Monthly Archives: March 2012

The Mask of Comedy

The audience roared with laughter. Bill scored. One more quote to add to his career. One more verbal crime against humanity.

Bill is an amateur philosopher posing as a comedian. His audiences are ‘liberals’ posing as intellectuals. They give liberals a bad name, just as ‘conservatives’ like Jerry Falwell, posing as ‘men of God’ give conservatives a bad name.

Bill’s ‘joke’ was dead on target: he ridiculed Sarah Palin and her child, Trig, who is afflicted with down syndrome. Surefire for a laugh. No matter that liberals generally claim a monopoly on empathy.

Even in a society saturated with lowlife comedy, Bill’s ‘joke’ sparked controversy. Of course that is to his advantage in a business that demands visibility. Bill, his followers, and a large number of Americans believe that the controversy is an issue of free speech and censorship. Wrong. It is a moral issue.

Free speech notwithstanding, comedians generally use judgment in the selection of their material and the audiences they entertain. The marketplace determines whether or not they make the right choices.

There was a time when comedians and audiences alike were sensitive to the difference between humor and malignity. Bill’s brand is malignity (see my blog, Politically Inadequate, May 8, 2011). Putting aside his fetid taste, I find it morally objectionable for a comedian to prate about politics in the guise of humor. This is especially immoral when it is practiced by an individual who claims to be compassionate.

Many people claim that what is said in jest is not subject to moral judgment. Wrong, again. In the article cited above, I refer to instances on Bill’s former show that ridiculed Ronald Reagan’s Alzheimer’s disease and Robert Dole’s severely disabled arm, a disability he acquired as a result of his service in World War 11. ‘Jokes’ of that kind are generated by hatred, not humor, no matter how loudly the audience laughs. I’ve yet to hear a joke about the holocaust. I hope I never will.

Being fortunate enough to see great comedians through the years, I remember a time when political jokes were leveled against all political parties, with their constituents good-naturedly laughing at themselves along with their political adversaries. Pleasantly surprised, I recently saw the performance of a comedian on TV who achieved the same good-natured stature to which we were all accustomed not too long ago. Far more politically informed than Bill, his humor never descended to the level of hatred disguised as humor. Unfortunately, I haven’t seen him lately so I can’t provide you with his name.

If you have not experienced the performances of Victor Borge and Bill Cosby for classic brands of humor, I suggest you search for them on line. Those comedians didn’t merely ‘crack jokes.’ They were artists. Their political jokes were not inflammatory. Instead, they were designed to relieve us of the tensions of the times. That, after all, is one of the principal functions of comedy. The barbs at roasts were never laced with venom. They were given and taken in good humor and genuinely amused their targets. Audiences never cringed with the expectation of an ad hominid attack in the midst of an honorary celebration.

In contrast, Bill goes for the jugular and calls his TV show Real Time with Bill Maher. ‘Real time’ for whom? His former TV show was titled, Politically Incorrect. There is nothing real or politically incorrect at his core even though he masquerades as an original thinker.

If you have any doubt about what is behind his mask, think about his statement, “Dogs are like retarded children.” One might interpret that statement as an expression of affection for the lovable nature but inferior intelligence of dogs. Taken in context with his remark about Trig’s mother talking to her son as a retarded child, a reversal of the subject words gives us, “Retarded children are like dogs.” That’s a curious view coming from a man who fancies himself an intellectual and empathetic liberal.

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“The lady doth protest too much, methinks.” -Shakespeare

“They want to control how we dress. They want to control how we act. They even control the decision we make about our own health and bodies.”

Are these the words of a woman fighting for freedom from Sharia Law, a woman oppressed by the Taliban? No. Yet, in the reverential tone of a seasoned stateswoman, they were spoken by our Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, at the World Summit at Lincoln Center.

American women are told how they must dress? That statement is as specious as “There was no holocaust”! Her awkward implication that there is parity in American and Muslim dress codes for women is a startling example of disingenuous political practices.

As Secretary of State, Ms. Clinton is not expected to make statements pertaining to domestic matters. Yet, under the guise of global context, she could not resist the temptation to speak words clearly intended for domestic consumption. Her reference to dress was intended to rouse American women against the Republican Party’s opposition to mandatory distribution of contraceptives to religious organizations. Putting aside the issue of church and state, I think it’s important to highlight the underlying intent of her words.

Although voting blocs are a function of democracy, class warfare is a distinctly non-American social interaction. Significant deliberation of major issues is lost in the clamor of politically generated enmity between the young and the old, the rich and the poor and-most damaging-between men and women.

Prior to the 1970s, the female vote was somewhat monolithic and heavily concurred with the male vote. Since the 90s that has taken a huge turn for the better. The election of former President Clinton made it clear that apart from a few perennial gender proclivities, the women’s vote is largely determined by women who vote on politically androgynous issues.

As a result, political parties are intensely competitive for the female vote. Now somewhat blurred, that vote has intensified competition among parties for the female vote at every level of government. Hence, the brief but disingenuous allusion to women’s dress.

There is a humorous side to her choice of venue when she said, “They want to control how we dress.” I wasn’t in the Lincoln Center audience, but I can’t help imagining the diverse and exquisite clothing her adoring fans were wearing while applauding her speech!

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Crocodile Tears

I have a penchant for detecting common factors in apparently unrelated events. Mob violence in celebration of victory following a major league sporting event and Afghanis protesting the burning of sacred books have much in common.

I’ve often witnessed demonstrations in city streets after the hometown team has clinched the World Series. Cars are turned over, fires are ignited, windows shattered, and so on. The same phenomenon occurs at violent political protests. There has to be some reason for the same reaction to two totally disparate events.

I’m sure there have been formal psychological explanations for anonymous violence in the guise of a celebratory emotion, but I think it is merely an excuse to vent pent-up rage that has nothing whatever to do with the team’s victory. The violence is amplified by the exciting sights and sounds of riot and reinforced by the sense of being part of a likeminded mob.

In a far more serious atmosphere of hate, the excuse for violence leads to murder, as in the case of Afghanis purportedly enraged by the burning of sacred books. In this case, as is always the case in repressive societies, the punishment is excessively disproportionate to the perceived or actual offence. Every Afghani woman under Taliban domination knows that. To exacerbate matters, the angered Afghani men had a religious excuse to riot in the streets. You can’t beat that!

Watching them sanctimoniously rail against the desecration of the Koran, burn American flags, and put on a show of outrage, I imagined what their lives were like off-camera: backward misogynists who couldn’t care less about piety.

No, this is not a comment on Islam. Hypocrisy is pandemic. I just find these particular protests unconvincing. 

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