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Ellis Weiner

Ellis Weiner

Posted: April 25, 2007 07:28 PM

Why Conservatives Aren't Funny


Okay, but seriously. Why aren't conservatives funny?

I mean on television, where the "conservative" point of view is now represented by Dennis Miller, Fox's Half-Hour News Hour, and Red Eye -- assuming any or all of them are still on the air. I've only seen a little of each and then I stopped watching because, as you know, they're not funny.

We're compelled to ask this because, what with The Daily Show and The Colbert Report and Real Time With Bill Maher spending most of their time making fun of "conservatives," it seems like there's a disproportionate amount of "liberal" humor on TV.

But this is an optical illusion. Stewart and Colbert and Maher aren't "doing liberal humor" and they're not "making fun of conservatives." They're doing political humor by making fun of incumbents, the people currently in power who, until lately, have mostly been Republicans. Next year, when the Democrats take the House, the Senate, and the White House, all those shows will make fun of those incumbents.

But even then, conservatives won't be funny. Why?

There are two reasons. One is that they're not funny. The other is that they're not conservatives. Let's deal with these in reverse order.

If it has accomplished nothing else, the Bush administration has scoured and, so to speak, "cleansed" the right of actual conservatives. These, you will dimly recall, are people who believe in limited government, balanced budgets, fiscal probity, individual rights coupled with personal responsibility, the sanctity of the Constitution, constrained foreign adventurism, and a respect for tradition, knowledge, and common sense.

Oh, go on, laugh. Just pause to shed a tear for the actual conservatives, who as we speak are either quietly drinking themselves into oblivion or, like batty Peggy Noonan (the Ophelia of the right), lovingly assembling posies for the grave of Ronald Reagan and singing songs of nostalgia to the moon. Or deciding that they're "actually libertarians."

W and his gang of merry cutthroats have, for six years, honored conservative principles only in the breach, the ignoring, the flouting, and the rhetorical invocation for purposes of political gain (and financial killings) via the exercise of highest hypocrisy.

Which is to say, there are no conservatives in our current political life. There are only Republicans. And--

Oh, wait. There are "theo-conservatives" like the seriously repellent Dinesh D'Souza, whose prescription for winning the cultural war between the modern liberal West and medieval, fiercely ignorant militant Islam is to suppress or efface everything that is modern and liberal about the West and thus make it more like, and less offensive to, medieval, fiercely ignorant militant Islam.

And, much as we wish we could, we cannot forget our old new friends, the "neo-conservatives," already turning paleo before our eyes: Kristol, Krauthammer, Brooks, Barnes, the Usual Gang of Idiots who take issue, perhaps, with the way things were executed, yes, but who stand by their analyses (however discredited), approve of presidential impeachment for lying about a blow job but not about a war, and who continue, unbloody but unbowed, to avoid acknowledging that they were wrong about everything and that no one should pay them any mind ever again.

Theocratic reactionaries, "We're an empire now" imperialist strutters, war profiteers, uber-patriotic demagogue-bullies, nutbars and loony-tunes of sundry stripe, the bellicose nerds at their basement keyboards, the functional illiterates over at Blogs for Bush and Renew America, deniers of evolution, believers in Satan, the Rapture-ready, and Tom DeLay: Ladies and gentlemen, the Republican Party.

To assist them, they have the services of exactly the kind of spokespersons such people deserve: the neighborhood saloon loudmouth Rush Limbaugh, Sean "The Boston Terrier of Indignation" Hannity, the self-parodying O'Reilly, the vile Coulter, with assorted nudniks like Glenn Beck and Dennis Prager to come in off the bench in case, against all odds, there's a shortfall of teh stoopid. Oh, and Fox News, as dependable as Pravda and easily as accurate, unswerving in its dedication to cheering on Chimpy.

This is what remains of the right after six years of the Bush-Cheney Follies. It's like the end of 'Salem's Lot, where everyone left in town is a vampire. If we must talk about "conservative humor," these are the "conservatives"--liars to a man, only in it for the money, the worst America has to offer. Just ask the world.


And what of the audience? To whom is this "humor," as you call it, pitched?

Well, who is left after the Boschian debacle of the last six years? Which Republican with an ounce of intellectual honesty or a gram of insight, still thinks Bush is worth defending because Nancy Pelosi is the real enemy? What kind of person is still able to get a sincere laugh from Dennis Miller, and not see him as a talented opportunist who outsmarted himself and has ended up like a character from an old Twilight Zone, stranded (by his own scheming) forever on a planet of idiots?

Who, in other words, still cheers for George Bush, unless he or she needs to?

It is a constituency, as John McQuaid rightly pointed out here some weeks ago, that is cosseted and soothed and kept obediently in the fold by "a sense of grievance" that "underlies much of the conservative media."

These are the people who parrot, on cue, the latest talking point that "liberals" are "full of rage" because they "hate America." But all you have to do is tap a Dittohead on the shoulder and you'll hear that something, or everything, has gone "wrong." Things aren't "the way they're supposed to be." Grievance, injustice, the feeling that somewhere (probably "Hollywood") some pampered poof is living high on the hog while we -- the real people, the decent people, God's people -- have to take it on the chin, is the emotional background music to every Red State day.

Of course, this sense of the world changing in threatening ways has been around since--well, the Industrial Revolution, if not the Bronze Age, but never mind. These folks have a beef--rather, a whole stockyard full of beeves -- that the Limbaughs and Hannitys are happy to play to, stimulate, yes, fluff. You don't keep the listeners or move the merch by offering reassurance or adopting the historical view.

Instead, you say, "You're right to be aggrieved. We're aggrieved. Bill O'Reilly rakes in eight figures a year and he's aggrieved. Your kids can barely read. Retirement is a joke. The blacks, the Latinos, the Asians -- they're getting everything. Two days in a hospital will send you to the poorhouse and it'll cost three bucks a gallon to get there. The New York Times is making us lose in Iraq by saying that we're losing in Iraq. The Internet is a nonstop parade of degenerates who aren't married, having sex with each other, or degenerates who are married having sex with animals. Everywhere you look there's godless atheism, which is the worst kind. What we need is for Jack Bauer to kill Michael Moore, because he's fat. But what we get is homo-loving elites sipping mojitos all day and staring at photos of Lindsay Lohan's hoo-hah. And you know who's to blame? After six years of unlimited Republican rule? Liberals."

Or course, it used to be "communists." Or "the Jews." Or "the Negroes." Or the A.C.L.U., the "Feminazis," and on and on. (In Europe it's becoming "the Moslems.") The right-wing Republican, enthralled with his fantasy of being a "rugged individualist," "proud" of his "freedoms," and ready to "stand tall" (and use his "God-given right to own a gun") to "defend America against her enemies," is never so happy as when he's feeling sorry for himself and victimized by one stereotyped group or another.

No wonder Republicans are so bad at political humor. Their leaders and policies have selected, with Darwinian relentlessness, for a rank and file that worships authoritarian power, the strong man, the Big Daddy. (Liberals worship, or pretend to, or think they should, The People.) The Republican audience needs Daddy to be right, the way it needs God to be a Heavenly Father, and they'll close their baby blues to anything that threatens their belief in either proposition.

Whereas political humor, by definition, is anti-power. It makes fun of those in power -- that's what makes it political humor to begin with.

But while Republican comedians may be willing to indulge in some harmless joshing about their political leaders, they ultimately don't want to mock, and thereby kill, Daddy. (Does anyone think a right-wing "humorist" will make fun of Bush the way that Stewart, Letterman, or Conan made fun of Clinton?) They need Daddy to stay alive, and retain his authority, so they can please him. That way, his strength can be theirs.

And not only his strength. If they defend Daddy, it'll pay off. Daddy will give them a job at the Heritage Foundation, either pretending to fix the Iraqi stock exchange or writing lame-brain books (about how great Daddy is) that will be bought, in bulk, by the Heritage Foundation.

Instead, when they're not mocking Mommy (i.e., liberals, and "caring," "hugs," "self-esteem," etc.), they do what nasty children do to make Daddy think they're all grown up: they impugn the sexuality of their target.

Thus, Hillary is a "bitch." John Kerry is "French." John Edwards is "a faggot" or "a Breck girl." There's your Republican humor: sneering cafeteria put-downs from the dumbest jocks in school.

Mind you, these jokes, although visible a mile away and stale when they get here, at least embody a legitimate approach to political humor. ("Legitimate," because making fun of specific people in the opposition can be fruitful, funny, and -- not that these criminals care--intellectually honest.)

But, alas, having established why "conservative" humor isn't conservative, we must now turn our attention why it isn't humorous. In fact, it's embarrassing. Why?

First, because it's in the service of destructive and corrupt lies. It would have us believe that Harry Reid is more dangerous, more villainous, and a worse person, than Dick Cheney. And this is madness.

But never mind that. Instead, note that Republican humor suffers from a crippling, fatal disease.

On the one hand, the Republican kleptocracy literally doesn't care about the difference between truth and propaganda. On the other hand, the loyal foot-soldiers might care, but they can't tell the difference, the poor dears. They have the gift that keeps on taking, yes, the "gift of faith," which means they believe what they're told.

Thus, while good political humor deflates the pretensions of office and mocks authorities in the service of the truth, you have to care about the truth in order to serve it. Which these individuals, both in the leadership and the followership, just so totally don't. Expecting good political humor to come from the right during the Bush administration is like expecting equal representation for Vegans at a chili cook-off.

Instead, all their humor succumbs to the gravitational attraction of the right-wing comedian's love of propaganda and the audience's imbecile prejudice. A joke about Hillary becomes a joke about "liberals." A joke about John Kerry becomes a joke about "liberals." A joke about Joe Biden's reference to Obama as being "clean" becomes a joke about "liberals." And so on. (Read the trolls' comments on this site.)

Republican "comics" can't wait to leap to the higher, broader, and (inevitably) unfunny level of stereotype. To them, amped on grievance and thrilled to make a buck selling it back to the masses, "liberals" is the punch-line.

But no humor can survive on the plateau of propaganda, because all specificity of human behavior has been left behind. Rather, these clowns do little more than exaggerate and mock and make fun of their own two-dimensional, pre-fab creations, which come already defined (to them, to the audience) as being wrong, bad, un-American, etc. There's no tension and no surprise--and where there is no surprise, the laffs perish.

And if their mindset, in its knee-jerk obeisance to mocking stereotypes and promoting hate, is no different from the mindset of the racist or the anti-Semite, well, it's a free country.

Besides, the laugh track finds it funny, and that's what matters, just as Fox News feels gratified and successful when some large percentage of the population believes that Saddam masterminded 9-11, or that Bin Laden had an outpost in Iraq. The rubes have absorbed the talking point: Mission accomplished.

Mocking your own stereotypes is to comedy what masturbation is to sex -- i.e., a simulation in response to something imaginary, and strictly a function of the individual's least exalted, narrowest inner needs. It leads to comedy that's d.o.a. from the start because it was never alive to begin with.

And that's why it's so embarrassing. Who wants to watch these horrible people jerk off?