Monday, January 23, 2006

Being funny and Left

John Birmingham’s assertion – that political correctness has crippled the Left's sense of humour – contains many odd propositions in support, some of which have been unpicked at LP.

His three poster-heroes for Right humour’s superiority are: US writer P J O'Rourke, US stand-up Sarah Silverman, and an Australian blogger who I vowed long ago to never mention by name (so I won’t here, although Windschuttle-style pedants, ever keen on disproving such sparse assertions by perceived ideological enemies, may be interested to know that I have compromised this vow a couple of times over the years).

P J O'Rourke is undoubtedly of the Right, but I would maintain that he hasn’t been particulary Right when he’s been funny, and vice versa. Putting this another way, O'Rourke was only funny – certainly if you include only original* work – for a brief period in the mid/late-80s. Here, I’m thinking Holidays In Hell which I read, c. 1989 as a final-year uni student, and – believe it or not, didn’t notice at the time as being distinctly Right. Back then, the Right in Australia principally consisted of the New Right (Peter Costello, Michael Kroger, Hugh Mogan et al), and the Newer-than-New Right – aka the Hawke/Keating/Dawkins Labor Party, which had just introduced uni fees. Both such groupings seemed equally remote from my own ideologies (then and now), as well as P J O'Rourke’s comic sensibilities then.

In hindsight, my attraction to O'Rourke’s writing was its power as a nascent anti-boomer gesture (despite of course O'Rourke himself being a boomer (b. 1947)). In the mid/late-80s, Western boomerism and 1960s hippie liberalism were still the same thing for the general public – well, in my own mind, anyway, probably rather sheltered by five years at university. For me to start depising 1960s hippie liberalism in 1989 was in some ways quite a big step, particularly from an ongoing Left commitment, but it was made much easier and logical by the harsh introduction of uni fees on my generation – no “grandfathering” existing students, no scholaships/exemptions (at the time), and not more than a few months notice. This colossal “fuck-off” to my generation, that seemingly came from nowhere, was the first salvo of an inter-generational war (one that is still to really warm up in the West, BTW) – a shot from which, for me, there was no, and never can be any, going back.

As it happened then, P J O'Rourke, however inadvertently and briefly, built a bridge between the boomer Right – then just starting to fully flex their muscle – and Xers, then just starting to realise how fucked-over they were, and how things were only ever going to get worse for the more idealistic of us (Tiananmen, in which young Chinese Xers naively thought that they could use standard 1960s boomer tactics, and live, was also in 1989). From my 2006 Xer POV, however, the boomer Right (aka Reagan’s deputies) and the boomer Left (aka 1960s hippie liberals) are perfect peas-in-pod. And neither are remotely fuckin’ funny – or have anything worthwhile to say whatsoever, for that matter. Strike One, John Birmingham.

Strike Two for Birmingham’s troika is much easier to prove. On one hand, he implicitly dismisses all Australian stand-ups – among whom the great bulk of the “political” ones would be Left-leaning – because “so many . . . are bipolar”, but OTOH he lauds US stand-up Sarah Silverman. Cultural cringe at work here, most definitely, because Silverman herself is on heavy-duty psychiatric meds. (A separate argument is whether Silverman, an Xer, can be considered Right, anyway. Since I’m not familiar with her work, I won’t dwell on this, but I will say that I don’t find “South Park’s” creators’ – also Xers – anti-hippie-liberal sense of humour as presumptively Right).

As far as Strike Three (the unnamed Australian blogger) goes, I’m content to just run through the list that Birmingham provides of the former’s targets-for-hilarity, and divide this list into two groups.

The first sub-group goes:

the ALP, The Age editor-in-chief Andrew Jaspan, the ABC, arts grants recipients, John Kerry and Phillip Adams

In case it’s not obvious, the first four are boomer-Left, or organisations dominated by such to varying degrees – i.e. as a Xer Leftie I can safely say I hold them in *more* contempt than just about anyone. Ditto for Phillip Adams, although not a boomer, he is an contemptible millionaire and empty windbag. As is John Kerry, although I reckon that he would have made about a 1% better President than Dubya, had he got up in ’04 (the thing is, that the US couldn’t really afford that 1%, extra sliver of criminal incompetence). Oh, and finally on this list, talking of non-boomer millionaire windbags, comes the Australian blogger himself, who I seem to recall as owning a house in Bondi (hence the millionaire).

The second sub-group goes:

Greenpeace, global warming doom-mongers, grieving war mum Cindy Sheehan, human shields in Baghdad, and clueless pop stars

Here, I have to admit that these aren’t in my “I hate them *more*” bag. While I despise some of Greenpeace’s fund-raising methods, I belive in their basic cause – and science. Ditto “global warming doom-mongers”. Knocking Cindy Sheehan seems just sad, while aren’t “human shields in Baghdad” all so 2002/early ’03? As for clueless pop stars, I prefer to leave such easy targets to the truly skilled, like Dawei, or to those truly grasping for material.

* His Wikipedia entry claims O'Rourke as “an early proponent of gonzo journalism”, citing 1979’s “How to Drive Fast . . . ” article in support. This is ludicrous; not only was gonzo journalism well-established by 1979 (the term itself was first used in 1970), the article in question seems to me highly derivative of the unquestionably seminal gonzo author, Hunter S Thompson.

paul - I hadn't taken your address off my blogroll, mainly due to laziness but partly due to hoping you might return. Glad to see you back.

Ahh I was raised catholic in rural victoria too but I can't understand almost anything that dreadnought writes.
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