Shortcuts & Delusions: The State of Satire
Shortcuts & Delusions first, and possibly last, intern ever, Ajit Matharu, has chosen, as his capstone project that is required for formal completion of his internship, to analyze and critique the current state of American political satire (as far as Shortcuts’ fiduciary and financial solvency is concerned, the conclusion of Ajit’s internship could not come any sooner; most of you out there in the S & D fan club have no idea how expensive it actually is to host an unpaid internship…it is actually cheaper to hire Ajit for a full time salaried position with Shortcuts than absorb all the costs associated with an unpaid internship). Ajit’s essay is below.
“A Short Reflection on Satire Today”
My internship at Being Libertarian is going well so far…If I put together enough words that make some sort of sense, Dillon tosses me either three biscotti or one Mint Milano, my choice! Getting hungry, so here we go:
When South Park creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker claim they’re at a loss for how to go about satirizing the current state of affairs in Washington, who do the rest of us turn to? It’s kind of like Steven Hawking staring at a chalkboard full of cutting edge quantum mechanics calculations and going ”(beep boop)…well…(boop)…shit” while slumping in his chair a bit more than usual. Satirists, just like the physicists would be, are worried as they try to push their craft forward.
And at the same time, they’re not. The Donald, Mikey P., Ol’ Baconface Bannon and Sean Spicerack have provided Saturday Night Live with enough material to resurrect their ratings to a 22 year high. Not only did they provide them with the material, they essentially handed it to them on a tacky, Trump-branded silver platter, with no signs of stopping anytime soon. Great for SNL, Melissa McCarthy and, of course, Alec Baldwin, who have both delivered spot on, crowd pleasing performances.
But how good is it really? Is SNL really pushing the bounds of satire? Is the art form itself advancing and growing? If you have trouble telling apart the production notes for an SNL sketch and notes on what actually transpired in the real world…what room is left for artistry? As Dillon (Editor’s Note: That’s Mr. Eliassen to you, Ajit!) pointed out in the drawing room, there is something to be said for subtlety and nuance…something which is hard to lay over subjects such as POTUS, FLOTUS, and let’s throw in SCOTUS to hit the Rule of Three. There is no attempt whatsoever at any sort of nuance, let alone subtlety. In this light, it’s understandable that SNL goes about their sketches the way they do; the material spewing plentifully from the nation’s highest office is just too good to pass up in favor of “smarter” humor. How much can you polish a Trump turd, anyway? Better just let it be a turd, emphasize it’s a turd, and let it be funny on its own, with just a dash of late night TV flare added here and there.
So, what are we left with? Decent television, a garbage administration, and barely being able to tell the difference. How much progress has really been made through today’s satire of President Trump, and his voters and lackeys? Time will tell…but if the reality of the Trump administration doesn’t show you what a shit show it is, I have little hope that SNL will convince you.
I’d like to expound a bit on Ajit’s position. He’s correct in pointing out that ridiculing the Trump Administration is a waste of time since almost every thing they say and do makes them look like fools. It’s not as though SNL is shining a light on a well-kept secret; everyone is aware that Trump et al. are a collection of red ass baboons. However, there are a few writers who are trying to write with something resembling intellectual analysis, at least as far as criticism of comedy is concerned.
There’s this article at the AV Club with the following excerpt: “Casting Rosie O’Donnell as Steve Bannon is the comedy equivalent of a fairly obvious and easily deflected jab to the face, whereas SNL—and the American people—should be going for the sneaky haymaker, ideally aimed right at the president’s tiny dick.” I guess you could call this a think piece; what it probably actually is is an online writer realizing he hasn’t made his weekly quota of articles and just phoning something in real quick.
Then there’s Salon, America’s source for non-hysterical and sober criticism and analysis. This article portrays the mighty power of pranks and “laughtivism”:
“Nineteen years ago a small group of nonviolent, pro-democracy protesters, Otpor, decided to play a public prank on Serbian dictator Slobodan Milosevic. The protesters took an oil barrel, taped a picture of Milosevic to it and set it up in the middle of Belgrade’s largest shopping district. Next to it they placed a baseball bat. They then moved away to a spot where they could anonymously watch what happened next.
As Otpor co-founder Srdja Popovic recounted, “Before long, dozens of shoppers lined the street, each waiting for a chance to take a swing at ‘Milosevic’ — the man so many despised, but whom most were too afraid to criticize.
After 30 minutes the police arrived, but they were at a loss for how to stop the mockery of the dictator. The culprits were nowhere to be seen and those wielding the bat were just innocent shoppers. So the police decided to arrest the barrel. Popovic explained that the image of the two policemen dragging the barrel to their police car went viral: “Milosevic and his cronies became the laughing stock of the nation, and Otpor became a household name.” A small group of students grew to 70,000. Milosevic’s days were numbered.”
That’s right, the downfall of a tyrant began when his effigy was hit by a baseball bat. This is similar to how Rocky IV defeated the Soviet Union and ended the Cold War.
Finally, there’s CNN’s Dean Obeidallah. The title of his piece is “Can SNL Topple the Trump Administration?” In what may perhaps be a brilliant use of irony, Obeidallah does not bother to answer his own question, preferring instead to provide a recap of last week’s episode. He concludes his article with, “So in a time when polls show many Americans distrust the mainstream media, it may just take SNL and comedians to be the voices of reason. Here’s hoping that week after week SNL helps make America laugh again at Trump — and his administration.”
This is all well and good. Political satire can play a role in keeping public figures accountable to the general public, but these writers over-inflating the importance of comedy as a way to keep politicians in the spotlight is counter-productive. Comedy can take on many different forms. Of them is the fictionalization and/or deliberate misinterpretation of facts. But in a political world that has been operating in a post-modern “facts are just opinions anyway, maaaan…” manner for decades, how could comedy influence an already offensively risible situation?
And that’s the way it is, as far as you know.
Photo: Saturday Night Live / NBC