they are, at least, a different—and, if only because of their novelty—more interesting form of ad hominem jokes. Yet they proceed from the unfairest basis of all: physical appearance:
I kind of like that Sarah Palin. You know, she reminds me, she looks like the flight attendant who won’t give you a second can of Pepsi…. She looks like the weekend anchor on Channel 9. She looks like the hygienist who makes you feel guilty about not flossing. She looks like the relieved mom in a Tide commercial.
We hear a lot about how this country is split down the middle between liberals and conservative, secularists and evangelicals, “blue state” and “red state” values. But the more I think about it, the more I’m convinced the real split is between nice people and bullies. And the bullies have been winning. Anyone who ever got a wedgie, or heard the phrase, “stop hitting yourself” between the ages of 5 and 14, recognized Dubya and Cheney for what they were as soon as they appeared on the scene, despite the Eddie Haskell act they put on for the press. An John “Nasty” McCain and Sarah “Barracuda” Palin are more of the same; except that now, instead of stealing your milk money, they want to steal your country.
It’s not that their followers don’t recognize them as bullies; they admire bullies.
The pages of The New Yorker have featured, over the years, a parade of America’s greatest literary humorists: Benchley, Thurber, E. B. White, Dorothy Parker, and Woody Allen, to name but a few. In recent years, they have featured some fine political reporting, including the invaluable essays of Hendrick Hertzberg. And of course, The New Yorker raised the magazine cartoon (though they’re still too snooty to call them that on the Contents page, where they are referred to as “drawings”) to an art form, with the work of Charles Addams, Saul Steinberg, Peter Arno, and others too numerous to mention.
So–art, politics, and humor they can do. But they can’t do political satire. And they should really stop trying, at least on their covers.