Thursday, April 20, 2017

"Why Isn't Liberalism Funny? (And I Am Not A Hundred Percent Certain It Isn't)"

Years ago – a familiar opening because so little happens to me now, which is good because the lull in meaningful activity provides the opportunity to think about things then – through the auspices of our spouses, both trodding the psychological terrain – I encountered a writer named John Altschuler. *  (* Who has given me no permission to talk about him and whose recollection of subsequent events may differ substantially from my own.)  (A disclaimer to avoid lawsuits, or at the least ruffled feathers, should we meet on the impending Writers Guild picket line.)

John Altschuler has worked regularly over the decades with Mike Judge, going back to successful animated offerings such as Beavis and Butt-Head, followed even more successfully by King of the Hill and, arguably, more successfully still by the current HBO sitcom, (the not animated) Silicon Valley.  (Which I originally watched and then stopped, deciding they were talking to other people and I did not wish to intrude.  Translation:  I got bored with it.)

Dining with Altschuler, I learned about a new project he and Mike Judge were assembling – this was before Silicon Valley – called The Goode Family – a play on words, as “The Goode Family” went to extraordinary lengths to behave respectfully and responsibly towards bipedal humanity, the creatures of the earth and the planet that sustains our very existence itself.

In other words, the show would take on the excesses of liberalism.

When I heard this idea, I was immediately torn.  At the time, not working and staring redundancy uncomfortably in the face, I was trolling, not all that subtly, for gainful employment.  The idea of a show about “taking on liberals” however, seemed to me instinctively to be a “dry well” for comedic examination. 


Because, as opposed to conservatism,

Liberalism is not funny.

(First Example That Immediately Comes To MindAll in the Family’s conservative Archie Bunker versus the liberal “Meathead”, the first character, indisputably hilarious, the other character – equally indisputably – not.)

Making me wonder why exactly liberals weren’t funny.

So okay, the first obstacle in this investigation, the newly popularized – and almost immediately overused diagnosis:

“Confirmation Bias.”

A predisposition to believe stuff that confirms what you already believe.  And to be less than receptive when those beliefs are made fun of.

To wit,

I lean demonstrably leftward; ergo, mocking my sacred cattle and personal behavior are unlikely terrain for mining my comedic enthusiasm.

I’m kind of sensitive, okay?

On the other hand, the other guys’ sacred cattle and personal behavior – “Can you believe those people?  Ha ha ha ha and ha!

So there’s that.  Still, there are at least two things that are funny no matter what your political proclivity – ideological inconsistency and disproportionate attention.

For the committedly fair-minded amongst us, liberals are fair game when their core beliefs incongruously intersect.?

“We respect all cultural behavior equally.”

Mandated gender inequity?

“But not that.”

Disproportionate attention?

There are a lot of problems in this world.  Why target your wrath and righteous indignation on grocery bags?

I shall now – less than courageously – sidestep the litany of conservative excesses.  Mentioning only that “All You Can Eat” restaurants are an unlikely liberal birthday party destination.  (My personal exception referencing the concept: asking that my still half-filled plate be taken away, explaining, “That’s all I can eat.”)

The thing is – admitting this may be more personal bias than objective analysis –

Conservative excesses are funnier than liberal excesses.

Here’s a test. 

“Funny” or “simply annoying”?

Excessive sensitivity towards the needs and feelings of others, especially those less fortunate than ourselves.

Excessive attention to “healthy” habitual behavior.

Excessive preoccupation with the imminent future of the planet.

Inordinate attention to the consideration of fairness.

Unqualified tolerance towards people and creatures of all kinds including the ugly ones.

How did we do there? 

Five “simply annoyings”, right?

So you see what I’m gettin’ at.  The problem I think here is “inordinate compassion” is hardly “hilarious.”  “Irrational insistence” may trigger, a possible skeptical raised eyebrow – like the woman who got our local “Petting Zoo” shut down because “the baby goats looked depressed” – but the reflexive reaction of “having your heart in the right place”?  How do you successfully lampoon that?    

Ergo, the conservative-leaning King of the Hill – thirteen seasons on television; the liberal-bashing The Goode Family, when it was finally produced – thirteen episodes, and then cancelled.  

Okay, but here’s the bigger consideration. 

King of the Hill was grounded in well-rounded (albeit computer animated) human characterization.  The Goode Family was, by contrast, a two-dimensional satirical concept. 

The Goode Family characters were not people; they were symbolic representations, which, evidenced by its disappointing reception, proved demonstrably less appealing to the television viewing public.

If you inhabited your show with three-dimensional characters who happen to lean in a certain ideological direction, then perhaps a sitcom about liberals could comedically make the grade.  But till I see one successfully executed, despite my desire, even today, to get into the action,

I would not sign aboard to beat an unfunny horse.


Wendy M. Grossman said...

The funny stuff I can think of lampooning liberals (Phil Ochs' song "Love Me, I'm a Liberal" springs to mind) actually targets *rich/middle class* liberals, and it's more about their class, privilege and wealth than their being liberals. I'm minded of Alan Alda in one of his movies talking about fundraising events filled with women wearing Gucci pants that cost more than the money they raised: "Why didn't they just send them the pants?"


DARON72 said...

I believe Norman Lear mostly succeeded in making Maude Findlay a funny liberal figure partly because of the feminine aspect and also because of the fact that Maude always wanted to be the most liberal or the very first to take a liberal stand on any given subject. Her attitudes toward her maids, who were mostly minorities, are one example. Plus, in many cases, she would even concede that she went overboard to prove just how liberal she was trying to be when she still held on to some old fashioned values.