Paddy: Somewhere, somehow, my mind was furnished with this interesting anecdote from someone who had once participated in the great Soviet experiment: during the cold, grey decades of the mid-20th century, they, and everyone they knew, would get their fill of current events and politics in the comedy club, and for laughs they would tune into the news.
Not because the world’s ills brought mirth, but because the majority of the state-sanctioned output was so obviously… not true (that’s even worse than untrue somehow). This is an interesting account relayed be many defectors and liberated peoples: they knew all along that the state’s apparatus were kept in place by large piles of bullshit. See the weeping and frenzied North Koreans on the day of the
dwarf king’s Dear Leader’s death, and know, in the one place that remains free, they’re laughing. Well, perhaps not laughing, they still have the troops on street corners, the gulags and bloated stomachs. But they’re aware of the absurdity, and internally fight it – a surprisingly optimistic find.
It’s easy for we, legion of the free as we are, to see the stupidity and freakishness of the totalitarian at a glance. It’s harder though, to recognise the convergence of ends.
You see, in the West, the only group that matters – the young – learn about their world from today’s designated funny men. John Olivier, John Stewart, Jimmy Dore and the late Bill Hicks and George Carlin dole/d out far more kicks of reality than Brian Williams, Evan Davis and Davin Esler ever have. (I mean, who the fuck are these clowns anyway?)
The comparison with the USSR is not perfectly aligned – after-all who watches the news in this country? But we’ve reached the point, as a civilization, where the youth go to the practitioners of comedy in order to fulfill their civil duties.
Pole: I can confirm that. I’ve made several attempts to start watching the news regularly, and each time I gave up after about three days in. Not only is it depressing, it’s just repetitive. Quite often I just got angry, and not just the political coverage, but the rest of it: the BREAKING NEWS by-line, the 3D charts, and the lofty tone. So for me, comedians have provided a much-needed alternative. (And, if I wanted to know more there’s always the internet.)
The role of comedians has always been to criticize – to hold up a mirror to us all, to society, and tell us just how fucked up things are. John Oliver is a perfect example. He was able to make news segments on death penalty and abortion laws entertaining without devaluing the important points.
Paddy: Not quite a disagreement, but we seem to have a difference in focus. It’s minor but worth exploring.
My explanation for this shift toward the supposed irreverent has more to do with the uselessness of the mainstream media than the magnetism of comedians. Most journalists are simply not doing their job. They’ve always – the media corporations that is – been servile to power, but now it’s blatant with the likes of the Clinton News Network.
Unpopular ideas can be silenced, and inconvenient facts kept dark, without the need for any official ban. Anyone who has lived long in a foreign country will know of instances of sensational items of news—things which on their own merits would get the big headlines—being kept right out of the British press, not because the Government intervened but because of a general tacit agreement that ‘it wouldn’t do’ to mention that particular fact.
George Orwell, Preface to Animal Farm which, ironically, was censored in the 1940s to keep the Soviet Embassy content
But, following 2008 and the so-called crisis of capitalism (“oh, a crash in a system built on contradiction. What a surprise!”), this fact has become glaringly obvious.
Rarely before have the hacks been seen as the institutionalized sycophants as they do now, when they’re exerting so much in clinging to the collapsing behemoth. They’ll fail in their mission – maintaining the status quo – even if don’t realise it. History has marked the date of capitalism’s demise, and no amount of fear-mongering or disparaging of progressive forces can deter Hegel’s Owl in its acceleration toward the present.
Even though they may have succeeded in terrorizing decent folk away from the embrace of a President Sanders (and, in doing so, giving American fascism – in the form of Trump – the keys to the Union), it’ll soon dawn on the Red Tops just how meaningless they are when the grey tops are dead.
Well, that turned into a bit of a tangent, didn’t it? You better save this thing – tell a joke!
Pole: How do you recognize an Irishman at a cock fighting ring?
He comes with a duck.
I think this is one of the reasons why we’re such good friends. We don’t really disagree, we just look at the same thing from different angles. In other words, we complete each other (insert gay joke).
We both highlighted different aspects of the shift. I think both play an important part here. Yes, the news media has, as you said, failed us. But it is because the comedy shows are able to be both critical and entertaining, that they were able take their place at the forefront of new media.