Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Lighten Up, America, It’s a JOKE!

“Defining and analyzing humor is a pastime of humorless people,” said the great and very funny Robert Benchley who, as a theater critic and essayist at The New Yorker in the 1930s, literally sat alongside the even greater and funnier Dorothy Parker. One time during a word game, Parker was asked to use the word horticulture in a sentence and she quipped, “You can lead a whore to culture, but you can’t make her think.” It’s a good thing she isn’t around to say something like that now; she’d be tarred and feathered by the defenders of sex workers, the opponents of the cultural elite, and the supporters of Dignity For Plants.

As you no doubt already know, The New Yorker is being vilified for running the cartoon that illustrates this week’s cover of their magazine (and this post), created by New Yorker regular Barry Blitt. Racist! Offensive! Not Funny!, cry the outraged Obama followers. The New Yorker has even been accused of fearing the reality of a black President (that’s funny, too). However, unlike the Islamic extremists who wanted to kill Danish cartoonists who drew caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad in 2005 that they found sacrilegious!, no one is calling for Blitt’s head on a palette – yet. But given the depth of outrage being expressed on the blogosphere and throughout the land, I don’t rule it out.

Never mind that the cartoon is titled “The Politics of Fear” and is intended to satirize the slurs and stupidity that have been hurled at Obama to discredit him. Never mind that The New Yorker has been the standard-bearer of American humor, satire and intellectual sophistication since Benchley, Parker et al held court at The Algonquin Hotel. Politically-correct sensibilities have been insulted and attention must be paid. There was no similar hew and cry when ugly caricatures of Hillary Clinton flooded the Internet, along with souvenir Hillary nutcrackers (just put the nut between her thighs and squeeze). But I guess we must pick our battles.

We’ve not only lost all perspective and common sense in this country, we’ve completely lost our sense of humor, especially about ourselves and anything/anyone we hold dear. Maybe this is another September 11th side effect, like not being able to make terrorist jokes at the airport, or having to pretend that the United States doesn’t have a cultural influence around the world that arouses the ire of people even crazier and more humorless than ourselves. Years ago, during a chat with my [black] father, I said “I believe in calling a spade a spade; oh, I forgot: this is the 90s, you can’t call a spade a spade.” We laughed. Having grown up in the era of All in the Family, Saturday Night Live and Jackie Mason in their irreverent heyday, I find today’s unsmiling propriety deeply depressing.

I also don’t think it’s a coincidence that this American cartoon crisis is happening at the same time that the Japanese are being chastised for a mobile phone commercial that features the company’s monkey mascot as a political candidate advocating change (racist! offensive! not funny!). Never mind that Japanese culture doesn’t have the same racist associations with blacks/monkeys that we do, it’s just not appropriate!!! In another monkey regard, animal advocates in Spain are trying to secure basic human rights for apes. Folks, we’ve lost our minds.

What I find especially interesting about all this humorless crap is that one could regard it as a smokescreen. Almost no one has mentioned the magazine’s very revealing article, “How Chicago Shaped Obama” by Ryan Lizza, which details Obama’s lesser-known political development during the early 90s and the fact that he has been a canny politician with his eyes on the White House for quite some time. I suggest that behaving as if a young, smart, black politician is devoid of the ambition, even ruthlessness, that it takes to become President is what’s really racist and offensive – and naïve. And anyone tough enough to be President should know how to take a joke, even one he doesn’t like, and advise his supporters to do the same.

Which reminds me: a liberal, a conservative and an independent walk into a bar…


Anonymous said...

I'd like to see The New Yorker pick this one up.....do they publish letters from readers??? Very well done! Very funny! A minister, a rabbi and a rabbit walked into a bar....

Anonymous said...

As usual, your comments are literate and thoughtful. I have a couple of observations: The New Yorker says that the coveer is satire. Are they really so elitist that they don't know that too many of us are undereducated when it comes to clear, analytical, and logical thinking? That too many don't 'get' satire? If we could see the damage Bush and Co did in 4 years, how could we believe that Iraq had anything to do with 9/11? How could we mimic the mantra, "Weapons of Mass Destruction" without even knowing what that means? But we did and we did because we were not taught how to think as listed above, clearly, analytically, and logically. As the guy on the radio said, "That Obama says he's not a Muslim. Yet, Harry Talkinghead said he IS a Muslim. Now you tell me why I should vote for a liar like that Obama!"

Also, please don't presume that just because the press hated Hillary and would never print a letter of outrage against her vilification, that no one ever objected to the filth they spewed out about her. That is a bit short-sighted.

Finally, in your ending observation, "anyone tough enough to be President should know how to take a joke,even one he doesn't like, ....." implies that Obama went off into a rage, also. My understanding is that he thought it was in poor taste. I think also that it is dangerous because too many of us do not know what satire is, can't and won't see the truth even if it hits us over the head, because our minds are made up, period. WMD, Iraq masterminded 9/11, etc. They still believe that and they'll always believe the cover of The New Yorker.

One more reason to toss out our educational so-called system and start over again. We lost if we don't do something about our cow-like mentality.

Love, Stardust

MizB said...

Hi, Stardust & thanks -- I agree that our educational system has failed us for a couple of generations now, and that there is an alarming portion of the population that is incapable of critical thought; they can't spell satire, let alone get it. But I balk at any further dumbing-down of our culture and the publications that serve it, especially one as venerable as The New Yorker. There's a TV commercial for the Yellow Pages running at the moment showing a man sweeping his floor with a small, furry dog, and a supra on the screen cautions us: "do not attempt"; similar warnings appear on commercials that show people jumping off high places. If people are stupid enough to set themselves on fire because they saw it in movie, I say give them the matches and pray for their moronic souls. If we have to gauge our language/ideas to the depths of the lowest common denominator, I'll set myself on fire and dive off a high place.

Anonymous said...

I tend to wonder: Was the New Yorker cartoon a skillful satire?

Obviously many readers weren't convinced that a beturbaned Osama -as depicted-was an 'absurdly far-fetched' image. Without such a core conviction, it would of course be doomed to fail in its satirical mission.

As to the "why" of that, the issue of Obama's religious leanings has been a very heated controversial and ongoing issue ..