The Moment of Truth — November 28, 1998

Critique of Pure Velveeta

Hi, welcome to the Moment of Truth, the one moment when the truth has a brief respite from the torture and mutilation inflicted on it by the capitalist media propaganda regime.

Ever since I started bringing you the Moment of Truth, O above-averagely gentle, perceptive and intelligent listener, I’ve had it in the back of my mind to do a piece concerning the issues I will now address this morning. For someone in my position — someone who has set himself up as the conscience of the human species, a lone crusader against past, present and future corporate injustice, a black-flag-flying ninja genius Robin Hood pursuing a courageous and lonely battle of sabotage and graffiti against History and against Leviathan — for one such as myself, the issue I will address today has to be perhaps the central question in the battle for the hearts and minds of a global society at the crossroads of Hope and Catastrophe. The issue I speak of is, of course, the pathetic state of political satire as it manifests itself in mainstream stand-up comedy in these, the United States of Television.

Let me begin by saying this about political satire in US standup comedy: There is none. The last echoes of Lenny Bruce linger only in the diffuse, inconsequential, sporadically anti-imperialist ravings of George Carlin, who seems to have become so embittered by his own realization that his audiences are unlikely to grasp the three-dimensionality of any given political issue that he himself has given up trying to even think about them too hard. The sources of his social analyses seem to be vague feelings of dinosaur hippie outrage evoked by listening to the more inflammatory tracks on his old Stevie Wonder albums.

One grotesque masquerade in this arena is the show Politically Incorrect. Your host, Bill Maher, whose politics fall somewhere between those of Ross Perot and Jay Leno, ends his innocuous monologues at the beginning of each show with the tongue-in-cheek disclaimer: “It’s all been satirized for your protection.” To me this is very telling, this pun/confusion between the words “sanitize” and “satirize”. If you watch the show you’ll notice that any salient point brought up by anyone is generally lost in the pseudo-funny banter of, say, Will Smith or Jason Alexander.

This dynamic is key to understanding the concept of so-called Political Incorrectness in standup comedy and how it serves to defang political discourse and de-educate the viewing public. The message of Maher and other brave souls who want to break the shackles of the tyranny of such powerful media manipulators as minorities and progressive activists is, “oh for god’s sake, don’t get so pissed off, it’s just a joke.” Meaning, “Political humor, like all humor, is basically meaningless entertainment. We make jokes about political issues not for the purposes that Voltaire or Jonathan Swift did: to lash out brilliantly and angrily at the powers that be, to point out graphically the truly sick flaws in contemporary social thinking that we’ve all come to think of as normal. No, we make jokes about political issues to show just how silly they are, to drive home the fact that it’s silly to get all worked up over them, that it’s silly to care, basically, and that the real fools are the people who take social injustice seriously.” In this way Maher’s so-called satire, like all so-called satire in the mainstream media, really does sanitize. It cleans your bathroom bowl while at the same time serving the interests of oppressive corporations such as Disney at the teat of which so-called satirists such as Bill Maher suck… le.

That said, let me defend the man for a second. He’s taken a lot of heat for not having enough women on his show. In his own defense, he says that he books more men on his show because women just aren’t as interested in politics as men are. Now, even though voting statistics and polls would tend to contradict his statement, I have to admit that there really are few if any women out there capable of the kind of sharp political insight and in-depth political analysis possessed by such luminaries as Drew Carey, Donny Osmond, Sinbad and Carrottop. And lest any of you bitchy moralists out there get on my case, let me just say that I saw an episode of Politically Incorrect with Carrottop on it and in his case you really can judge a book by its cover. That’s pretty much the rule on that show, by the way. One real surprise, though, is Fran Drescher, the nasal star of the incredibly stupid Nanny show, who is actually pretty sharp. So much for Bill Maher’s judgment on anything at all.

His delivery annoys me, too. He’s got a similar tick to that of another fake political satirist, Dennis Miller. To illustrate this tick, let me use a line that I wrote that incapsulates the last seven or eight years of political standup; the line is this: “Well, they finally found the smoking gun. Yep. They found a piece of President Clinton’s penis in Monica Lewinsky’s teeth.” That’s pretty much the past eight years of political humor in a nutshell.

Here’s how Dennis Miller would deliver it: “Well, they finally found the smoking gun. Yep. They found a piece of President Clinton’s penis in Monica Lewinsky’s teeth. But, uh… ” He says “But, uh…” after every punchline, it’s so irritating. Watch him some time. Bill Maher takes this tick a step further, he goes into a whole sentence after the punchline. This is him, “Well, ladies and gentlemen, they finally found the smoking gun. Yep. They found a piece of President Clinton’s penis in Monica Lewinsky’s teeth. So, of course, you see…” He does that after every punchline. “To get to the other side, so naturally, dot dot dot.” What’s with this dot dot dot crap? What is that, people? Do they think the audience is gonna go, “Oh, he’s so casual, his punchline comes in the middle of what he’s saying, and it’s so funny that our laughter is making him unable to finish his next thought.” But uh, so, of course naturally … dot dot dot. Oh God.

Now, Dennis Miller. Dennis Miller is really the epitome of fake political satire. Miller comes on with this arrogance that says, God, I am so much smarter than everyone else, I can see through the whole masquerade. Too bad he’s an idiot. I mean he really is simply an incredibly stupid person. The most pathetic thing about political standup on TV is that the only qualification these guys have is that they keep up with the news. The mainstream news. Most comics don’t even bother to read even the National Enquirer, so it falls to any dunce who can get it together to skim the front page of the New York Times for five minutes to be a Political Satirist. And Dennis Miller is the most well-known of this type of idiot. Dennis Miller is Lenny Bruce, not because he has any of the qualities that made Lenny Bruce Lenny Bruce, but by default. Just like if there was no cheese except Velveeta, then Velveeta would be cheese by default.

I saw Dennis Miller on the Tom Snyder show the other day. By the way, Tom Snyder is probably the greatest disservice David Letterman has done the American public and the universe at large. So Dennis Miller is there, talking about how he’s just honest, he’s just so right on, he calls a spade a spade, and he goes, “Like, you’ll read about some thug pushing someone in front of a subway train, and the police shoot him and paralyze him, and he sues the cops for like twenty million dollars. And you just think to yourself, god, I just gotta get on TV this week and explode about this! Cuz Americans are just so neurotic about talking about who’s really at fault.”

Okay, so this is Miller’s social analysis. Criminals are getting away with too much. Cuz of course we’ve all heard about murderers raking in the millions by suing the police, I mean, I’m thinking of going out and murdering someone right now just to cash in on this jackpot, right? Get in on this gravy train. There was just a conference here at N’western at which over seventy people told what it was like being wrongly convicted of murder and awaiting execution on death row for crimes they didn’t commit. Not only did the real killers sometimes get away, not only were the victims’ families deceived by the police and the prosecutors about who was responsible for their loved-ones’ deaths, but innocent people had their lives ruined. Rolando Cruz lost his entire young adulthood. But what makes Dennis Miller’s blood boil? Did this subway incident even really happen?

I love his, “Americans are just so neurotic about talking about who’s really at fault.” I agree. Americans like Dennis Miller seem mentally incapable of admitting that transnational corporations and their lackeys, governments such as ours, are responsible for the vast majority of preventable misery on this planet.

Here’s a funny tidbit that makes MY blood boil, a little tidbit that Dennis Miller apparently missed during his in-depth perusal of USA Today. Have you heard about Pinochet? Agosto Pinochet, the Chilean dictator, who, with the help of the CIA and US corporations, overthrew the elected government of Salvador Allende in the seventies? A lot of people who saw that incident as one of the most tragic events in the history of the fight for social justice were on the edge of their seats this week waiting to hear if the House of Lords in England was going to agree with a lower court that Pinochet had immunity from prosecution for any crimes commited while he was a head-of-state. I mean, such a ruling would have been an embarrassment to the human species, as far as I’m concerned. But they didn’t, the House of Lords said he didn’t have diplomatic immunity or any other kind of immunity. Thank goodness.

But here’s an interesting tidbit that came out of all this. The Cato Institute, a think tank often quoted in the news, has in its employ a fella named Jose Pinera. Pinera sits there in the Cato Institute’s think tank and thinks about how to give all our Social Security money to rich capitalist investors.

But here’s what Larry Birns, who served on the UN Economic Commission for Latin America in Chile, has to say about Pinera: “Pinera was a vital cog in the Pinochet dictatorship’s ability to implement a draconian labor code. It is simply outrageous for the Cato Institute to have him as co-chair of its Social Security privatization effort. This is an example of crime without punishment and reflects the conservative organization’s contempt for the suffering imposed on Chile’s population during the Pinochet era.”

You have to wonder what kind of advice this guy gives concerning privatization. Does he go, like, “If you want to privatize Social Security, what you should do is round up everyone who’s against you, take them to the National Stadium, and execute them without trial.”

But, uh, so, of course, naturally, dot dot dot.

Happy Holidays. Until next time this is mejeffdorchen with the Moment of Truth.