Slate will be contrarian about anything, including, from time to time when they want to rinse out their mouths, contrarianism, so it comes as no surprise that one among them decided to warn us all that the upcoming Jon Stewart / Stephen Colbert political-rally parody event is a bad idea. Writer Timothy Noah is an old who will be having a bunch of youngs staying over at his house to go to this thing, and he is not happy about this! Don’t these children understand that parodying the teevee newscast or parodying the teevee news opinion show is funny, but parodying the political rally as a vehicle for your satire can never be done? Obviously not. But Dr. Comedy Timothy Noah does, and he also knows that you are not allowed to make fun of Teabaggers for being dumb. That sort of thing is mean!
Stewart is a professional comedian, and ridicule is what he does. He is not a political activist, a point he took pains to emphasize in the Fresh Air interview (“My job is to—again, express our point of view comedically”). He is a satirist.
Right. So what is wrong with holding a comedy performance for your fans in the guise of a political rally? This whole thing is sort of confusing. If Noah wanted to establish his authority with these skateboarders who are coming to his house, couldn’t he have just given them some chores and a curfew? No. Instead, Noah will make some weird point about how you are not allowed to make fun of a well-funded mass movement of empowered stupid people who seek to take over the government.
You can argue, as my friend and mentor Charles Peters does, that the ridicule in Stewart’s and Colbert’s satire, like the ridicule in much contemporary popular comedy, carries a screw-those-uneducated-yokels message that you never found in, say, the humor of Will Rogers. Rogers once quipped: “An ignorant person is one who doesn’t know what you have just found out.” At the risk of spoiling a joke by explaining it, Rogers meant: Resist putting on airs. Your urge to judge another man for what he doesn’t know says more about your status anxiety than about his purported ignorance.
Is that what Rogers meant? Well, sort of, we guess?
Mencken, Rogers, Stewart, and Colbert were and are all great performers. But of the four, Rogers is the only one I might follow to a rally on the Mall, because Rogers’ style is the only one that could form the basis of a movement I’d consider following.
Oh no! Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert and Zombie H.L. Mencken (who was, actually, not a performer) will not have very important human being Timothy Noah coming to their rallies! They should just stop their plans now because Timothy Noah would rather watch Zombie Will Rogers yammer out some folksy old-timey witticisms and do some rope tricks, because Rogers, according to Noah, never made fun of dolts who weren’t members of Congress. But Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert and Zombie H.L. Mencken have sometimes made fun of the masses of dolts who get taken in by Congressional dolts. Don’t you see the difference? That second one is mean! NONE OF THESE RALLY KIDS ARE ALLOWED TO BE MEAN TO TEABAGGERS IN TIMOTHY NOAH’S HOUSEHOLD BECAUSE WILL ROGERS NEVER MADE FUN OF TEABAGGERS IN HIS 1910S VAUDEVILLE SHOWS!
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All this works well as humor, but as a sentiment shouted through a bullhorn to thousands stretched between the U.S. Capitol and the Washington Monument, it will translate into, well, judging other people for what they don’t know. It will do so no matter how much everyone laughs. Indeed, the laughter will likely make it worse, because a rally puts its “audience” behind the proscenium; the spectators and the performers are collaborators. A more legitimate (and probably more successful) political impulse would be to try to persuade the unenlightened that you have a better idea.
Oh okay, so there is no point in criticizing people’s politics through humor. You can only criticize them in very direct, serious addresses. And if Stewart and Colbert want to change Teabaggers’ minds (they do?), they have to be very serious and try to reason with the Teabaggers. That’s a very good point! And that’s why Ed Shultz’s rally a few weeks back was such a tremendous success. And that’s why Teabaggers no longer believe Barack Obama is a foreign-born socialist who is ruining their lives with his secret Nazi Kenyan socialist conspiracies. Yep, those two things happened. Trying to reason worked! Teabaggers heard that the gap between rich and poor has been compounding for years and said, “Oh, perhaps we shouldn’t blame all our problems and fears on this one particular black guy who came along.”
There’s still a lot we don’t fully understand about the Tea Partiers and the political independents who have lost faith in Obama. But one thing we should all be pretty clear on by now is that they hate, hate, hate anything that smacks of elitism. The spectacle of affluent 18-to-34-year-olds blanketing the Mall to snicker at jokes about wingnut ignoramuses and Bible thumpers will, I fear, have the effect of a red cape waved before a bull.
Oh, didn’t realize so many “18-to-34-year-olds” are “affluent.” Surely these young adults going to this rally will be affluent. Surely these people all have high-paying jobs and are on secure career-tracks in this great economy of ours. They have no reason to be upset! They are so rich! They have many decades of stable, middle-class suburban lifestyle to look forward to. Noah’s young visitors are staying with him because they love him, not because they are anything other than affluent. Those ruffians could each buy their own hotel if they wanted to. In fact, those young people could probably buy like seven Washington hotels each!
Yes, there’s “still a lot we don’t fully understand about the Teabaggers.” Specifically, how we are not allowed to make fun of a mass movement of people who spurn facts at every turn and are seeking to run this huge country’s complex, modern government on anachronistic sentiment alone. We are supposed to reason with these people who hate reason. And we are not allowed to go to comedy shows on the National Mall that may or may not attempt to give us a release from the anxiety caused by watching a mass movement of idiots (and the obscurantist politicians exploiting them) seek to overturn the Enlightenment and make a country that once thought education was a good thing regress into pure idiocy.
Actually, this “rally” probably will make as many jokes about bears as jokes about Teabaggers, but whatever, the point stands: THOSE DAMN KIDS! [Slate]