Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Laughter: The Best Sedative

Apparently, comedy writers are having a tough time satirizing Barack Obama. In the wake of the over-chewed New Yorker cover (decent premise, tame execution), the New York Times asked several late night comedy fixtures about the best way to portray the Senator from Change.

Jon Stewart: "So far, our take is that he’s positioning himself to be on a coin."

Jimmy Kimmel: "His ears should be the focus of the jokes."

Mike Sweeney, Conan O'Brien's head writer: "We’re hoping he picks an idiot as vice president."

Honestly, how hard is this? The main problem is a lack of real political awareness. You'll never see serious political satire on any of these shows, even the sacred "Daily Show," which keeps its jokes well within mainstream guidelines. The corporatization of humor is complete, which is why all these guys are looking for some "clever" commercial hook instead of just going after what is obvious: an African-American with a "non-traditional" name may well be the next president.

American reactionaries have already shown their hand, citing fears about electing a Muslim/militant/gangsta, a dizzy mindset that The New Yorker attempted to lampoon. Then there are the fawning liberals who apparently have no sense of humor about their political hero, which is why Jon Stewart is grasping for an angle. I don't envy him and his writers, given their constraints, but that's what you get when working on American television. You can't upset the consumers whom your sponsors are trying to lull. Attacking political/social reality is pretty much verboten, so writers must create cartoons to mock. So far, no acceptable Obama caricature has emerged. Thus the thrashing about.

The major obstacle is Obama's skin tone, as white writers and comics don't want to appear insensitive or worse. This naturally assumes that there are non-racist white people, which there really aren't. White Americans have long been conditioned to racist images and concepts, and not one of us is immune. When I hear a white person claim that he or she doesn't have a racist bone in their body, I want to scream, "Wigga, please!" We possess plenty, regardless of our denial. This is why many white liberals don't want to laugh at Obama, at least not in public. To do so would destroy their delusions of purity, adding yet another layer of bullshit to the overall distraction, and getting us further and further away from the truth.

What is the truth? That race still matters. It matters so much that we're not supposed to joke about it. If race didn't matter, there would be no prohibitions, no self-censorship. Much of American comedy attacks irrelevancies. Clearly, race is not irrelevant.

As regular readers know, I've had no problem finding ways to satirize Obama, as well as his admirers and detractors. Then again, I have no corporate sponsors, so I'm free to offend at will. Despite what some think, I don't go out of my way to offend. I don't avoid it, either, but there has to be something behind it. Take this visual gag I posted in April:

Proving that he has the courage necessary to be Commander-In-Chief, Barack Obama stood under a tree in front of a large group of white people.

The target of the joke should be obvious: white people have a history of lynching black people. It doesn't make fun of Obama, but does use his skin color to comment on American racist history, and the demand that he be "strong." Yet I caught hell from several white liberals who thought I advocated lynching Obama. That whites were the butt of the joke appeared lost on them, and none of my explanations altered their belief. I was the racist, and they were Obama's defenders.

I don't deny that I have racist concepts in my brain. I grew up in America. How could I not? But in order to understand where this poison originates, while hopefully diminishing its toxic effect, white people need to work through these concepts, and not pretend that they don't exist. I use humor. Your mileage may vary.

Here's another visual bit that I've yet to post, until now:

Hoping to allay white fears that he's "too black" to be president, Barack Obama will begin appearing with surviving extras from "Gone With The Wind."

What say you?