Politics as Farce

07:23 Sun 20 May 2007
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It’s hardly an original observation that many of the doings of the Bush Administration have been so ludicrous as to be almost beyond satire. There are so many cases where a completely straight telling of their doings simply sounds like satire because of the content. Many commentators have made this point, as it’s one of the few ways the situation can still be satirized—the honest portrayal of ongoing shock. I’m sure that this has happened in the US before, and that a lot of people felt the same way during the Nixon years, but now it seems more extreme and more pervasive somehow.

It’s possible that it seems to me because I wasn’t there at the time… but I also think that satirical comedy wasn’t as mainstream as it is now. I’m thinking specifically of Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert as I write this. Stewart has been running with the increduilty line for quite some time, and his use of footage of Administration figures, without any commentary, as comedy is emblematic of what I’m talking about—for example, when Condoleeza Rice claimed that the Clinton Administration left her Department without a plan for Al Qaeda, but rather with a “series of actionable items”. If I recall correctly, Stewart first let that run without comment, because, really, what else could he do? I wonder if that amazement, the fact that there’s no need to add any comedy because it’s already there, is the hallmark of contemporary American political culture.

(Yes, I’m thinking about Gonzales and Card as I write this.)

Colbert in some ways is the more traditional satirist, avoiding the problem of not needing to add aynthing by basing his entire schtick on taking even more ridiculous stances, no matter how outrageous the “originals”. This is both funny and frightening, because it still rings true: it’s so easy to imagine real political figures drifting into the territory of Colbert’s persona and remaining “serious”.

I’ve told the story about Gonzales and Card visiting Ashcroft in his hospital bed, and the larger story of how Gonzales has placed responsibility for the US Attorney firings (essentially) on a kind of “zombie process” that ran in the DoJ without anyone actually controlling it or contributing to it in any way that anyone can remember, to quite a few people at this point, and it’s almost impossible to tell it without encountering (or breaking into) incredulous laughter. It must say something (and not something good) about the current political environment when I’m quite sure that more or less anyone could get up on stage at a comedy club, tell those stories without embellishment, and probably make most of the audience laugh.

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