Filed Under Satire
Salon just published an article summarizing how 2004 was a great year for satire due to the world going to hell, a “good enough” premise for revisiting this year’s comedy hits.
I love that the list is multidisciplinary, including printed material like Aaron McGruder’s “Boondocks” and The Onion. But there’s a few thuds that stop the list cold. “My Big Fat Obnoxious Boss” and “Drawn Together” don’t even play in the same ballparks as “South Park” or the “Daily Show.” The writer admits that she doesn’t find “Drawn” funny other than the premise of putting cartoon characters together a la “The Real World”. I like the premise too, but one great idea doesn’t make a great comedy.
Replace those with “The Office” and “Arrested Development”, both of which are smarter, darker and more precise in their targets. Not to mention, they’re far more relevant simply because they are satires of life rather than the reality TV version of it. And both of them parody reality TV as well and better. Other than that, it’s a pretty comprehensive list. Check it out if year-end round-ups are your bag.
Filed Under Satire
On Sunday, The New York Times described why jokes about George Bush have become far more aggressive and political. For the most part, all the reasons they point out (the unpopularity of his policies and the harshness of all comedy these days) are fairly accurate. The most interesting points occur at the end of the article:
1) The initial joke that George Bush is a bumbler has helped him. Absolutely true. It’s been ingrained in western civilization since Aristophanes: the smart aren’t so smart and the fools among us are the wisest of us all. Think about the end of Animal House... the characterization of an idiotic George W. Bush could have easily been one of the frat brothers who end up heading on to ambitious destinies. We don’t get angry at the clowns who make mistakes, we have sympathy for them. If the left wants to change minds, it should supplant the dumb jokes with ones that emphasize craftiness. (BTW, who was our last President who was portrayed as a little out of it? Reagan.)
2) Satirical humor plays only the converted. My head says this is true. My heart wishes it wasn’t. Naturally the most vitriolic of comedic rants really doesn’t change minds, but one of the things that always attracted me to comedy was the idea that my getting a laugh, you could sneak an idea in there. I don’t know if anybody ever walked out of a comedy show and said, “that totally changed my stance on abortion.” (In fact, I can’t think of any piece of art that has ever really done that.) On the opposite side, everyone loves to criticize media for driving people, particularly kids, to commit some antisocial act. But we can’t have any positive effects? I don’t think you can have it both ways. I imagine some would prefer to say art, and by extension comedy, has no effect one way or the other because they don’t want the responsibility. But I think exactly the opposite is true. Jokes can both help and harm society, but I think you and I will always be ill-equipped to judge which do which until a couple of decades have past. I mean, who’d ever thought Lenny Bruce would lead to Andrew “Dice” Clay?
There’s been talk about the July 28th Nightline, which featured an exchange between Ted Koppel and Jon Stewart that some say outlines the gulf between old and new TV journalism. The description of The Daily Show as journalism gives insight into how low journalism has fallen. Not because The Daily Show is bad journalism, but because journalism isn’t doing it’s job and satire is having to pick up the slack.
Stewart and Koppel debate on what a News Anchor’s role should be. There’s a sense that there needs to be objectivity in news, presenting all sides to a story fairly and honestly. Stewart argues that the political spin machines take advantage of this and that TV news needs to adapt, not only to keep viewers, but to be effective. The audience doesn’t want them to stand idly by when each side presents contradictory facts.
The comedy presentation of news does give interpretations. Stewart rightly states that no one in his audience is coming for news, but they are coming for what they see is the truth behind the news. The real behind the measured coldness of just coverage.
At one point Stewart tells Koppel:
“...you CAN say that’s BS. You don’t need humor to do that because you have what I wish I had which is credibility and gravitas.”
News worries about presenting the truth and thus presents all sides of a story, penetrating none. Satire, while not necessarily giving truth, takes the elements of a story and uses them to illuminate something at their core. Stewart is pushing for Koppel to give more perspective. To bring more of a frame to stories and to call lies when he sees them. The fact Koppel seems to dispute the idea that he could call BS is bizarre when you read a speech Koppel delivered at a dinner of TV News directors that Jon Stewart himself introduced him at. At Koppel’s request! Koppel talks about the need to give news context… well isn’t that just a fancy way of saying “calling BS”?
The #1 tenet of comedy: If you’re not pissing someone off, you’re not doing your job.
Corollary: Try to aim for Republicans… they’re pretty easy targets.
Apparently Comedy Central’s upcoming show faux debate show “Crossballs” is the latest example of Viacom’s left wing bias (other shows include apparently “The Daily Show”, which did a recent piece making fun of Kerry VP candidates and regularly features Jon Stewart being deferential to guests from conservative groups and causes.) The fantastic thing about this editorial/call for arms is that it proves exactly why conservative are great targets. She’s complaining about a show that hasn’t even aired yet. Insanity!
The best 20 pages I ever read on comedy were in a psychology book co-authored by John Cleese. In it, he describes how “inflexible behavior” is inevitably funny. Conservative commentators, almost by definition (even with a modifier like “compassionate”), are inflexible. You’re gonna be a target when you take a stand on something and not give any ground. If conservatives would be better sports about a culture that takes satirical jabs at them, the jabs would happen less. But that would be flexible behavior… not gonna happen.
Heartening News Apparently, the very late-airing season finale for Arrested Development did well in that 18-34 year old potential-soap-buying audience. Love the audacity of the Sorpranos, but to me the surprise of the night was how much Arrested’s first season tied up with the “light treason” of building tract housing in Iraq. God bless the spot after Simpsons.