Sunday, November 8, 2015

Holding Corruption Harmless

It's always bothered me when politicians try to satirize themselves, because it tends to co-opt and take the bite right out of real satire. It was the late Molly Ivins who defined satire as the prime weapon that the powerless have against the powerful. Effective satire always punches up, never down or sideways or inward.

When presidents do it, usually at the White House Correspondents' Dinner, their self-satire has the desired effect of rendering their crimes against humanity into cute little foibles. The audience of sycophants chuckles right along in knowing complicity.  Who can ever forget the laugh riot of mass murderer George W. Bush pretending to peer under his desk in a futile search for WMDs after his misbegotten invasion of Iraq? 

 Then it was Barack "Kill List" Obama yukking it up in the same venue a few years later, warning the singing Jonas Brothers to stay away from his then pre-pubescent daughters lest he decide to aim his Predator drones their way. Bug-splat and pink mist will kill them every time. You'll never see it coming.

When mere presidential wannabes seek campaign laughs to go along with their dark money, they finagle themselves onto Saturday Night Live. It was Donald Trump's turn last night. His appearance was a ratings bonanza for NBC, what with all the buzz that his performance might be interrupted by hecklers calling him a racist.The network news even made itself the news as it showcased protesters gathered outside its own studios, threatening to storm the barricades. Any protester who managed the racist shout-out on live television was promised a $5,000 cash reward by a human rights group. The suspense had built up to a fever pitch by the Trump made his appearance.

And the winner was.... Larry David, in full Bernie Sanders character. As Trump appeared onstage to deliver his monologue, David obligingly appeared in the wings, on camera, right on cue, right on script, to yell out "You're a racist!" And the audience roared with appreciation. And any protest moment was immediately co-opted, any incipient hecklers immediately silenced. They were laughing way too hard. Everybody got in on the joke. It was one entertainer ribbing another. It was an example of sideways satire. No harm, no foul. The show must, and did, go on. And multimillionaire Larry David is $5,000 richer.

And the human slime machine that is Donald Trump was immediately rendered harmless.  

And the winner was.... NBC, with its advertising and ratings bonanza. It might even have managed to recoup its losses after having self-righteously fired Trump from Celebrity Apprentice when he called Latinos entering the United States a bunch of thugs and rapists.

Besides showing that self-directed political satire is usually a dud, the SNL production proved that the long-blurred line between politics and entertainment no longer even exists. It also demonstrated that Trump is an untalented, stiff amateur when it comes to delivering lines which somebody else has written for him. The show would probably have been better if he'd been allowed to do the usual full improv.

Last night's SNL skit of Trump in the Oval Office, immediately post-election, was nothing less than a third-rate modern take on Sinclair Lewis's It Can't Happen Here. That was the story of how fascism comes to America, and how the Corpo Party takes over and everybody is very happy.... for a very short while. So maybe the SNL writers did have something up their sleeve after all when they envisioned Trump changing the national anthem into "It's Yuuuuge!" Maybe they were just attempting to set Trump up, rather than Trump co-opting them in what he thought would be a fun, free campaign ad. But if SNL was also trying to scare or enrage people, they failed miserably. I found myself yawning and nodding off instead of quaking with fright, screaming "racist," or God forbid, laughing.

The reviews have not been kind. The New York Times called it "a stilted and unfunny performance," Salon deemed it "an epic fail," and the Guardian groused that it was "nothing short of torture."

Having Trump on SNL was as if the Weimar Kit Kat Club had showcased Adolf Hitler joking that some of his best friends are Jews and Gypsies, and then having Lotte Lenya screaming at him from offstage in a scripted retort. A good time was had by all, even by the incipient concentration camp denizens. Life is a cabaret, my friend.

 Because if our great American racists and fascists and war criminals can't make fun of themselves, what good is democracy?

The sun will rise and the moon will set. It'll all go on if we're here or not:



Richard Ohio said...

There should be a special place in hell for people who casually turn the suffering of others into jokes and profit. I guess that hell is they themselves think they're important. I do not

Meredith said...

See this brilliant article. Nice antidote to the nausea of snl which I blissfuly missed.

The Case for Bernie Sanders
His critics say he’s not realistic – but they have it backwards
By Matt Taibbi November 3, 2015

RE the media and Bernie. "More than any other politician in recent memory, Bernie Sanders is focused on reality. It's the rest of us who are lost."

Valerie said...

This is a really insightful piece, Karen. By trivializing their mistakes/crimes or the evilness of their message, it allows them to be white washed. When I think of the unimagined suffering caused by Bush's WMD war being just laughed away . . . It just makes me sick.

Karen Garcia said...

Thanks, Valerie.

The mass media's complicity in the crimes of the ruling class boggles the mind. The corruption is truly complete.

That's why, as much as I think that Ben Carson is a detestable fraud of a human being, his calling out the press corps is right on target. If only they'd done such due diligence with the Bush clan.

Jay–Ottawa said...

In the video linked below, Chris Hedges opens his speech with no jokes. In fact, he doesn't even smile once through the whole fifty minutes of his talk. In the Q&A that follows, there are a few crooked smiles, though, to temper his very bold seriousness.

He could only give such a talk to a bunch of scruffy Greens struggling to stay alive in, of all places, Orange County, California. The speech is so radical, harsh and divisive, I probably shouldn't encourage anyone to read it. But if you need an antidote to the jokey Bush, the clownish Trump, the smiley Obama, here's your medicine:

Anonymous said...

Could it be that Trump was offered the SNL slot as compensation for canceling his "Apprentice" show?