Satirized for Your Consumption
April 12, 2015 6:13 AM   Subscribe

"We live in an age of satirical excess. If economists were to diagnose it, they might well call it a comedy bubble. We currently have six late-night talk show hosts, all nattily clad, life-of-the-party, white-guy topical jokers—Conan, Kimmel, Fallon, James Corden, Seth Meyers, and (come September) Colbert—to sum up, and send up, our day for us. We have four comedy news-commentary shows—Maher, Larry Wilmore, John Oliver, and (for a little while longer) Stewart—and fake news from SNL’s Weekend Update, The Onion, ClickHole, and several lesser lights. Vines, viral Funny or Die clips, podcasts, Twitter: each new media platform generates stars of its own, ranging from seasoned comedians to everyday office wits—often, people who have no intention of seeking careers as professional humorists. It would be easy to sniff in condescending high-gatekeeper form and talk of the low signal-to-noise ratio of truly funny people to not, but with 280 million active users on Twitter alone, that still leaves a pretty big signal."

"And as often happens with bubbles, it burst. Last year, American satire took one of the stranger turns in its long history of mocking, ridiculing, and joking about our target-rich republic. We’re used to comedians speaking truth to power, to cruelly topical comedy sketches and a steady diet of merciless political cartoons. But in 2014, comedy was stolen from the professional jokesters by their traditional targets and became, unexpectedly, the new language of power, policy, and politics."
posted by josher71 (70 comments total) 26 users marked this as a favorite
 
"At Christmas, The Interview, a lowbrow foreign-policy comedy from Judd Apatow, Seth Rogen, and James Franco, presented the imagined assassination of a sitting foreign leader, North Korea’s Kim Jong-un, as slapstick fare. But as its premiere approached, the film provoked a series of improbable, real-life plot twists that steered it away from an Apatow buddy comedy and into a geopolitical farce owing more to the imagination of a Terry Southern. First came a massive computer hack on the movie’s backer, Sony, which evolved into mysterious terroristic threats on our nation’s theaters. The United States then accused North Korea of the hack and threats, and the Obama White House instituted a new round of sanctions on the rogue dictatorship."

Priceless!
posted by clavdivs at 6:26 AM on April 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


Stewart runs hot and cold. More often than not brilliant, biting satire. Occasionally just a stream of ad hominems and poop jokes.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 6:28 AM on April 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


A really sharp analysis. There is too much satire, and it's deadening. It manifests as cynicism. If you think of the best satirical works—Huck Finn, A Modest Proposal, Dr. Strangelove, to name a few—they're not exactly coming from satire-rich eras, to my mind.
posted by Quilford at 6:33 AM on April 12, 2015 [4 favorites]


The next comedy goldmine?

wait for it

take a beat


tasteless? oh my



Funny I$I$ beheadings!
posted by sammyo at 6:46 AM on April 12, 2015


Your going to behead yourself for money?
posted by clavdivs at 6:51 AM on April 12, 2015 [2 favorites]


I do not understand the point of this article. What is the thesis? That comedy isn't changing the world? Or that it is? Or what? So many words.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 7:03 AM on April 12, 2015 [5 favorites]


Failed talk shows would be an interesting topic. I'm thinking of things like the early 90's "The Dennis Miller Show", with ex-Police guitarist Andy Summers as bandleader. Miller and Summers visibly despised each other, which was the only entertaining thing about the show to me (well,maybe the monologues were still funny instead of family reunion right wing bitter divorced uncle rants).
posted by thelonius at 7:03 AM on April 12, 2015


As an educator, I'm more interested that many of my high school students watch Colbert and others and don't understand that it IS satire.

I also don't get the point of this article.
posted by kinetic at 7:11 AM on April 12, 2015


Hmm, I thought the thesis was roughly "any medium useful for speaking truth to power will be coopted by said power".

I have myself a subthesis, which I'm not sure is in the article itself, that Oliver's longform comedy pieces can still effect change because they aren't one-liners. One-liners worked to speak truth to power in the era of Carson, but now even the few-minutes long pieces of Stewart and Colbert have had their voice coopted.

Everything's just a tool. Comedy is not inherently the province of the powerless.
posted by nat at 7:11 AM on April 12, 2015 [3 favorites]


I think the thesis is that satire is in everyone's toolkit now, even the toolkits of those who were traditionally satirized. Everyone has snark and self-deprecation down. Also the timeline on satire has become so compressed that you can't feel the difference between the event and the satirical response; they come together, and sometimes out of the same mouth.
posted by argybarg at 7:11 AM on April 12, 2015 [14 favorites]


kinetic: what are they missing? Do they not get that Colbert was playing a character? Do they not find it funny?

Or are they simply unfamiliar with the longer tradition of satire?
posted by nat at 7:13 AM on April 12, 2015


I've had students who thought Colbert was for real. They thought it was a conservative comedy show. These are kids who were probably brought up exclusively on Fox News. They kind of get sarcasm, but they don't get satire.
posted by LobsterMitten at 7:16 AM on April 12, 2015 [5 favorites]


I thought the thesis was applying David Foster Wallace's old critique of reflexive irony to the political realm. Not only can't you live in an ironic mode all the time and be sane, but making irony commonplace makes it harder to use against the powers that be, especially when they themselves can get in on the game.
posted by Cash4Lead at 7:21 AM on April 12, 2015 [14 favorites]


Let's face it people, The Interview plain sucked.
posted by ReeMonster at 7:24 AM on April 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


Just curious. Wasn't "Satirized for your protection" a recurring catchphrase or something on Bill Maher's original "Politically Incorrect" show?
posted by Thistledown at 7:34 AM on April 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


As an educator, I'm more interested that many of my high school students watch Colbert and others and don't understand that it IS satire.

I've had students who thought Colbert was for real.


Is that surprising? Satire shifts contexts to reveal assumptions-- it plays with expectations. Those with the least life experience are simply disadvantaged.

I enjoyed this piece immensely. Its criticism of Colbert and take on North Korea is thoroughly reasoned and substantiated.

If it's too long for MeFites to read, I has the sads :(
posted by lazycomputerkids at 7:38 AM on April 12, 2015 [2 favorites]


Wasn't "Satirized for your protection" a recurring catchphrase or something on Bill Maher's original "Politically Incorrect" show?

Yeah, the writer of the article quotes it specifically and the play on it is quite deliberate.
posted by bardophile at 7:39 AM on April 12, 2015


This quote is a major takeaway from the piece, which I think was a really stellar analysis of the current state of national (global?) political discourse:
Fans of political satire tend to think that if only someone dares speak out, something will change, the powerful will flip out, and, faced with a hilarious and unanswerable exposure of their misdeeds, the pols will reverse policy. One need only consult Bush’s own performance at the 2004 Radio and Television Correspondents’ Dinner to disprove that notion. In that monologue, the president turned the truly scandalous nonexistence of WMDs in Saddam Hussein’s Iraq into comedy. Presenting a jokey White House photo album, Bush showed a picture of himself haplessly searching under his Oval Office desk. “Those weapons of mass destruction have got to be here somewhere,” he narrated. If Colbert’s shtick represented a new level in speaking satirical truth to power, so did Bush’s performance of co-opting that same satirical mission—by admitting he was not only wrong about Iraqi WMDs, but utterly incompetent for ever believing they existed.
We've entered a kind of bizarre dystopian era in which satire serves not to unmask power but rather as power's mask. A joke about searching for WMDs under the oval office rug or whatever is all that is necessary to excuse what are, in fact, horrendous, heinous crimes. All you have to do to get away with lies told to orchestrate a war of aggression leading directly to the murder of hundreds of thousands of innocent people is joke your way out of it. The seriousness is instantly dissolved and the people left in the room still filled with earnest moral indignation look like a bunch of fuddy-duddies who don't get the joke.

Nobody likes not getting the joke or people who don't get the joke. Apparently we like them less than mass murdering war criminals? That's the lesson of the 21st century's hyper-simulacrum freakshow.
posted by dis_integration at 7:42 AM on April 12, 2015 [61 favorites]


I appreciated the analysis of Oliver's approach to Net Neutrality: hilarious satire that made the stakes clear, argued for a position, and advocated for a specific form of action. Has the gauntlet been thrown back at you? Don't mourn the death of satire as a weapon: Launch it right the hell back -- with dissecting wit, with clarity, with clear purpose. More of this, please.
posted by MonkeyToes at 7:44 AM on April 12, 2015 [9 favorites]


I think the thesis is that satire is in everyone's toolkit now, even the toolkits of those who were traditionally satirized. Everyone has snark and self-deprecation down.

OK well first of all, no they don't. Many many politicians are incapable of either still. But that said, A. the author seems to be laboring under the impression that Satire isn't intrinsically from a political standpoint. It always has been, ever since Aristophanes took on Socrates. And B. Why is this an issue? The CIA tried to make jokes, everyone made fun of them if they noticed, dot dot dot, BIG BROTHER!...?
posted by Potomac Avenue at 7:45 AM on April 12, 2015


Calling Oliver satire makes little sense to me, it's just political commetary with jokes. Is Chuck Klosterman a satirical music writer?
posted by Potomac Avenue at 7:47 AM on April 12, 2015 [6 favorites]


I thought this article was great. I noticed this big pile of guys in suits making fake sarcastic deadpan jokes about current events was starting to feel like too much and not enough.

I also liked how the article articulated my disappointment with Colbert and Stewart, that at the end of the day it's "just a joke" and nothing changes. What's the point? It's not even all that funny most of the time. Oliver seems different because he's willing to admit that it's not all just a joke and sometimes it's not funny.
posted by bleep at 7:47 AM on April 12, 2015 [5 favorites]


Also,reading this screed in the voice of Jean Ralphio is extremely rewarding.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 7:49 AM on April 12, 2015 [4 favorites]


There goes my, my, Bob Newhart voice over, Thsnk you.

I believe there is nothing left to truly satirize.
posted by clavdivs at 7:53 AM on April 12, 2015


No I dont
posted by clavdivs at 7:54 AM on April 12, 2015 [2 favorites]


These professional comedians working hard to create entertaining and thoughtful responses to politics are, in the end, totally not effecting change in any real, demonstrable way. Whereas? my Minecraft castle? TOTALLY WITHOUT RACISM. #Winning
posted by Potomac Avenue at 7:54 AM on April 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


Potomac Avenue: I don't get your point? What's your thesis? That the article is wrongheaded? Or not? So many words!
posted by dis_integration at 8:10 AM on April 12, 2015 [2 favorites]


kinetic: what are they missing? Do they not get that Colbert was playing a character? Do they not find it funny?

Or are they simply unfamiliar with the longer tradition of satire?


Yeah; they think he's just conservative, which of course I took as an opening to teach them about satire where I force fed them Sedaris' "6 to 8 Black Men," Swift's "A Modest Proposal," Gogol's "The Nose" and Twain's "Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County."

This is why I am a fairly awesomesauce teacher.
posted by kinetic at 8:26 AM on April 12, 2015 [7 favorites]


"We may torture people who disagree with us, we may detain innocent people indefinitely, we may claim the right to assassinate wedding parties anywhere in the world, but at least we can laugh about it."
posted by fredludd at 8:51 AM on April 12, 2015 [2 favorites]


Quando il povero dona al ricco il Diavolo se ne ride?

-Cellini
posted by clavdivs at 9:07 AM on April 12, 2015


How juvenal.
posted by benito.strauss at 9:35 AM on April 12, 2015 [3 favorites]


...]RI·SACRVM
...]NIVS·IVVENALIS
...] COH·[.]·DELMATARVM
II·VIR·QVINQ·FLAMEN
DIVI·VESPASIANI
VOVIT·DEDICAV[...]UE
SVA PEC.

All hoots and hollers.
posted by clavdivs at 9:48 AM on April 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


Comedy = levity. Treat it like leavening in bread, and you get delightful results. But don't try to base your diet on it. (Vegan nutritional yeast pizza, anyone?)

How does anyone have time to watch ALL those nightly shows or follow ALL those twitter accounts? I pick and choose. I'm sure I'm missing out on some great jokes, but oh well. The great ones will come around again.
posted by mantecol at 10:40 AM on April 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


I do not understand the point of this article. What is the thesis? That comedy isn't changing the world? Or that it is? Or what? So many words.

That the capitalist, or neoliberal, or establishmentarian, or whatever current status quo system of power has exhausted, corrupted, and coopted satire, a weapon that the masses once used against elites.
posted by Apocryphon at 10:50 AM on April 12, 2015


I propose a symposia on the brevity of leavening bread!
posted by clavdivs at 10:55 AM on April 12, 2015


Just remembered one of the first stories in the Baffler was about how Henry Rollins was the epitome of everything corrupt about youth culture and the prime example of the pitfalls of selling out because he did a print advertisement for the Gap.
posted by destro at 11:00 AM on April 12, 2015 [3 favorites]


Your going to behead yourself for money?

Make sure you get paid up front.
posted by Greg_Ace at 11:07 AM on April 12, 2015


Let's face it people, The Interview plain sucked.

I think the entire movie was worth it just for Eminem's cameo, which was fucking brilliant. Actually made me start to like Eminem a little.
posted by ovvl at 11:18 AM on April 12, 2015 [2 favorites]


I propose that every time a politician laughs at a satirical analysis of a political situation, they are (publicly or privately) absolving themselves of the ability/responsibility to do anything about it. Laughter in the face of a bad situation is an expression of powerlessness. Which leads me to wonder, who is actually steering the political machine nowadays? Has it morphed into an uncontrollable behemoth?
posted by mantecol at 11:18 AM on April 12, 2015


Eh, this feels like another blind spot exercise that is endemic to the likes of Baffler and n+1: tilt up pretty easy/soft target 'white guys ______' screeds that don't really point up anything new, but are predicated on this failed assumption: that we need another bunch of white guys over here telling us how shit is, man.
posted by 99_ at 11:46 AM on April 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


Hey, I like nutritional yeast pizza.
posted by josher71 at 11:46 AM on April 12, 2015 [2 favorites]


Satire has become a way for people to deaden the terribleness of life in modern America. In a way, it's like drinking or smoking pot. Most people can have a drink or smoke some pot every now and again and be fine. But for some people, the substance becomes a way to avoid dealing with life. That's where we are at with political satire.
posted by wuwei at 11:53 AM on April 12, 2015 [8 favorites]


So what's the answer to the complacency wrought by over-satire? New Sincerity? Whither Jedediah Purdy? Or that dude who said irony was dead after 9/11?
posted by Apocryphon at 11:55 AM on April 12, 2015


Satire is a problem when it is a substitute for collective action to change the system. Ultimately, satire isn't a substitute for political organizing. People have to stop thinking that watching the Daily Show and mocking stupid politicians is enough. Satire insofar as it integrates into a political theory of change is fine. I think the answer to complacency is developing thorough critiques of power and then acting with others to affect the power structure.

TL;DR : develop critique of power, organize around said critique, develop interventions to address ongoing issues, take power, implement the interventions. Modify based on feedback. Repeat.
posted by wuwei at 12:05 PM on April 12, 2015 [3 favorites]


Hence, John Oliver's work is a breath of fresh air. And the article rightfully points out so.
posted by Apocryphon at 12:10 PM on April 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


So what's the answer to the complacency wrought by over-satire?

I would like it if we didn't need satire so much due to being confronted with mind-bending and cruel absurdities on a daily basis.
posted by bleep at 12:15 PM on April 12, 2015 [4 favorites]


"Ultimately, satire isn't a substitute for political organizing. People have to stop thinking that watching..."

Charlie Chaplin, kicked the comedy right of the nazis.
posted by clavdivs at 1:40 PM on April 12, 2015


The problem with sincerity is that the politico-media system has become so transparently corrupt that awful, horrible shit happens, and no longer can the semi-well informed person be ignorant of it. Simultaneously they know there will be no repercussions. You have to laugh in order not to cry.
posted by Ray Walston, Luck Dragon at 2:06 PM on April 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


If earnest and serious becomes the thing or is presumed to be among the youts within the next five years or so, the CIA Twitter feed will reflect that toward the end of year five. Or maybe six.
posted by raysmj at 2:35 PM on April 12, 2015


Also, why not go organize or do actual reporting rather than write more op-ed-ish "think" pieces? Serious question.
posted by raysmj at 2:37 PM on April 12, 2015


Satire abhors a consistent referent.
posted by clavdivs at 3:25 PM on April 12, 2015


Yeah; they think he's just conservative, which of course I took as an opening to teach them about satire where I force fed them Sedaris' "6 to 8 Black Men," Swift's "A Modest Proposal," Gogol's "The Nose" and Twain's "Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County."

I'm not very learned, but it seems clear to me that The Nose is a slice-of-life story.
posted by ersatz at 3:58 PM on April 12, 2015 [2 favorites]


The next comedy goldmine is going to be knock knock jokes, but I dunno backwards or something. Or funny unpunctuated captions on old illuminations. Definitely one of those two things I reckon. There will be a Netflix channel for it.
posted by turbid dahlia at 3:59 PM on April 12, 2015


I'm not very learned, but it seems clear to me that The Nose is a slice-of-life story.

"The Nose" is a satirical short story by Nikolai Gogol. Written between 1835 and 1836, it tells of a St. Petersburg official whose nose leaves his face and develops a life of its own.
posted by kinetic at 4:37 PM on April 12, 2015


whoosh
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 4:38 PM on April 12, 2015 [9 favorites]


People have to stop thinking that watching the Daily Show and mocking stupid politicians is enough.

Good point, but I think it's too late. People are numb from the constant hammering of bad news, of corruption in all the high places we're supposed to respect, of unprovoked bloodshed, of negativity and the sense of hopelessness as racism and discrimination come raging back to the forefront - without penalty, of the open lies that pepper the news every single day and no one bats an eye. So the people who aren't watching Fox or WND or Drudge instead watch comedy in the form of satire and laugh, because things are so far out of control now it's a matter of laughing or crying.

Satire, at least, is honest, in that it's openly extreme and ridiculous. I think people are just too beat up to get the activist spark. What would help, in my opinion, would be an ongoing drive to show what POSITIVE changes, even if they're small ones, are actually happening as a result of activism. Changes that affect people across all cultural levels would be especially encouraging, but any places where attempts to change the law to further marginalize people are blocked, where judges who are on the take are exposed AND removed from office, where those in authority who abuse that authority are called out and their damage undone and they're penalized. Every place and every way active participation in politics is working to stop abuse and further benefits to those who need them the most.

I think most people don't feel there's any point to even trying anymore. It's like whack-a-mole - if you smack down one problem or one crooked politician or discriminatory law, you get three more in your face instantly. Couple that with the police state we're living in and most people just want to keep a low profile.

So we laugh at satire - I do - I love it. My cynicism is fed and I go to bed knowing that at least I'm not the only one who feels the way I do. It's not much, but it's something.
posted by aryma at 4:51 PM on April 12, 2015 [3 favorites]


What would help, in my opinion, would be an ongoing drive to show what POSITIVE changes, even if they're small ones, are actually happening as a result of activism.

So ok, but what would such a channel broadcast the other 23.5 hours/day?
posted by Greg_Ace at 5:32 PM on April 12, 2015


Wait wait, I know - puppies!!!
posted by Greg_Ace at 5:34 PM on April 12, 2015


The Ghost Whisperer.
posted by Spathe Cadet at 5:34 PM on April 12, 2015


I'm not very learned, but it seems clear to me that The Nose is a slice-of-life story.

"The Nose" is a satirical short story by Nikolai Gogol. Written between 1835 and 1836, it tells of a St. Petersburg official whose nose leaves his face and develops a life of its own.


And this, dear friends, is the price us high school teachers pay for spending a good part of our work days clarifying things that should be obvious. We cease to recognize ironic humor. It's a real professional hazard.
posted by bardophile at 6:35 PM on April 12, 2015


It was a bit "on the nose" *wink*
posted by aydeejones at 6:53 PM on April 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


Wait wait, I know - puppies!!!

Sad puppies?
posted by futz at 7:11 PM on April 12, 2015


Satirical puppies.
posted by Greg_Ace at 10:28 PM on April 12, 2015


And this, dear friends, is the price us high school teachers pay for spending a good part of our work days clarifying things that should be obvious. We cease to recognize ironic humor. It's a real professional hazard.

Oh man do I ever feel silly.
posted by kinetic at 2:32 AM on April 13, 2015


Please don't. I'm quite serious about it being a professional hazard.
posted by bardophile at 2:35 AM on April 13, 2015


Stewart runs hot and cold. More often than not brilliant, biting satire. Occasionally just a stream of ad hominems and poop jokes.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 6:28 AM on April 12 [1 favorite +] [!]


Which is the cold part?
posted by chavenet at 3:11 AM on April 13, 2015


This was an intriguing, thought-provoking post -- and hits a theme that seems to be emerging. Gary Trudeau recently wrote an Atlantic op-ed talking about how satire should punch downward. Certainly sections of this piece were spot-on brilliant -- loved the part about Chappelle's satire being misunderstood and misappropriated.

But...

He lost me when trying to portray Colbert's 2006 White House Correspondents' Dinner as a flop, failure, or as merely entertainment.

That bit was transformative. I mean, doesn't anybody remember what it was like before that comedy routine? After 9/11, the obsequious role of the press to presidential authority? Remember when people were asking, after 9/11, if satire were dead? Remember how any criticism of Iraq/Afghanistan was treated like empty left-inspired reflex reaction to a Republican administration? To understand the power of that routine maybe you had to live through 9/11 and the invasion of Iraq and see public discourse devolve the way it did -- that routine made us laugh at George Bush. For the first time. It made him and his administration small. It did strip him of his psychological power.

To assume that satire's target audience is the immediate target of the satire is to grossly misunderstand satire.

Also, to equate Obama's appearances on Colbert or "Between Two Ferns" to the CIA's Twitter feed or GWB's joke about looking for WMDs in is office is also wrong-headed. The CIA and GWB were making fun of how they use government power to kill people. Obama was advocating a program that would help ordinary Americans in the face of an orchestrated propaganda campaign that sought to hurt ordinary Americans on behalf of powerful interests. Obama was punching up. GWB and the CIA punching down.

And while I'm ranting...

Humor is the major key to the performance of contemporary US discourse. I'd argue that's not a bad thing -- or a good thing. It's just a thing. If anybody wants to enter public life, they have to have a sense of humor. And not just to be funny, but to be edgy. The American public is a damn sophisticated audience when it comes to humor. For the most part, we get it. That's why we didn't laugh when Bush made jokes about WMDs. That's why Dennis Miller is cruising the back channels of cable television and Andrew Dice Clay the answer to a trivia question.

Maybe we're migrating away from that -- maybe this piece represents a greater questioning of the saturation of humor in society -- maybe it's the vanguard for a general emerging thirst for earnest content (which would be great for me -- I was earnest before anybody!) -- but humor's just a medium we communicate through, and doesn't mean anything in and of itself....
posted by touchstone033 at 7:24 AM on April 13, 2015 [2 favorites]


The next comedy goldmine is going to be knock knock jokes, but I dunno backwards or something.

Ok. I'll start: "Who's there?"
posted by Smedleyman at 9:46 AM on April 13, 2015 [1 favorite]


NOC-NOC
posted by clavdivs at 5:26 PM on April 13, 2015


No, no. You have to start with "Orange you glad I didn't say 'orange'?"
posted by JaredSeth at 1:01 PM on April 16, 2015


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