More often than not comedy is about gender. This is because comedy began as a wedding festival that made men and women laugh at themselves...at how society regulates the way male and female are forced to get along.
My generation misunderstood a social philosopher named Lenny Bruce who busied himself dissecting America's sacred cows during the free hours he enjoyed between arrests. Since then, ill-tempered viciousness for its own sake has entered American comedy. America's insult king, Don Rickles, had a cheap put-down for every occasion. Joan Rivers picked up Rickles' theme, but put comedy back on track redefining gender. Unfortunately, her jokes about her husband, Edgar, may have resulted in the poor man's suicide.
Well yesterday some slime-oid in Tennessee compared Michelle Obama to a chimpanzee. I don't remember his name, but he is genuinely a racist. Still such a comparison would have been small fry for Mr. Rickles or Mrs Rivers both of whom could have (and happily would have) humiliated St. Theresa just for the vicious sport of the thing.
Michelle Obama is not alone. In the age of cable, comedic attacks on women and womanhood are escalating. Emerging from modern American comedy is a bold new contest which pits scientific obnoxiousness against all simpler practices. Much of this unseemly crud is focused on women.
Enter the duality of the D-List's Kathy Griffin and Sarah Palin. This is really a contrast between a practiced urban snarl born of prime-time TV versus the family values 'you betcha' idiocy that plays best on daytime soap operas or sound-bite national leadership campaigns. Please notice that the parties locked in this binary opposition are women. Women watch most TV. Disturbingly, women are tearing themselves down or blowing themselves apart as America watches.
Those of us who love Maureen Dowd for the metaphysical conceits of her epigrammatic Swiftian op-eds feel itchy and uncomfortable with the intensification of this electronic gross-out contest. This is not Frank Zappa taking you to a free place beyond taste. At its simplest it's a witch-fight over attention by extremely articulate or fairly photogenic media cows. There is nothing sacred here, certainly not Michelle Obama.
Yesterday was a case in point. Kathy Griffin, of course, is intelligent, cunning and devoid of human warmth. She has developed an attack-dog humor to protect herself from demons we can only imagine.
In her struggle to stay current she claims, among other things, to be Tiger Wood's 16th mistress; pregnant with his child. But since Woods' painful and embarrassing apology has made him old news, Griffin has returned to baiting Simple Sarah, the media gift that keeps giving. Griffin visited Wasilla Alaska this week leaving invitations at the Palin house to attend the taping of her show. Levi Johnson is Bristol Palin's child's deadbeat, a 19 year old 'man' who wrote a tell-all instant book about his lover's family. Now he has now turned playgirl model and accompanies Ms. Griffin to various award shows. Johnson joined Griffin to tape the Anchorage show.
Unfortunately, Sarah was elsewhere. Calgary is the home of Canada's small-but-strong Republican community. These people do not believe in climate change, pollution, or the sinister influence of big oil. They believe in horses, cattle and big money. They respect whatever it takes to get them. What it has taken so far includes a man-made lake -the largest on earth- of carcinogenic petro-chemicals that can be seen from space. Gradually this dirty petroleum residue is poisoning the residents of Fort McMurray, Alberta. 'Yes,' they say, 'that may be true, but you don't get an omelet unless you break an egg. Anyway,' they say 'we'll clean it once the petro-dollars start rolling back in.'
To these C&W geniuses, Sarah Palin came and sang a song of energy independence, redneck values, and Alaskan-Canadian solidarity. She emphasized her northern ancestry (two Canadian bootlegging grandfathers). It played very well and that suggests that Sarah still retains her hockey-mom cachet among moose-loving rednecks.
This is vital information since she's currently flogging a family reality show to TV executives. One test of the show's feasibility will be the success or failure of Bristol Palin's upcoming guest-spot on The Secret Life of American Teenagers. The drawing power of Bristol's teenage single-mom saga is nearly as large as the drawing power of Sarah's handicapped child or of her village-idiot-to-national-brand Cinderella story. The fact that Sarah can command conservative attention internationally promises great things to TV executives who really don't want to spend millions of dollars developing some new high-brow entertainment for HBO. That's too much work. It requires real skill and real imagination and you have to talk to a bunch of know-it-all writers who always make you feel bad.
How much easier it is to dig a new basement in American tabloid consciousness and serve them what they want, especially since it's already-made by the foul-mouthed and the feeble minded. Women watch more TV than men. Let's give women back to women through TV: Oprah, the L-word, hunks like Levi Johnson and idiots like Bristol and her mom will redefine American womanhood until it sticks like Cheese Whiz and glistens like Orange Tang. Let's get Kathy Griffin to help out. She's hungry. She can be bought.
No one needs women like Michelle Obama any more. They're too difficult. They have real opinions and even principles. They don't let their daughters watch TV and they can't ever be bought. What America needs is an ersatz womanhood that can be molded and shaped whenever the markets experience a correction or a bump and, by god, that's what TV will give us after they shoot any value left in feminism, process it and sell it back to America as the real thing.
Kathy Griffin or Sarah Palin. You must all choose now.