Wednesday, April 25, 2012

The Media Research Center's War on Liberal Comedy

Does anyone else remember The 1/2 Hour News Hour, Fox News' short-lived "comedy" show that was billed as the conservative answer to The Daily Show? There are plenty of dismal reviews and embarrassing clips out there—more than enough to justify putting "comedy" in scare quotes—so I won't pile on. I only bring it up because The 1/2 Hour News Hour may be dead, but its spirit lives on.

I'm referring to NewsBusted,[1] a video series produced by the Media Research Center—the same organization responsible for NewsBusters (obviously). Here's a sampling from a recent episode. Highlight the white text to reveal the punchlines, which I've hidden to avoid ruining the surprise. (Disclaimer: You will not be surprised.)
This year Tax Day falls on Tuesday, April 17. Tax Day, or as the half of Americans who pay no federal income tax call it…Obama Christmas.

Democratic advisor Hilary Rosen is under fire for saying Ann Romney, quote, "never worked a day in her life." Hey, if she really never worked a day in her life, Ann Romney would be…endorsing Obama.

Miami Marlins manager Ozzie Guillen was suspended for five games after saying that he loves Fidel Castro. But not to worry, Guillen has just been offered a job in…the Obama administration.
And that's pretty much all it is, ad infinitum. Sometimes they have to take a convoluted route to get there, but invariably the punchline is little more than a lazy reference to some negative stereotype about liberals.[2] The jokes are even less sophisticated than "Why did the chicken cross the road? (To get to the other side)," which at least has the decency to not deliver a punchline at all.

But that's just one front in the MRC's War on Liberal Comedy. While NewsBusted is fighting fire with (attempted) fire, MRC president Brent Bozell is fighting fire with self-righteous anger over fire's stubborn insistence on continuing to exist.

Bozell's columns and blog posts for NewsBusters serve as a handy guide to what you should be outraged about if you lack both perspective and a sense of humor. In January, it was "ABC smutcom 'Modern Family'". Then it was "the bohemian elite at NBC" for failing to protect America from seeing an upraised middle finger during the Super Bowl. Then back to ABC, because somebody told Bozell what GCB stands for.[3]

And then, last week, this:
Come on, Jon. We dare you to prove you are an equal opportunity bigot. Your grotesque stunt displaying a Nativity scene in a vulgar manner to take a jab at Fox News is but the latest in a long line of unacceptable behavior and hypocrisy when it comes to the media’s treatment of traditional Christianity. Doing something similar with the Koran or the Torah is equally offensive. Since you’re so brave to offend Christians, are you equally brave to offend Muslims and Jews? We dare you.

Stewart thought he was being cute when he displayed a manger scene in front of a woman’s genitals to mock those allegedly ignoring the 'war on women.' If he’s such a daring political comedian, he should demonstrate his boldness by performing the same routine, but this time with a Koran and the Torah.

Otherwise he is not only a bigot but also an outright coward.
The amount of silliness on display here is almost overwhelming, so I'm just going to gloss over the question of which part of Jon Stewart's point—that everything has to be a "War" now, and it's getting out of hand, which is rather similar to a point I've made recently—Bozell failed to get. (I have the choices narrowed down to "every part" and "almost every part".)

That still leaves the fact that this is the president of an organization that dedicates its existence to the flagrantly partisan mission of "exposing and combating liberal media bias", and he sees fit to insist on non-partisan joke-telling—all while another division of the same organization produces (attempted) comedy that's substantially more partisan than anything I've ever seen on The Daily Show. It's too bad Bozell doesn't have the slightest ability to appreciate irony, because this is a good one.

1. According to the MRC:
NewsBusted™ is a weekly two-minute MRCTV comedy production that conservatives love and liberals love to hate. Featuring the comedic stylings of Jodi Miller, it is loaded with her irreverent, sarcastic wit and one-liners poking fun at the loony left.
I would take issue with virtually every part of that, up to and including the "weekly" part, as new episodes are actually posted twice a week.
2. Better over-analyzers of comedy than I have attempted to explain why conservatives have so much trouble being funny, but, for what it's worth, I think it's some combination of the following:
– The creators of NewsBusted (and The 1/2 Hour News Hour) are simply not very talented. And it's not helping things that the tendency (often fueled by conservatives themselves) is to look to The Daily Show and The Colbert Report as the standards for "liberal comedy"—I can certainly think of other shows that are a good deal hackier and a good deal more single-mindedly liberal. (Not that NewsBusted compares favorably to Real Time With Bill Maher either, but that's a bar that's a little easier to clear.)
– The best political comedy shows, like The Daily Show and Colbert, put comedy first, and if the collective backgrounds and political leanings of the people involved cause that comedy to have a liberal slant, then so be it. The 1/2 Hour News Hour and NewsBusted put politics first, aiming to be the conservative counterpoint to the liberal version of themselves, which is not something that exists.
– Comedy is fueled by misfortune, and conservatives, almost by definition, have little to complain about. They can make jokes at the expense of those who do have things to complain about, but when your ideology involves telling those same people to stop complaining and learn some responsibility and get a damn job, the jokes tend to come off as more mean-spirited than funny.
3. Of course, he either doesn't realize or doesn't care that neither the "G" nor the "C" are meant to be taken literally:
Time TV critic James Poniewozik protested “I have a hard time believing that anyone will see themselves insulted by GCB: its target is not Christians but phonies.” Not so. There are certainly Christian hypocrites that can make for great grist in entertainment. But this show offers the viewing public no authentic Christians at all.
What else is there to say? Bozell's rebuttal to Poniewozik's point is a restatement of the point he's rebutting. We're through the looking glass.

1 comment:

  1. Jon Stewart has made a lot of the same points. He notes that the line from which he is descended isn't made up of politicians; it's people like George Carlin, Richard Pryor, Lenny Bruce. He does comedy that happens to be liberal, not liberalism that happens to be funny.

    The deadly-serious inanities you quote from Bozell points to a larger problem with conservative "comedy"--far too many conservatives simply have no sense of humor at all. You're quite correct that their, broadly speaking, ideology doesn't lend itself to laughs.

    It's useful, in this respect, to look at comedians who have "switched sides," Dennis Miller being the classic example. Here's a fellow who used to be hysterically funny--thoughtful, intelligent, biting comedy, great timing, the whole package. When he switched to righty, every trace of talent he'd ever displayed seemed to have departed his body as dramatically as if he'd had a stomach flu and his mojo was something he'd just eaten. His work, in what seemed like an instant, became painfully unfunny, and utterly brainless. One expects to find him, in a few years, on some random street corner, telling fart jokes for nickles and dimes.

    James Gregory is another guy whose once-very-funny performances too often came to devolve into ugly rants about how society is in decline, how young people suck, are stupid, shiftless, degenerate, etc. Root canal has far more comedic potential.