Friday, October 29, 2010

The irony industry
Tom Smith

It's so weird you could almost think it is part of some sort of dialectic; not that I think it really is. Nothing is more clear to anybody who has been within a hundred miles of them that nothing and nobody are more cynical, mercenary, devoid of principle, vain, and narcissistic than show business and the people in it.  Who knows why.  Maybe something to do with it being about the manipulation of illusion by people who are really good at creating it, the amounts of money involved, the saturation with sex.  Who knows.  Thus perhaps it just figures that Stewart and Colbert would figure out a way to cash in on the widespread disgust with politics.  This is like some televangelist figuring out he can really score by selling a revolt against how commercial Christianity has become.  Put Christ Back In Christmas stickers, only $9.99!  

And the people who go to these events?  Presumably you would be somebody who was of course quite aware of the irony of it --this is Stewart and Colbert mocking among other things the cloyingly serious Glenn Beck -- but also presumably not so self aware as to realize that they are the rube extras in a spectacle that is about promoting the weird careers of two highly specialized clowns and their legions of promoters and hangers on.  The man figures out there is money to be made in resentment of the man.  In a way you have to admire it, the con within the con and I suppose we are entitled to enjoy the irony of those who managed to get conned because of their own irony.  But you can hardly blame somebody who sees it all as a sad desecration of a serious place where serious men have done serious things.

Why is it that it is impossible to imagine a conservative Colbert and Stewart?  Maybe because comedy or a certain kind of comedy is nihilistic or can affirm any values at best from an ironic distance.  Conservatives see the city falling and just don't find it all that funny.

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Tom Smith


You are insightful and correct as usual.

Posted by: athena | Oct 29, 2010 6:15:58 PM

Krauthammer's "juvenile leftism" covers it pretty well too.

Posted by: Jonathan | Oct 30, 2010 4:23:08 AM

The Powerline guys peg Stewart's style:

This is the American Left in 2010: They are insular, yet they control the popular culture to such an extent that they do not even make a pretense of defending ideas that most of the country consider radical.

Posted by: Terry | Oct 30, 2010 4:07:54 PM

To answer your two questions:

1) Jobs attract people who want what the jobs have to offer. Investment banking offers only scads of money, and therefore attracts the unusually greedy. Politics offers only power, and therefore attracts the unusually power-hungry. And show business offers only the rapt attention of large crowds, and therefore attracts the unusually vain and narcissistic.

2) Comedy is based on three fundamental components: surprise, recognition and reassurance. The latter is the key to your final question. Although comedy is often described as dark, cruel, or "edgy", it must always, in fact, be reassuring in the end, in order to be successful. (Think of slapstick, for instance: what makes it funny is not the depiction of violence and injury, but rather the absurdly stylized response to it, which reassures the audience that no serious suffering has resulted.)

Political comedy, in particular, must always reassure the audience that their current beliefs are unassailably correct, or the audience will feel too uneasy to laugh. Because liberalism is the prevailing ideology of the establishment, its adherents are capable of being comfortably reassured in their beliefs, whereas conservatives are constantly aware that their views are rejected and even ridiculed by the establishment, and can therefore never feel reassured enough to laugh at their opponents.

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