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An Unbearable Shallowness of Being: The Comedy-Tragedy Dualism

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Say what you want, folks. This Jon Stewart boy is something. A comedian <GASP!!!> had the most powerful president in the world appear on his show, days before his party stakes it all in the mid-term elections. It is being discussed as a mutually beneficial appearance lending more credibility for Stewart’s “Rally to Restore Sanity” as well as energize Obama’s liberal democratic base. That the president choose a fake news comedy program on Comedy Central over all the other ‘mainstream media’ channels at such a critical moment is surreal in itself. What ever happened to the real news channels? It is fascinating to see entertainment and politics merge this way. Are people in power considering entertainment as a serious outreach now ? Not so long ago, being powerful and being in charge meant something else – The Egyptian Pharaohs were considered to be descendants of the Gods themselves and were worshiped in a temple right next to their pyramids. Until just decades ago, most presidents/dictators were inaccessible men of immense power and disposition claoked with obsequious attention and cared to come to talk to people only when it’s important like an election or national holidays (Most presidents esp. 3rd world are still that way today). But, the president, today is finding it helpful to sport a little sense of humor and listen to a satirist. We have really come a long way in the journey of democracy :

The mainstream media is dropping their jaws, scratching their heads, widening their eyes and pinching each other in capricious expressions of incredulity at this state of the nation where a comedian has better access to the president and can call him “dude” !!!

How did we get here? Today, political opinion shows are the most popular format of getting informed. A couple of months back, right-wing commentator Glenn Beck held a huge successful rally a couple of months ago called “Restoring Honor” and now Stewart is doing the rebuttal. It is amusing to me that America has come to a stage where entertainers choose to call the shots – it takes the flair and the gift of the gab to garner a little attention from people these days. They are the new Howard Zinns, Luther Kings and Gandhis in these fading ages. Gone are the old days when we gave 24 hours for news to happen and then it was then read by a good looking, well dressed anchor in an ambivalent tone. Today, the media is a wild circus trying to be our best friend, the wise old-man with 5% extra wisdom, the bad-ass bully and our internet surfing assistant (News people these days open websites on TV and read them out loud) – all within half an hour’s gap. The news delivered today is now sauteed with emotion, garnished with opinion and served red, hot and fresh in editorial style – all day !!! How exactly did we get here?

I humbly hypothesize that this personalization of information is just a consequence of what I call the “feminization of the World“. The equivocal, unemotional and pragmatic style inspired from the military-industrial male-dominant sub-cultures are being replaced by a judicious use of emotion and drama everywhere. This power-shift is happening in every sphere of life – marriage, gender roles, work place, politics, business, education etc. Everything is being served to suit the personal preferences as opposed to the industrial assembly line of “one size fits all”. This change is like the YANG taking over the mantle from the YIN. This is an age where the marriage between facts and opinions has reached a mid-life crisis. 

When Jon Stewart announced the “Rally to Restore Sanity” to make a plea to tone down the volume and the extreme narrative that pervades Washington and the Cable News Channels, most of the media’s reactions to the announcement  is a bemused dismissal. In the run-up to the rally, serious journalists are taken aback by this gesture from a comedian – which they saw it as a sign of impudence and a comedian trying to step out of his shoes – a fake news comedian that should stick to making funny faces is telling how the actual news people should behave. “Should we lump in Stewart with other pundits? Is he a social commentator or an entertainer? Is he a newsman or a fake newsman? Is he funny or serious?” asks the Time Magazine.

For a long time now, the news networks have been dismissing Stewart by saying he benefits from a double standard as a comedian and that he can get away by saying anything he wants. May be Stewart does benefit from his detached position. But how is that even a problem, as long as he is delivering the content perspicaciously? THIS IS WHERE MY PROBLEM BEGINS. I frankly don’t care what happens to policy making or if media is making out on election day – I regard all that as solid entertainment. But, when people underestimate the effectiveness of comedy in pointing out the irony of things, I can’t stand that horrible stench of bigoted unenlightenment. The success of the Daily Show is a living testimony of the power of comedy in tackling a conversation about very critical and important matters of the day. Jon Stewart’s passion to his fake news program has made him America’s most trusted and mature newscaster in this age where journalism which once was one of most prestigious professions has retrograded to show-business and not “knowing what the heck are they doing?”. Even the president has given the nod when said he wouldn’t “lump <Stewart> with other pundits”.

Comedy is a wonderfully suttle tool to reflect on our life around us. Just take a look at the power of comedy in delicately reflecting on an important issue:

George Carlin on Abortion: “How come when it’s us, it’s an abortion,” and when it’s a chicken, it’s an “omlette?

Groucho Marx on Military Courts : “Military justice is to justice what military music is to music”.

Just like Science or Objective truth or even spirituality, Comedy is just a reality-projecting mechanism – a very emphatic one at that. Some self-righteous journalists and political hawkers take their life too seriously that they can never accept a comedian getting important. Let me tell you a little something. The big business and their lobbyists found a way to tackle science and objectivity long time ago. They control all the information with their media. Today, you have to be a news junkie or go out of the way to be decently informed, in a true sense. Big Oil and Coal lobby funds research to prove climate change is a farce. Food companies fund research to prove that their filthy food is really healthy. Media corporations have been bought and sold off that they wait for the Tiger Woods’ mistress more eagerly than poring over the details of ‘policy-making’ because it’s too boring for the ratings. These days, you can make a person believe in anything but you know what? You can never make a person laugh. Not until companies figure out a way to tickle your arm-pits with vibrating gizmos to make you laugh forcibly for the ratings. What is comedy is an elusive question even to the best in business. As Woody Allen put it brilliantly,

If a man falls down, flips and falls, and the audience laughs – it’s funny and if they don’t laugh – it’s not funny. That really sums up how I feel about it. It’s so ephemeral …

The profession of comedy – and I am talking of the real good comedians – is one of unblemished and honest surviving crafts mining all its information from the purest of all sources – Reality. Yet, people don’t want to take a comedian seriously -“he’s just a buffoon and we’ll summon him when we want to be entertained”. My point is just this: …. comedians make you laugh … they point out the irony and the ridiculousness of our value systems … they have a point most of the times … How come we respect people who never do what they promise … bring about recessions and steal your money ? These are the people who remind us everyday of our differences and highlight the tragedies that have befallen us because of the “others”. Since when has a smile, a laugh and a lighter moment became less important than losing your job ? – may be thats the problem –  we value tragedy way over comedy … However, I do think most people get this. But some people take life and their job too seriously. I don’t understand many things as an adult these days …

Joseph Campbell writes in “The Hero with a Thousand Faces” on how comedy was regarded higher than tragedy in the ancient societies and that the “Happy ending of the fairy tale, the myth and the divine comedy of the soul, is to be read, not as a contradiction, but as a transcendence of the universal tragedy of man”.

With this, I end my unfunny defense of comedy. And Remember, COMEDY IS SEXY!!!

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About flawsophy

  • Sean

    Thank for the article. I think an exploration of “comedy as the new truth” is long overdue. In answer to your question “how did we get here?” I offer this. The Daily Show and the Colbert Report exist because a large segment of the population is uncomfortable with the hypocrisy that for-profit “news” programs generate without any apparent embarassment.

  • Rick

    “How did we get here?” – Cause mainstream news in America is a mockery and has been for quite a while. They are the emperor’s tools, or rather the those that pull the strings of the emperor. And they’ll do everything they can other than pointing out that the emperor and his masters have no clothes.

  • dave

    i liked your article until you brought up your unbalanced view that feminization is what’s causing the downfall of our society.

  • Marco

    Well said, ratings > truth , I am sure many in the media wish they had the freedom Jon Stewart and others Comediens have.

  • http://flawsophy.blogspot.com flawsophy

    @all: thanks for the comments

    @ Sean : Yeah. I totally agree. Stewart and Colbert operate from a very much detached position and end up still doing maintain that balance and honesty.

    @ Rick : I like the emperor analogy :)

    @ Dave : Please recheck the context. I never said the yang taking over the yin is a problem – IT’S IN THE NATURE’S ORDER and inevitable. In retrospect, I should have been more clear in saying so. Thanks for pointing out. I guess I could have used a better word than “feminization”.

    @Marco: I am sure too. But, sadly there’s this pesky annoyance called a “boss” :)