Paul Krassner: Investigative Satirist

Before Paul Krassner becomes obliterated by commercial obits, I thought to bring up a major effort of his to counter the Real/ fake news of the corporate media with Fake/real news of The Realist. By reversing the order I think he expected to expose the defenders of the Empire in the commercial press –especially during the Vietnam days, with a technique, one assume derived from MAD comics, the rise of aggressive comedy in the Eisenhower “golf ball” years of the 50s, following Lenny Bruce’s subjects yet expanded by Krassner’s politically engaged journalism.

Krassner, who died on July 21 at the age of 87, was a child prodigy of the classical violin. In the 1950s he became a staff writer for MAD magazine; in 1959 he began publishing his own satirical magazine, The Realist. He wrote material for Lenny Bruce and edited his biography. Krassner became a stand-up, later founded with others the Yippies, once thought of as the “Youth International Party”

Not in stand-up form, rather in print, The Realist was the purveyor of rumors, satires as journalistic reports & possible perversities as news. Could they disrupt the acceptance of the so-called “truth in print” of the New York Times? Did it jump off the page and enter public discourse?

This process if derived from Stand-up comics is already hobbled.

My understanding of the stand-up as a common sense pusher of cleverness and wit the material has to be satirically superficial else he/she won’t be employed after annoying the audience.

That’s the subject worth discussing especially in the current period where fake news is delivered by the Tweeter in charge while Israeli goons also deliver distortions inside the US so that what we once called “truth telling news” [the facts] are now suspect making sorting out the actual affairs difficult within corporate journalism. Liberal satire tends to reaffirm & reify those in charge.

To be effective Krassner and the Yippies in their multiple personal exploits had to reach their claimed agents of change the youth movement. The medium of delivery was the ideologically constructed media designed to maintain the systems myth-truth objects. This is more than McLuhan’s description of the medium is the message, rather a materialist one: Who owns the damn thing?

These attractive Yippy media events, more accurately described as “disruptive spectacles” were provocative yet they had no control of the interpretation. Did the Yippies discuss the potential kick back/reversal of fake news and media oriented spectacles? I am not objecting to “disruptive spectacles” rather that there needs be a clarification in the act itself and a follow up to explain its ramifications before their reception is inevitably distorted by the bourgoeis press.

In the swamp of advertising and commercialization of objects, people and ideas a reversal of a story/image is insufficient—they say: All the news that’s fit to print, you print all the scatological material possible.

US journalists are taught to collect “Just the facts Ma’am,” as the corporate press declares objectivity. Meanwhile a comparative reader of a number of newspapers can discover the flexibility of the truth as so too historiographers describe the changing interpretations of political social and economic events. A little bit of history could do the job of turning common sense, pragmatic assumptions into yet another interpretation of the “truth is self evident.”

What is difficult to include in the usual journalistic linear logical deconstruction is the irrationality (contradictions) in many government political proposals and actions. Searching for a means to include the irrational without using the word/idea dialectical is sort in the US; the choices are the comic vehicles of satire and parody. The popular addiction in this case, isn’t only the insistence of drugs as liberation rather the over determined use of comedy.

Spectacle as News

The San Francisco Diggers who preceded the Yippies–were hardly provocateurs rather cultural anarcho performers who ran off the stage to declare life is theatre. While more focused on exposing the fakeness of the hippie or radical movement the traditional anarchist position, indirectly defaming left radicals as well. Emmett Grogan and Peter Berg plus numerous others presented various activities in the Height Asbury providing spectacles –parades – calling for the “Death of Money” pointed at hip merchants, or the “Death of Hip.” Such efforts were already passé, when the do good ‘gang-sterist’ (bending the misdemeanor laws) provided hippies with Free food, Free cloths, Free City all the by products of waste & excess consumption. The Salvation Army and the Churches were competing for souls with free food and social services – first a few prayers. Yet this part of their history led to another leap into space, after Berg attended an environmental conference in Stockholm the best of the Diggers morphed into ecologically knowledgeable river restoration experts.

Although neither group/gang/affinity group was a political party the general focus of the Yippies was national, anti US war in Vietnam and left oriented. Hoffman from SNICC, Rubin from VDC and Berkeley politics, Krassner from, “The Violin at 6?” What were his politics? In the first 1959 Realist: “I am a human being if anything an individualist.” Were his views like Lenny Bruce’s the commercial nightclub comedian? Mostly psychedelic drugs rather than hard ones — as Krassner also joined the stand ups, like Mort Sahl, Dick Gregory, simultaneously an improvisational theatre group emerged in Chicago, that spread across the country: The Compass opened with a skit ‘How to beat the tax man.” 1950s.

My understanding is yes you can use popular forms to work with, as radical critical tools, if you break them open, find the kernel discard the rest, and move to an improved argument. Krassner when he began with satire rather than ending his reported find with a satirical funny turn, produced memorable disruptions.

What ever form or approach is used we still are sorting out notions of truth – in print and performance. Slavoj Zizek, no slouch at humor, has written books on “truth-texts” – The Plague of Fantasies is one of many.

In an earlier decade Brecht addressed the matter of truth and the role of the writer.

“Five Difficulties in Writing the Truth”

Whoever wants to fight lies and ignorance today, who ever wants to speak the truth must surmount at lest five difficulties. He must have the courage to speak the truth when it is everywhere stifled, the intelligence to recognize it when it is everywhere hidden; the art to make it manageable like a weapon; the judgement to choose who will know how to make it effective and finally enough guile to make them understand it.

These difficulties are great for those who write under fascism; they are also very real for those who were exiled or who fled and even for those who write under the regime of bourgeois liberty.

Bertolt Brecht In Exile 1935

Coda: All bets are off when addressing Ecological Climate extremes: satire, parody, clever wits, sexual and drug jokes hardly apply & common sense is an obstacle to understanding. There is humor in nature and wonders in science — it takes study and patience.

R.G. Davis after years in radical theatre: SFMT founder/director, Bertolt Brecht and Dario Fo productions he returned to the Universities (more than 6) to study Ecology.


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R.G.Davis directed Brecht’s Exception and the Rule 1965 again in Australia 1972. Directed US premier of Brecht’s Turandot or Congress of Whitewashers 1969. Founded Epic West Center for the Study of Bertolt Brecht and Epic Theatre, in Berkeley 1975 -1980. Produced Messingkauf Dialogues Directed by Carl Weber at Epic West.

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