“Man, it’s hard doing comedy”.
What? That was Chris Rock on January 12th talking with Stephen Colbert.
Two of America’s funniest comedians were struck silent by the infamy at the U.S. Capitol days before. Seth Meyers and Jimmy Fallon were similarly muted that week. Apart from a few jabs at the ‘MAGA monsters’, our energized comedy geniuses whose wit carried us through the shock and depression of the past 5 years collapsed that week. Michael Moore’s long, sad homily left me feeling he might resign from a brilliant career in political parody.
Unarguably those mobs crawling up the walls of the Capitol and violating the inner chambers of American democracy are no joking matter. But comedians always find a way to make horrifying political stuff funny. Their job is to carry us over, to raise our spirits.
Like millions of others, I was enraptured by Sarah Cooper’s lip-synching clips. But not everyone was amused by the endless jabs at Mr. 45 and at the so-called Trumpers. In fact, a good portion of the U.S. public seethed all through those 4-plus years of late-night comedians outdoing one another for high ratings.
We who chuckled self-satisfyingly should recognize how much of political humor is ridicule. And ridicule is not perceived as funny by its targets. It hurts. It’s a kind of bullying, like youngsters attacking another child in their class. Underlying ridicule is an elitist and racist message, e.g. “It’s not just that you’re wrong or different; it’s that we’re superior”
How ridicule damages teenagers is widely recognized. In adults, ridicule evokes distaste and an urge for revenge– political revenge. Ridicule that demonizes and belittles a hero or putative leader insults; in this case it offends Republicans– common citizens and party officials alike. Many of those 74 million Trump voters on Nov. 3rd were affronted, listening day-upon-day, year- after-year, to ridicule from smug, smarmy comics.
Feeding those verbal attacks were liberal media pundits’ portrayals of Republican voters as non-college educated citizens living in rural America, what was once derisively called ‘the sticks’, that carries the stigma of uncouth poor. How distorted that image is was spelled out years ago by the celebrated Black author Ta-Nehasi Coates. He doesn’t dispute that Trump supporters were (are) overwhelmingly white, but he draws on studies showing their economic and educational character is far from homogeneous, and misjudged.
“The utter contempt with which privileged Eastern liberals such as myself discuss red-state, gun-country, working class Americans as ridiculous morons and rubes is largely responsible for the upswell of rage and contempt and desire to pull down the temple that we are seeing now”. (That from the now deceased CNN host Anthony Bourdain quoted by Coates in that article–an assessment as true in 2017 as it is today.)
I reside in a Republican-dominated district in upstate NY. Most of my neighbors—small business people, members of municipal committees, bank clerks, and builders—who, although they don’t hide their political affiliation, are rather gentle in their dealings with incoming ‘Eastern liberals’. Nevertheless, they deeply feel those newcomers’ resentment and the bias of the liberal press to which they’re so attached.
I’ve written here before how being an activist Democrat and an early migrant from the city, I find myself hanging with recent Democrat arrivals who think of themselves as mild and genteel. They fear “Trumpers” and they can sometimes become very un-genteel, liberally applying the term Nazi to excavators, clerks and housepainters, assuming they’re all ill-informed devotees of Fox News. Political conversations in liberal neighborhoods like ours were dominated by quotes from (ex) President Trump, largely filtered through late-night comedy skits. Yet, when asked the names of state assembly members and senators, or local laws and policy concerns, there’s astonishing ignorance.
Most troubling, as our genteel liberals grew to really hate Trump, that feeling swelled to apply any of his followers, including Republican neighbors they likely never talked with. Not unexpectedly, Democrats’ promises to initiate cross-Party dialogue didn’t materialize, as far as I’m aware.
Going forward in Trump’s absence means that contempt towards him disappears from the front pages of our press. But I fear that the scorn for his supporters, millions of committed Republicans, may persist.
To return to Jan. 6th, that day of shame, Ralph Nader wrote how “Published warnings about Trump’s interest in insurrection were largely unheeded …even by the independent progressive media… too satisfied with reporting on his outrageous behavior and tweets, and too pleased with how easy a subject Trump was for derision. (my italics). Today, let’s beware of the danger of ongoing ridicule from our funny liberal comedians.