If Not Nelson, Then Joan
Copyright © by Len Holman, 11/9/12
The election of the next President of the United States swept down upon us like locusts on the Pharaoh’s kingdom. Someone lost, someone won, and we are pleased that our system “works” (though some of the more thoughtful among the electorate wonder who it works FOR). But if there is one thing we have learned, if we’ve learned anything (which is problematic) is that America’s sense of humor—if it still exists—is puerile, scripted and very unthreatening.
The candidates’ progress was followed on election night by CNN and other media sources, interspersed with limited ruminations on what impact Hurricane (Frankenstorm) Sandy had on the outcome, and the nation will be expected to hang onto their bowls of nachos in breathless anticipation of the results. The candidates, however, are merely shadows on Plato’s cave wall who have deep, dark secrets which they do not share with us. But where was the raunchy, irreverent, pitiless, pointed humor Americans are famous for, that humor with the philosophical point of skeptical awareness, salty expression of doubt, the non-acceptance of the status quo? Too much money, too much to lose or gain, not enough Mort Sahl. Which, in keeping with my disappointment with the bland and humorless election, brings me to one of my fondest desires: meeting Nelson Mandela. I’d like to sit with the man and talk about his life, his thoughts and feelings, his political, social, and philosophical thoughts. You know, substantive, real-world discussion of issues, trends, future prospects. That’s not going to happen, I now realize. South Africa is a little too far from my house, and I have no passport, AND even if I could get there, I probably have no chance of getting past his security to chat. Besides, Nelson doesn’t seem to be a particularly funny guy, though I imagine he IS droll, otherwise, with all he’s been through, he’d be dead by now.
Meeting Mandela would be a big thrill, but since I’d have no chance of that, and since I have a fondness for throwing eggs at the occasional Rolls Royce, I’d opt for my second choice: Joan Rivers. For sheer cosmic, raspy, American humor, Joan would be, for me, a welcome change from the bland political porridge we all get in this country. Rivers’ show, “Fashion Police” is ostensibly about, well, fashion, with snarky, ribald, and often obscene comments about the celebrities wearing the designer dresses, boots, swimsuits, hats, etc. (though there are LOTS of bleeps because none of us has ever HEARD those words before). She is rude, anti-star struck, and she makes me laugh. But her show IS political because underneath the fluff of acidic commentary on celebs, is the hidden message of our elections, of our political life.
Candidates treat themselves, and are treated by their staffs and the general public, as celebrities, who are beyond our reach and beyond criticism. They ARE criticized, but for no greater or deeper reason than Rivers has for picking on Mariah Carey. If partisans or either party are zealots, then humor could be used to skewer them more effectively that some boring stump speech sprinkled with distorted and misleading numbers and dressed up as a debate performance. I say, let Joan loose on politics. Let her take the place of any of these so-called interviewers and give her free rein to zing, question, barb, skewer the sacred cow of celebrityhood which settles over our elected officials like mold settles on wallboard after a flood. It was hard not to notice that during the campaign, no mention was made of the housing problems in the country. No mention of any substance about Obama’s “kill list” or his increasingly pervasive drone attacks. No mention by Romney of why, exactly, he refused to turn over any meaningful amount of financial records, or why, exactly his Bain Capital firm experience would make him fit to deal with Iran or North Korea, or even California. Since we do not get real and meaningful discussion in this country (after all, Mandela has some real depth and he persona and behaviors were not forged or steered by Facebook or Twitter), I’d settle for sitting down with Rivers and recording her commentary on the political scene as it expensively and shallowly unfolds.
Would she be any worse than Karl Rove or Soledad O’Brien? Wouldn’t she be provocative and uncaring about “hurting” some feelings? But, how would that be different from, say, Ann Coulter, who famously called the President a “retard”? The major philosophical difference is a big one: Coulter has several axes to grind. She is a conservative and she wants to sell books. Rivers works in the Hollywood/fashion/celebrity world but constantly bites the hands that promote and support her financially. That’s what I want from my news interviewers: no particular position on a subject, but a healthy dose of cynicism, disbelief, and downright disrespect. I’d like to have seen Mitt try to weasel out of a Rivers question. Flamethrowing, anyone? Mandela would be a sound, rational, respectful interviewer, but no fun to watch and no one to dig up a real answer. For my taste, I’d choose Joan.
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