All in Good Fun, by Elayne Riggs
“Palling around with terrorists!” the Republican VP candidate chirped of her running-mate’s opponent to a hungry mob armed with the modern-day equivalent of torches and pitchforks, which would be ignorant shouts of “Kill him!” and signs reading “Obama bin Lyin’”. (Oh, they excel at the disgusting comparative pun, do members of this base. Who could forget the knee-slapping “Hitlery”? Epithets like “McSame” and “Caribou Barbie” pale next to such jocularity.)
On the tried and true adage that Republicans scream loudest about stuff that they themselves are doing, I was tempted to inquire as to whether secessionists could be considered terrorists, but that’s a column for a different day. This week I want to further explore the themes I first articulated in my “birds of a feather” column.
Guilt by association is nothing new. It goes back to the Salem witch hunts, probably even earlier. And it’s soooo not the issue here, at least in terms of accusing one’s opponent of hanging out with people you deem unsavory. No, the real danger is to the American citizenry (as usual), and it comes from all these people palling around with each other.
Stephen Colbert spoke truth to power a couple years ago at the White House Correspondents’ dinner, a disgusting display wherein the Kewl Kids who are supposed to cover Washington with a critical eye don their best designer outfits and dine on gourmet food with the objects of their reputed scrutiny. The irony isn’t lost on the invited satirists, who themselves often draw salaries in the seven-figure range. While Colbert, David Letterman, Tina Fey et al may get points for style, it’s still kinda hard to mock the players with dirt on their hands when you’re knee-deep in the big muddy yourself.
Mark Evanier said of the recent Al Smith dinner, wherein both McCain and Obama came together and made comedic speeches “for a good cause” and “all in good fun” and so forth (the videos are all over the YouTube), that “there’s a tinge of hypocrisy for them to be quite this buddy-buddy.” But the hypocrisy isn’t because they blast each other in their day jobs then cozy up to one another for an evening’s entertainment. It’s the other way around – – that they pretend to be bitter rivals and in fact often rile up their constituencies to despise the opposition when they themselves are all pals together! All in good fun!
Even outsiders tend to be suspect. While I believe comics-reading gal Rachel Maddow when she insists that viewers mistakenly assume pundits “all hang out together,” I think her exclusion (“I don’t know any of these people. Maybe all the pundits are hanging out and not inviting me.”) may be due more to her neophyte status than her current tax bracket. Because just about anyone with a hefty media contract, like just about anyone in an upper-echelon political office, is raking in the bucks compared with you and me. Want to hazard a guess as to “Joe Sixpack”-citing Sarah Palin’s net worth?
Now, this isn’t to say that rich people (like satirists) are completely incapable of identifying with and wanting to help out those of lesser means. Folks like Joe Biden and Barack Obama seem to remember their earlier working- to middle-class lives enough to appreciate what that’s like. Others born to the purple, like FDR was, feel a sense of noblesse oblige as well as a good sense of logic and common sense that a rising tide lifts all boats, that if you teach someone to fish they’ll eat for life, and that you can lead a horticulture but you can’t make her think, or something like that.
And speaking of culture, it’s also very true that the entertainment press is often nearly as famous as the stars on which it reports. I mean really, what’s the dividing line, income-wise, between a TV actor and a reality show protagonist and the Entertainment Tonight correspondent? It’s about as fluid as that between a comic creator wanna-be and a published professional.
I’ve seen occasional griping about how the comics industry press ought to be more adversarial. But while it’s true that occasionally important stories do come to the fore (mostly concerning the purses of industry pros), the vast majority of comics news is relatively unimportant in the long run. I don’t think very many people over the age of puberty still buy into the “Marvel vs. DC” rivalry, particularly with so many editors and pros shifting back and forth from one of the Big Two to the other. And I’d be willing to bet that the recent cancellations of the Minx line, Manhunter and Spider-Girl may frustrate feminist comic readers, but we generally recognize them for what they are — small potatoes compared to life-or-death political decisions. (Even so, just in case anyone’s first reaction was going to be something like “why are you talking about minor stuff when there’s Real Important Sexism to fight in the big wide world?”, it should be acknowledged that most of us who can hold both ideas in our heads simultaneously, and be just as comfortable discussing politics as we are talking about culture. Just not always in the same blog post or weekly column!) It may suck on a minor-inconvenience level that a few books I buy which feature female protagonists are going by the wayside (just as others, like Supergirl and Terra, are gearing up), but it’s not like kids getting killed in Iraq, you know?
Which is why it steams me when politics is made out to seem like a game, like just so much more filler and fodder for the 24/7 cable news networks. When those networks’ anchors take to complaining that the candidates are being too substantial and not giving them enough entertainment, that’s another dividing line that’s been (perhaps irretrievably) crossed. We are ill-served by millionaires covering (or running against, or satirizing) other millionaires with whom they then go out for drinks. One wonders if the lack of audible protest at this state of affairs is due more to the media’s embarrassment at their naked complicity or to the mindset that, as Peter Stone observed in 1776, would "rather protect the possibility of being rich than face the reality of being poor,” and therefore prefers magical thinking (“someday I’ll be at those fancy dinners too, or having a beer with these swell folks!”) to being an informed citizenry. Such fantasies are understandable, but always seem to come back to bite us in the bum.
Elayne Riggs blogs at Pen-Elayne on the Web, and is looking forward to seeing the aforementioned Mr. Evanier, and perhaps even fellow ComicMix‘er Michael Davis, during her brief trip to Los Angeles later this week. She and Robin fly out tomorrow and she’s not even packed yet. It’s been that kind of week.