I admit it: I lose my sense of humor in the heat of political discourse, all the time. Ironically, in most other spheres of life, I’m known for being a bit of a cut-up. If you ask my seven-year-old daughter to describe her dad with one word, she’d probably say “funny” (of course, seven-year-olds are “an easy room”). But political discourse makes me mad, and sad, and often sick-to-my-stomach.
On SquareState, a progressive blog dominated by blind ideologues I briefly (and wishfully) tried to promote as an alternative to the unfortunately currently alternativeless Colorado Pols (unfortunately, because Jason Bain, the driving force behind Pols, and probably his anonymous partners as well, are arrogant pricks), I was savaged for cross-posting ”Damned If You Do, Damned If You Don’t: Why Our Tea Party Future Will Be The Left’s Fault“ by people on the left who, faithful mirror images of their counterparts on the right, believe that compromise is evil, extremism is good, and demanding from their party what would ensure their party’s long-term demise is their civic duty; my candidacy, hair-cut, and preference in pizza toppings all brought in as arguments to prove why I am both wrong and evil (okay, only my candidacy, but the other two might as well have been for all the relevance of some of the responses). To my immense discredit, I don’t just disregard, or laugh off, these absurd Glenn-Becks-of-the-left, but instead engage them, respond to their nonsense, and, by doing so, let them drag me down into the gutter along with them.
But the truth is, despite all that is at stake, and the consequential significance of current political and ideological trends, there’s no denying that a nation in which one of the most reported on U.S. senatorial candidates starts a campaign ad with “I am not a witch,” and in which the Tea Party Nation in early October cited Campbell’s new halal soups as proof that Shari’a law is infiltrating the United States, is a knee-slappingly funny nation…, though tragically so.
The November 1 issue of Time Magazine includes an excellent article on Jon Stewart and Stephen Cobert, two Comedy Central political satirists who compete with, and highlight, the hilarious reality of modern American political discourse. Cobert, for instance, took Tea Party Nation’s absurdity to the next step, suggesting (in character) that it’s no coincidence that bananas are crescent shaped. Stewart’s “cruelly accurate” parodies of Glenn Beck are hysterical, because they’re true (http://www.thedailyshow.com/watch/thu-march-18-2010/conservative-libertarian).
The article discusses the difficult line Stewart and Cobert tread between comedy and commentary, remaining funny while remaining incisive and relevant. The article also discusses the competition these satirists face from current American political reality, the latter often being more absurd than anything they can invent. Stewart can often just play an authentic newsclip and make a face to receive raucus laughter in response, the joke having already been made for him.
The combination of humor and sincerity, of recognizing absurdity and shining a spotlight on it, so that we can, hopefully, laugh our way to sanity and moderation, may be the most significant contribution to raising the quality of American public discourse that exists today. Cobert’s reference to “truthiness,” the belief that what one feels in their gut is more important than objective reality, draws attention to a real, and tragic, absurdity dominating a broad swath of public discourse. It isn’t just humor; it’s an attempt to interject profound rationality into a profoundly irrational national dialogue.
Let’s all take a deep breath, laugh at ourselves, and scrub the humor of the tragedy, recommitting to being reasonable, and light-hearted, people of goodwill, doing the best we can. We don’t need to privilege the paranoid ravings of a Glenn Beck (or his blogosphere counterparts on the left), or the incredible ingnorance of a Christine O’Donnell. We just need to laugh at ourselves, and then build on the humility that that engenders.