Friday, November 19, 2004

Comedy of Errors

I haven’t blogged in a week or so, which is disappointing because I intended this to be a follow up to my discussion of Andrew Sullivan and his rant on Real Time. Not about Chomsky—that horse is way dead—but about the one good point Sullivan made: Bill Maher pokes fun at conservatives.

It’s no surprise that he does so. Maher is a stand up comedian. Sarcasm is his stock in trade. Sullivan lumps Maher in with Michael Moore, which I think is a mistake, because Moore, as a documentary filmmaker, approaches politics from a journalistic perspective (all be it a muck raking one) while Maher is still a comedian.

All this brings up a question for me: why is it that most of the liberal voices in the media, particularly on TV, are comedians? There is no equivalent of a Bill O’Reiley on the left, or a Joe Scarborough. Personally I'm glad there's not another Ann Coulter in the world. One is enough. I suppose Howard Stern or maybe Alex Bennett can be seen as left leaning radio hosts, and Ron Regan and James Carville are on cable, but for the most part the loudest voices on the left—Michael Moore notwithstanding, are comedians: Bill Maher, George Carlin, Whoopi Goldberg, Al Franken, and John Stewart. Not only that, but their commentary, particularly Stewart's, is among the most insightful in politics on either side of the aisle.

But that is just the problem. Stewart is very up front about the fact that his is a comedy show, not a news show. He doesn't want anybody taking it seriously. Being “America’s #1 Fake News Program” is part of the marketing for the Daily Show. This makes his commentary easy to dismiss. He’s just being funny, after all, when he shows President Bush making a gaff or pointing up absurdities in the Iraq war. Nobody needs to take him seriously. Maher is a little bit harder to dismiss, not because he’s more insightful (he isn’t) but because he’s more vicious in his attacks. He’s more angry. He also actually believed that he was making some kind of difference in persuading people to vote for John Kerry. He takes himself seriously (too seriously) as a pundit. But he’s still just a comedian, and it is all showbiz after all.

As far as I know nobody listens to Al Franken.

Nobody can take the left seriously as long as their main spokespeople are comedians. One reason the Republicans won the last election is because they have a firm handle on media manipulation, and a lot of help from the conservative media, especially at Fox Network News. Until the Democrats can find a way to be heard over the roar of misinformation and anger in that format, they will suffer the fate of John Kerry over and over again.


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