Sunday, October 5, 2008

The Death of Political Satire


The final question asked of Stephen Colbert on Saturday night at his appearance for the annual New Yorker festival was the same thing I've had on my mind ever since Sarah Palin was chosen as John McCain's running mate. The question was, since George Bush and the GOP had basically handed Colbert and John Stewart their comedic meal ticket on a silver platter, how could they possibly be as original and funny with Barack Obama as President? Colbert, as genius off-camera as he is on, responded rather succinctly and candidly by saying, "Because Barack Obama can't possibly be as good as I hope he'll be."

It's a wonderful point, and it's one many of my fellow Obama supporters would do well to keep in mind. It's fantastic that Obama has tapped into a deeply personal and transformative feeling for so many people, but he is still just a politician. He will still compromise his own values when the benefit of doing so overwhelms the alternative. He will make mistakes. He will take responsibility for good things that he had little to do with, and he will blame past administrations and Congress for matters he has very much to do with. Every President before him has done so, and every President after him will do so. That said, none of those illusion-shattering realities make him any less a potentially outstanding President. Just as in baseball (yes, more with the baseball metaphor), every year hope springs eternal and every year your favorite team starts out unbeaten. They never go undefeated---because there are simply too many games, too many variables, and too much opposing talent to run the schedule. Obama won't be undefeated, but a special "season" isn't out of the question either. Here's hoping.

But as for Colbert's answer? I strongly disagree. It's not that Obama is impossible to mock or imitate, it's that he's far less interesting of a politician to mock or imitate. It's not that he's a Democrat. Lord knows Bill Clinton, Hillary Clinton, Al Gore, Jesse Jackson and others were eminently mockable by both satirists on the left and right. The Democratic party will continue to provide a colorful cast of characters for John Stewart, Stephen Colbert and Saturday Night Live to lampoon, but if Obama wins the presidency? I don't feel it's for lack of trying, but I've yet to see the level of comedic skewering rise to what we've seen with Bush, Cheney, and now McCain and Palin. This point has never seemed more obvious with the dead-on imitation of Palin by Tina Fey. I'll be honest---there's a part of me that's sick knowing that Tiny Fey's Palin-impersonation may have but four weeks left to live. I wish it was possible to have an alternate-comedic-universe in which McCain and Palin win the Presidency...just so we can continue to see Fey do her shtick on a weekly basis.

If Obama wins, I predict most of the comedic focus will fall on the supporting characters...like Biden, Nancy Pelosi, and no doubt yet-to-be-named members of an Obama cabinet. Perhaps there's room for Palin in Obama's administration? (pretty, please) Secretary of Agriculture, anyone? The very future of political satire may rest in Obama's hands.

2 Comments:

Anonymous Scott said...

I've been volunteering for the Obama campaign for months, and I've met a lot of Obama die-hards. I even count myself among that group. And you know what? We're not starry-eyed simpletons who think that Obama is the Second Coming of Jesus or JFK or even Bill Clinton.

Most people I've volunteered with are critical of some (or many) of Obama's policies or the haughty way he carries himself on the campaign trail. Many of us were Hillary or Edwards supporters in the primaries. I haven't met anyone who has been personally "touched" by Obama. Mostly, we just want to beat that lying bastard McCain and restore some sanity to the government. That's as close to "transformative" as I've heard anyone talk about.

You, sadly, have bought into the right-wing myth (abetted by the media) that Obama's celebrity is the product of mindless worship by his cult-like followers. The truth for most of us is that Obama is just a fuck of a lot better than Bush or McCain. We Obama supporters know that Obama is a politician and won't be perfect. And if we get a little irrational over him, it's only because the last 8 years have been a nightmare, and we finally see an end in sight.

October 5, 2008 at 11:11 PM  
Blogger Kraig Smith said...

Then obviously what I said doesn't apply to you or the people you've volunteered with. Good for you? I didn't mean to imply that all Obama supporters were under some delusion that he was god-like and infallible, but it IS delusional to think that just because you haven't met any of them they don't exist. What I said applies to whomever it applies to. To accuse me of buying into a right-wing myth is a rather ignorant thing to say. I didn't diminish Obama in any way with the words I chose. Were I a McCain supporter, no doubt I would know many people who genuinely believed he would be a maverick, change government, and unite Democrats and Republicans. And if I believed such a thing, I hope I would have the objectivity to speak to my friends and remind them to temper their expectations...if only because it's crushing to have hopes go unrealized.

October 6, 2008 at 12:21 AM  

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