Monday, October 29, 2007

Politics and comedy--serious business

As someone who is seriously into politics, I think I'm supposed to be appalled at the candidacy of Stephen Colbert. But I don't appear to be. Politics is an awfully funny way to approach a serious business. It's part entertainment, part popularity contest, and part Important Issues. It's theater, at its best and worst.

We often whine about how this is so, the world is now going to hell in a hand basket, the sky is falling, and look longingly to the old days. But a comedian running as president isn't new comedy. Amusing, but not new. Remember Pat Paulsen's various and assorted runs? I have a soft spot for Pat, as he adopted Traverse City, Michigan as his summer abode during his later years.

Comedy and politics are a natural twosome. Something that should be solemn and serious--the fate of the nation--so often becomes trite and amusing when placed in the context of Elect Me. I, along with many others, take it so seriously that we need comedic relief to make it through these long campaigns. Probably more to the point, politicians take themselves so seriously that, as a society, we need someone poking fun at them to illuminate the insanity.

How else can we explain the popularity of Countdown with Keith Olbermann ? Government and politics in the oughts has landed smack in the middle of Farceland. And Keith is there to analyze, react, ridicule when necessary and yell when called for. Marvin Kitman in The Nation said, "What I like about Olbermann as a newscaster is that he makes the evening news look like life itself, very absurd but serious, very angry, very stupid, very silly, very snarky, very much about pop culture."

As Kitman points out, the most invigorating part of Olbermann's show is the Special Comment. During these rare moments, he's dead serious. He doesn't mince words. He never represents opinion as fact. But he doesn't hesitate to cite facts, and cite them in cutting fashion. I remember well the Comment Kitman quotes. It bears repeating:

"I accuse you, Mr. Bush, of lying this country into war. I accuse you of fabricating in the minds of your own people a false implied link between Saddam Hussein and 9/11. I accuse you of firing the generals who told you that the plans for Iraq were disastrously insufficient.... I accuse you of subverting the Constitution, not in some misguided but sincerely motivated struggle to combat terrorists, but to stifle dissent. I accuse you of fomenting fear among your own people, of creating the very terror you claim to have fought. I accuse you of exploiting that unreasoning fear, the natural fear of your own people who just want to live their lives in peace, as a political tool to slander your critics and libel your opponents. I accuse you of handing part of this Republic over to a Vice President who is without conscience and letting him run roughshod over it...."

At the heart of Olbermann's humor sits an intellect capable of seeing both the humor and the heartbreak in our politics, our government, and our current administration. I'm glad to have comedians and journalists who specialize in both around. Though I could use a little less heartbreak from those Republicans . . . .



Blogger Suna said...

Total "me too" on that post. And that quote sums up my feelings on Our President, as well.

We are enjoying Colbert's book. Of course my son opened it immediately to the section with photos of men's balls.

9:35 AM  
Anonymous Cherlin said...

People should read this.

12:55 PM  

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