The Campaign Spot

Election-driven news and views . . . by Jim Geraghty.

You Can’t Build Up and Mock at the Same Time


Also in today’s Jolt is a long — some would say, meandering – series of thoughts on the nature of satire and conservative efforts to influence the culture at a time of cultural fragmentation:

At the heart of satire is the notion that you’re poking fun at someone or something that is held in high regard, but really shouldn’t be. The satirist is usually saying ‘the emperor has no clothes,’ but for that to work, the audience has to believe that A) the emperor indeed has no clothes and B) that they always knew that the emperor had no clothes.

I wonder if it’s getting harder to do satire because we just don’t hold many people or institutions in high regard anymore. Or perhaps the only people or institutions that are still held in high regard are ones that you really would have second thoughts about poking fun at – our men and women in uniform, charities, etc.

The problem is that the satirical worldview can drift towards nihilism – you’re constantly tearing down, you’re not building up. You can’t really have positive satire. You can’t build up and mock at the same time.

The big guns of modern satire today are Jon Stewart’s Daily Show, the Colbert Report, and the Onion, and we can argue whether they’ve pulled their punches on Obama or whether they’ve grown constrained by political correctness. I’d defy any fair-minded student of modern comedy to dispute that a lazy, predictable, knee-jerk inclination to ridiculing anyone on the Right has permeated most of what Hollywood deems funny. I recall seeing some joke about Callista Gingrich’s haircut on one of the NBC sitcoms from this fall, and thinking… really? Really? That’s the freshest, best joke the writers can come up with at that moment? Newt Gingrich had been out of the race for six months, and I wonder how many viewers even remembered what Callista Gingrich’s hair looked like. And putting aside whatever you think of Newt, what did Callista Gingrich ever do to warrant making her a target of mockery? Really, the hair? That’s it?

Anyway, with offerings like this, it’s not surprising conservatives feel alienated from most pop culture. And some folks think that’s holding us back. Kurt Schlicter recently asked us to do something very difficult and painful: watch HBO’s series, “Girls.”

There’s plenty about Girls to annoy conservatives, yet this often creepy, usually skeevy, critically-acclaimed HBO series is also a test for conservatives.

Will we finally heed Andrew Breitbart’s warnings about the importance of taking pop culture seriously or just keep fiddling as the culture burns?

If conservatives are going to be in the popular culture – and act to change it – they can’t simply ignore shows like Girls that capture the zeitgeist, even if the zeitgeist makes their skin crawl. Season two is well under way, and conservatives need to participate in the discussion…

You can watch nothing but ABC Family (assuming that’s still a thing – is it still a thing?) and you may never again see anything that will offend or annoy or bother you. But by not participating, you miss the larger discussions that pop cultural events outside your safety sphere spawn. You cede the culture to the liberals, and we’ve seen how that’s played out.

You can’t talk about Girls at the water cooler with the rest of the office if you haven’t watched it, and if you aren’t part of the discussion you aren’t injecting and modeling the conservative ideas and values that we need to advance.

A lot of conservatives have responded to the defeats of 2012 with the slogan of “culture, culture, culture.”  But one of the challenges of this effort will be that, with 500 channels and oodles more options on the Internet, we don’t have much of a unified popular culture anymore. The splintering and fragmenting offerings are eroding the common frame of reference. In the coming years, the Right may end up building fantastic cultural offerings – and yet people may not come, because they have already found their niche cultural offerings.

Tying this back to my earlier point about satire, think of the times we’ve seen Jay Leno make a joke about some story that’s big on the political blogs or back in Washington, and the studio audience just titters nervously. They didn’t hear about the story, and so they don’t get the joke; Leno usually pivots back to “boy, Americans are getting so fat” jokes.

Tags: Culture


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