By Paul Krueger
During the eight years of his term, George W. Bush was dogged by the barbs of the comedy world. It was stinging stand-up, or animated tomfoolery, or some of the most brilliant and pointed political satire in the history of journalism. Yet those comedians focused not just on the government’s misdeeds, but on the man who committed them. A common perception of the President emerged: a blustering idiot cowboy with a mouth that moved too fast for his hypothetical brain. No matter what he accomplished, no matter who else might have actually been responsible for the scandal du jour, he couldn’t escape that image, and it haunts him to this day.
Fast forward a few years now. Obama’s administration is in its own pot of hot water. The IRS, the NSA, the D-R-O-N-E-S...all of them are pretty heavy malfeasances for a government of the free world to commit, and there’s pretty much no one who can take the bullet for him here. But unlike during the Bush years, there’s a strange phenomenon at work now: there aren’t really bullets flying.
It’s not like there’s a complete dearth of conservative comedians in the mainstream. Notable comedians like Dennis Miller and Adam Carolla have regularly expressed right-wing views in their typically outspoken manner. And every so often there will be an attempt to create a comedic counterpart to something like The Daily Show, although the last one was such a disaster that it doesn’t even need any extra putting down from me. Seriously, its awfulness speaks for itself. But eight years ago, those outside the current power system were attacking the throne with everything they had. Now? They might be, but if they are, it doesn’t seem like they’ve got much.
The right’s answer to this question would be far from concise, but I imagine it would boil itself down to some kind of grumbling about liberal bias in the media. The left’s own explanation would probably be some smug rejoinder about the level of talent conservatives tend to exhibit in this particular field. I myself try to examine the possible factors: is there truly no available talent? (No). Is there no market for it? (Also no). Is Obama some sacred cow? (Conservatives would say no to one and yes to the other). Is there a liberal bias in the media? (Yes, but it’s not nearly as bad as the right makes it out to be, or they’d never get heard at all).
Alf LaMont of the Huffington Post has contemplated this very same question. Among his suggested explanations: comedy is inherently subversive, while conservatism is not. Comedy is somehow more palatable to the lower classes than it is to the upper. And the crème de la crème of partisan bullshit: comedy is an art form based in truth, and the Republicans are just a mean ol’ pack of liars. Suffice it to say, I find these explanations lacking. But even more troubling than LaMont’s apparent lack of brainpower is my own lack of answers.
Maybe some of it lies with the idea that Obama lacks a clearly definable characteristic to mock. After all, right-wing comedians had no trouble turning Bill Clinton into a smooth-talking womanizer--and in a rare show of true bipartisanship, liberal comedians did much the same. Maybe some of it’s because Joe Biden and Hillary Clinton are much easier targets. I’m loathe to point out a problem without suggesting a solution, but I think in this case it’s worth something to even acknowledge that this is a problem in the first place. The low-hanging fruit is to say they shouldn’t have a chance at the mic, or that if they had something worth hearing then we’d hear it, but come on. If we’re gonna wave the First Amendment around like it’s a second flag, then we can do better than that.
For what it’s worth: I lean far enough left that “liberal” falls far short of properly describing my politics. But at times pop culture feels like an echo chamber to me. I say things should be a certain way, the little men inside the teevee agree, and that’s the end of the conversation. The ways in which they agree with me are hilarious things I’ll be reposting as Facebook statuses for years afterwards, but the other side deserves its say, too, if only to piss me off. The issues we face are serious--too serious for only one group to be allowed to joke about it.
Here. Let me, an almost-socialist, start things off.
Your move, right-wing America.