Wondering

Terry Frank is pondering Muslim women and "I couldn’t help but think though–if American women were equally as modest, what would American companies do to sell cars, burgers, beer, and movies?"*

Looking at her photo, I see Frank has visible hair and a shirt with an open neck, so maybe the wondering about modestly is only rhetorical, since she herself obviously enjoys the right to show more than just her face right there on her very own website.

 

 

*Yes, I know "Muslim" and "American" aren’t mutually exclusive.  If you want to take it up, take it up with Frank.

Harvard, What the Fuck?!

Did you all check this shit out over at Slate.com?  Tucked right into the middle of a perfectly entertaining article on insulting poetry is this bone-chilling nonsense:



The Harvard University Press absolutely refuses permission to quote whole poems by Emily Dickinson on the Web, under any circumstances, no matter what the fee. (The Harvard legal department fears the publisher’s potential loss of control.) So, here is the second half of Dickinson’s poem that begins, “I’m Nobody! Who are you?”:



How dreary—to be—Somebody!
How public—like a Frog—
To tell one’s name—the livelong June—
To an admiring Bog!


(Slate readers are invited to compose epigrams on the Harvard University Press’ stewardship of Emily Dickinson’s poetry and send them to that press in Cambridge, Mass., 02138.)


Harvard University Press, please, I’m begging you.  Tell me this is a misunderstanding.  How can this be?  Dickinson has been dead since 1886.  How can you possibly be claiming any kind of proprietary rights on her poetry?

Are Liberals More Funny than Conservatives?

For the sake of argument, I’ll leave myself out of the discussion, for clearly, my funny tips the scales in favor of the lefties or leftists or whoever.

Anyway, it’s Coble who’s got me thinking about this in general, and her commenter Dolphin in particular. 

Can we pull that up on the screen?

I’ll agree that you don’t here that much comedy coming out at the Left’s expense but I don’t think it’s because the left can’t take it but rather because the right doesn’t give it. Most of the right doesn’t know how to use comedy and so when they try usually it just comes out sounding mean, or stupid, or just not funny.

Take South Park for example. They’ve always been Right-wing but lately as they’ve gotten more political and the show has turned exclusively into a "bash liberal" series, it’s lost that which made it funny and it’s ratings are telling the tale.

At least they’re TRYING to use comedy though. Most criticism I hear of the left is incredibly mean-spirited, aggressive, and sometimes violent.

 First, can I just ask whether South Park is right wing?  I kind of seeing them taking on all comers.  I think that’s why their ratings are down (if that’s true), because there’s not one group that can watch the show and feel smug in knowing Trey and Matt share their view and will never turn to them for subject matter.

But let’s move beyond that.  I want to think about Dolphin’s first paragraph.  Does the right not know how to give it?  When Dolphin says "it just comes out sounding mean, or stupid, or just not funny," he’s making an assumption that "funny" is some objective standard that everyone recognizes.  But I’d argue that, when you look at Larry the Cable Guy* or even Jeff Foxworthy, you might could argue that "mean or stupid" is what makes it funny.

I think comedy works in one of two ways, it’s either "look what dumbasses this other guy is or these other guys are" or "look what a dumbass I am."  Sometimes it’s a little more complex than that, like with Colbert, where you have a guy who seems to be playing the "look what dumbasses these other guys are" but the audience knows that it’s really "look what a dumbass I am" but that he’s not really like that, so it’s really, really "look what a dumbass the guys who are really like how I’m pretending to be are."  But basically, you’re poking fun at someone.

The "look what dumbasses we are" strategy works pretty well as far as humor goes.  It’s a good way to blow off some steam.  You see it in Bush’s choice to have an impersonator there this weekend.  You see it in a lot of Black comedy.  But, as Dave Chappell most famously and most recently discovered, it can backfire on you if your audience is not only "we" but also "they."  Chappell was doing "look what dumbasses we are" comedy that some of his audience experienced as "look what dumbasses they are" comedy.

And, frankly, the "look what dumbasses they are" is the more powerful kind of comedy.  "Look what dumbasses we are" is still based in a lot of love.  "Look what dumbasses they are" doesn’t need love, because even if the things the comedian is saying aren’t factual, they feel True.

Right, so you have Coble responding to exactly what the real issue with the Colbert piece was–that he was up there going on for a long, long time about what dumbasses everyone in the room were, for a long enough time, to a strange enough silence that it felt like he wasn’t saying "look what dumbasses y’all are" because it was funny, but because it is true.

Okay, I’m getting sidetracked.  But when liberals do humor, it’s often based on the idea that the people on the other side of the fence are idiots and therefore they should not be allowed to have power.  But the most effective conservative humor is based on the idea that the other side is a bunch of idiots, but that they’re never going to let the conservatives have power.

So, you don’t actually have two sides rallying against each other, when it comes to humor.  A lot of liberal humor is based on "Wow, look how stupid this is.  Surely we can do better."  But a lot of conservative humor is based on "Wow, look how stupid that is, too bad they won’t let regular joes like us fix it."  Now, you start to see the inherent danger a Republican president faces when he faces a conservative comic, since he’s trying to convince conservative voters that his party is actually fixing things.

Conservative humor is rarely based on a feeling of being in the game.  Liberals joke, but in part because we assume that things will come back around our way.  The best conservative humor assumes that things will never be okay again. 

This historical moment is, for that reason, so fascinating to me.  We have so many powerful institutions in place who are trying to retain their power at a time when such power feels incredibly precarious.  I mean, isn’t this part of the problem the Democrats have?  Everyone knows the Republicans suck and have run the country into the ground on a platform of fear and hate-mongering.  And yet, I don’t know anyone my age who is convinced that the Democrats are really a better option.  Not that they might not be the best option in the short term, but when we’re talking about the long-term health of our country, who’s excited about the Democrats? 

But it’s more than that.  Media outlets are well aware that most people don’t trust them, don’t trust that they’re getting the whole story or even an honest assessment of the part of the story the media is choosing to show.

And look at Hollywood, year after year, complaining about low box office receipts.  Or the music industry whining about the digital revolution. 

On and on there’s this complaint by people who’ve had power that common folks don’t respect that power any more.

My point is that, if you use old lenses like "liberal humor" vs. "conservative humor," in order to judge what humor is effective and funny, you miss the most interesting cultural shift, which is a great deal of ordinary or seemingly ordinary people vs. entrenched power.

 

 

 

 

*Ha, I bet that he’s someone you thought we’d never get back to.