Not So Funny Now, Is It?

Poor John Spragens is trying to have an intelligent conversation about Joel Stein’s piece in the LA Times on Tuesday over at Pith in the Wind. It quickly devolved into the usual “I can read liberals’ minds”, “I’d read conservatives’ minds but they don’t have any” bullshit that happens when you don’t keep the well-being of the community in mind (But shout-out to my buddy Jon for being the funniest motherfucker ever).

Which is too bad because it’s actually a thought-provoking piece. Stein is clearly trying to be funny, to make some kind of humorous commentary on all the “support the troops” bullshit. And the people you’d expect to be outraged are properly outraged.

But I haven’t seen anyone ask the question I’m about to ask, which is, is this funny?

I think I have a pretty broad sense of humor. I love “South Park” and am probably the only person who snickers at “Drawn Together” and I laughed all the way through The Devil’s Rejects. So, I’m not immune to outrageous humor.

But I didn’t find this funny at all. I can’t decide if it’s not funny because the whole situation is too raw or if it’s just not funny because it’s not well-written.

But I think it’s not funny because it’s too trite. The whole problem most liberals have with this war is that the world is a complex place and that this administration is and has been waging this war as if “close enough” is the same as certainty. And so to see someone who opposes the war in Iraq casting blame for the war so casually, as if holding whoever he can accountable–in this case the troops–is the same as actually holding the administration accountable, reeks of hypocrisy to me.

15 thoughts on “Not So Funny Now, Is It?

  1. I read the piece and thought Stein was trying to be tongue in cheek.

    Call me obtuse, but I don’t get the big deal about what he wrote. He’s the guy from “I Love The Eighties”, how serious can you take his scribblings?

    Let me know when Michael Ian Black and Hal Sparks co-write an article for Foreign Affairs on how we should handle the new Hamas led Palestine.

  2. I must have missed the humor in it as well. Way on down the thread, Brittney posted something I find chilling. Precisely because the world is so complex, I’m concerned to say the least that our military is lowering it’s recruitment standards. Obviously, they are seeking fodder here, because today’s weaponry is technologically advanced. Also, those with say, limited intellectual curiosity are least likely to disobey orders, even if they are clearly illegal. Perhaps I am an elitist. Personally, I find the the entire subject distasteful.

  3. Given my reaction to previous Stein pieces, I’ll have to go with “not well-written”. This was, after all, the guy who was fired from Entertainment Weekly and replaced with a friggin’ quiz. Yeah, they tried to make it sound like he was replaced by Stephen King. But King writes a monthly column. Stein’s was weekly. The non-Stein weeks are the CultureQuiz.

    Dude, if you are replaced by “What colour are Chewbacca’s eyes”–you’re not the great columnist you fancy yourself to be.

  4. I read the piece also. His real sin was not really his position, but his making such an obviously contrarian position that he knew would be deeply controversial, yet not having the intellectual heft to try to back it up.

    If you want to write a piece on how a principled opponent of the war should not “support the troops,” that is one thing. It is quite another to do it in such a flippant and shallow manner.

    Essentially, he could of tried in his piece to be intellectually solid, or to try to be ‘cool and trendy.’ He achieved neither, and made himself and his position easy targets.

  5. There’s no point in my voicing an opinion about Joel Stein’s writing abilities or his choice of tone, because those are obviously subjective evaluations.

    Style points notwithstanding, Stein raises a valuable point. There is a tragic ugliness to masses of people imputing honor to situations and deeds that are by nature dishonorable. I suppose it is easier to flog the messenger than to face the possibility that his message– however poorly written– implicates all of us.

  6. Obviously, they are seeking fodder here
    Ever hear of Occam’s Razor? It’s a maxim that in essence states ‘the simplest answer is usually the right one’. Your answer isn’t the simplest. It’s just the one that makes you feel good.

    In this case I’d say they’re lowering their standards because they have to do so. The US Army has a lot of treaty commitments and such, and they need a certain number of soldiers to fill them. That’s how the recruitment goals are formulated. When they can’t meet those goals with the pool available, they have to make the pool of potential recruitees larger. Hence lowering the standards like a frat boy at last call.

    You can apply all the devious motivations you like, but in the end it just comes down to the people they want don’t want them.


  7. Stein raises a valuable point.

    Yeah, he does. But the very point of his style is that he raises the point like a wiseass and so everyone feels smug about dismissing his point by saying “ahh. He’s just a wise-ass.”

    In this one case I think that perhaps booing the messenger is kind of appropriate. Not because I don’t like the message, but because I think he wrote on the level of a substandard frat-guy blog and was paid by the LA Times to do so.

    How do I feel about the message? I think saying “I support the troops” is an empty gesture by many of the people on both sides who use it. On the non-war-supporter side many say it because it’s shorthand for the other things–“dissent is patriotic”, “don’t burn my house down because I don’t agree with the war in Iraq”, etc.

    On the war supporter side it’s often used as a type of “Wanna make somethin’ of it” challenge to those who don’t support the war.

    Do I support the troops? Yes.

    Did I support going to war in Iraq? Yes.

    Do I think it’s time to come home? Probably, but I’m not sure.

    Do I think Abu Ghraib was a bad thing? Yes.

    Do I think we are destabilising our defense forces by waging a war at home? I’m inclined to say yes, but hope that the men and women who’ve spent their lives studying this issue in depth actually know more than me, a desktop publisher from middle America whose knowledge of warfare is limited to John Wayne movies and a bizarre gun fetish.

    Do I think it’s shameful how poor misguided 17 year olds who need money for StateU get suckered into signing their lives away? I’m a libertarian. Make whatever choice you wanna, babe. Smoke the pot, drink the liquor, marry someone of your own gender. Have an abortion. Join the army. Whatever. Everyone is an individual and can make their own individual choice. Whether or not I think that choice is wrong (abortion) stupid (watching Reality TV) or necessary for your life plan (joining the army and heck, having an abortion) it’s your choice to make.

    I will admit, though, that if you join the military you have a great deal of my respect because it takes balls to make the choice to put your life on the line for my sake. I admire that and I’m grateful.

    But I won’t put a yellow ribbon on my car/house/whatever. When I was growing up a yellow ribbon was used to signify our prayers for the Iran hostages. I will always associate the gesture of a yellow ribbon with people being held hostage. Since I supported the entry into the war and I know that we have a volunteer military I cannot in good conscience use a yellow ribbon. To me, our soldiers are not hostages.

  8. You can apply all the devious motivations you like, but in the end it just comes down to the people they want don’t want them.

    Two things, yes, I’ve heard of Occum’s Razor, though the only proof I have is that I used it on my last blog entry, and rather clumsily at that. Now, my saying they were looking for fodder doesn’t in fact make me feel better. As someone who was actually in the Army, let me tell you how it works. After the recruiter has hooked you, you are required to take a battery of tests, and it is the cumulative score that determines virtually everything that happens to you while you serve. It has the most impact on your M.O.S., (job) and if they are lowering standards for recruitment, they will by default attract those only suited to be a 95B, or rifleman. Fortunately for me, I had an extremely high GT score (general technical) which allowed me to pick any MOS I wanted. The thought of humping a rifle around the rice paddies of Southeast Asia didn’t appeal to me, so I chose schools that would place me safely in the rear should I ever deploy. I had choices, others did not. They are looking for fodder.

  9. Well, the closest I’ve been to military service was a couple of years as a civilian employee of the US Army, so I’m sure you know more than I do about it.

    But I’m still not convinced they’re making some kind of purposeful effort to get cannon fodder. Yes, it’s obvious they’re going to end up with more riflemen due to this lowering of standards, but I still think it’s just a question of “something is better than nothing” rather than some dark motive.


  10. I will admit, though, that if you join the military you have a great deal of my respect because it takes balls to make the choice to put your life on the line for my sake.

    It also takes balls to jump off a bridge with a giant rubber band strapped to your ankles. As a career firefighting professional, I have learned that [balls without brains]=[conditionally useful idiot]. Or, as a wiser person is rumored to have said, “discretion is the better part of valor.”

    That said, I am struggling to remember one U.S. foreign military engagement in the last 150 years– with the heavily asterisked exception of WWII– that was fought in order to protect so much as one blade of grass in the 50 states.

    I agree wholeheartedly, Mycropht, in the principle of owning up to one’s decisions. If you lie down with dogs, you have no right to complain about coming up with fleas. For more on this concept, I defer to U.S. Marine General Smedley Butler, whose words are as pertinent in the era of Halliburton and Bush as they were in the age of Armour and Wilson.

  11. If you lie down with dogs, you have no right to complain about coming up with fleas.

    Shouldn’t this be on another thread?

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