Thursday, March 15, 2012

Not The Point

I keep wondering if it is only my liberal friends, or if it applies to all liberals, but I get a lot of emails and work comments that focus on the (supposed) humor of how ridiculous conservatives are.  Often there is even an explicit comment of "I can't believe Santorum/Gingrich/random evangelical pastor from Podunk/ is saying this!  What are they thinking?" Or more revealing still, a comment about how easy this is going to be to make fun of - that Leno or Colbert are going to have easy pickings.  Knowing smirks are common.

And then nothing.  No follow-through.  No further reasoning is necessary, apparently.

How easy something is to make fun of as a measure of its rightness or wisdom.  Only in high school.  I don't see how it is making the top ten reasons for believing something otherwise.  Lord knows I've got plenty of reasons to leave the Republicans behind, but every time I try I meet one of these brain-dead Democratic arguments at the first corner and have to just sit down and sigh.

It is a specific variety of the general set of arguments of "research showing how stupid conservatives are," and "mind-reading how Republicans have reasons other than what they say," and "evidence that the Right is selfish and evil."  But this might the most important, the crown jewel.  If only we can show that there is something ridiculous about these people then everyone will come over to our side.  It must really strike a chord - how else would Trudeau have stayed in business all these years? (Slight credit.  Trudeau can sometimes make fun of his own, a healthy sign.  But it has strange limitations. Mostly, it's humorous only to his tribe, because it's not much more than sneering.)

Some general rules:
1.  Everything is easy to make fun of.*  Even middle-school kids accomplish it.  Professionals have an ability to do it with that extra flair, twist, and delivery - that last 1% takes talent - but it's still easy.
2.  If someone is trying to be serious, it is extra-easy to make fun of them. 
3.  If sex, food, or money is within fifty meters of the topic, it is easier still.
4.  If your audience already agrees with you, you don't even have to be funny.
5.  I can take the things you hold dear and make fun of them with no effort - funny enough that a group of knuckleheads I select will forward it to each other. (Which isn't funny enough for me to bother, BTW.)
6.  It's not an actual, er, y'know, intellectual argument.

It is not accidental that the conservative NPR-humor is most comfortable is PJ O'Rourke, an ex-liberal whose strength is making fun of people.  I love PJ - I think he brings real observational skill and wisdom to the American scene.  But it's not lost on me that snark is his oeuvre. 

*If you read outside your culture or time period this becomes embarrassingly obvious.  Liberals seem to be prisoners of current events and intellectual fashions.


karrde said...

I'm finding this right now among libertarians.

Anything that smacks of religion (especially from the mouth of a certain guy from Pennsylvania) is derided mercilessly.

The argument is laughter.

At least libertarians tend to not pride themselves on their kindness to the underdog, though they do put high marks on tolerance of alternate social patterns.

Unless the social pattern is that Old Time Religion.

There are legitimate claims that using the power of the Government to encourage certain social behaviors is a version of authoritarianism. (Whether the idea in question is the War on Poverty or the Reverse War To Protect Marriage.)

But discussion gets drowned in a sea of mockery.

Sam L. said...

Well, it is the party line, and it is strictly enforced, and it is all please, sir, may I have another.

Texan99 said...

I so passionately love a sense of the absurd that I have to remind myself all the time that flippancy is not the same as humor. Real humor ought to be equally funny whether it's your ox being gored or not.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

That sort of snarky humor has its place, and takes a certain wit itself. Colbert and Stewart rely too heavily on an audience that largely agrees with them and a cultural slice that prefers that type of humor, but they are really good at what they do, and can be funny anyway.

It is the complete unawareness, not noticing "This wouldn't be all that funny if I turned it around. It draws all of its strength from my audience hating the same things I do" that is the difference. Wicked satire is fine.

Always remember that there were untalented comedians, cartoonists, and satirists that even educated Europeans thought were Really Clever in the 1930's. But they weren't. They merely traded on shared anti-semitism. There's a wonderful book The Good Old Days which records some of that.