Thursday, October 23, 2008

Conservative Satire III: How Does I Make Funny?

Well, the debates have been over for a week now. We actually bought a cake this past weekend to celebrate the end of that phase of the election (Along with other things, such as the arrival of seasonal temperatures in North Carolina at long last. Something rare enough that they're well worth celebrating. And personally, I absolutely love cold weather.), though things haven't been any less ugly since. Palin's gone on to start dividing the nation up (After all that rather open bullshit talk about "uniting" America, not unlike what we saw with George W. bush.) into categories of "pro-American" and "anti-American" - "real American," and as Jon Stewart pointed out was implied on the Daily Show recently, "fake American" - wherein the supposed "genuine" "pro-Americans" are essentially ignorant blue collar small town workers, farmers, and soldiers serving in Iraq who support the neo-conservative political agenda as this nation crumbles.

In 2005, Albert Brooks went in search of what made the culture we've seemingly declared war on laugh in Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World. More recently Andrea Kalin filmed three Muslim comedians here in the United States in Allah Made Me Funny. Today? Right here? I look into what's being sold as Republican comedy. No doubt you all went out and saw An American Carol over one of these weekends (As that's what I'm blogging about now, several weeks after this blog entry would've been relevant. (Like during the one week when it barely made it into the box office top ten as a huge bomb, before falling out of the top ten entirely.)), David Zucker's "satirical" parable on "those goddamn left-winger commies that've been destroyin' our nation while we had all the power. Sympathize with us!" (Instead of seeing Beverly Hills Chihuahua. After all, who would want to indulge in some mindless fluff with the appealing Piper Perabo to distract themselves from the dire state of things when they should be out laughing at the real enemy? (This part of the post was even more relevant when that movie was still #1 in the box office. Oh well.)) The notion that the film is satire, however, had to be placed in quotations because generally, satire is all about humor through which deeper truth is exposed. The neo-conservative "patriotic" masturbation that the film uses to sell itself is anything but truth, of course. It simply paints a bizarre picture of the sort of alternate reality the rabid Bush-and-McCain-loving minority subscribes to.

Is the film funny? Of course not. Is Zucker himself capable of relevance in the modern world? Considering that he couldn't achieve relevance in the '90s either, not at all. And it might be a bit of a stretch to call him particularly relevant in the '80s as well, as much of a cult following as Airplane! and the Naked Gun movies have. When you get down to it, An American Carol is the latest in a long line of shameful rehashes of Charles Dickens' classic A Christmas Carol, which not only manages to be consistently dishonest and overly aggressive - seemingly out of this inherent neo-conservative victim complex easily observable over this past decade, as they attempt to pass the blame for everything they do on to "the liberals," who've had little real political representation and power during the George W. Bush presidency. (Even after 2006's fantastic congressional sweep, while Bush was made more of a lame duck, congress won't have any real power to change things until we have a stronger non-Republican/moderate/progressive majority in the senate and the current massively corrupt characters polluting the executive branch leave power, having dangerously expanded the capabilities of the executive branch over these past eight years and repeatedly abused that power.) And on top of that, the film is no doubt absolutely insulting to any self-proclaimed conservative who likes to use their brain at all. (Though looking at where we've seen conservative endorsements trending lately too, with Christopher Buckley, General Colin Powell, and more, the intelligent, moderate conservatives aren't getting behind the Republican party so much anymore either.)

The basic premise? Michael Malone (An in no way thinly-veiled representation of documentary filmmaker Michael Moore, played by Kevin "Oh god please pretend I'm my brother" Farley) is out to destroy the 4th of July! Oh no! Those evil liberals can't do that, can they? (Never mind that this was the closest they could come up with to documentaries about the impacts of downsizing on people's lives, the risks of our gun culture, the laundry list of fuck-ups by the Bush administration, the healthcare crisis, and a look at my generation in politics. Clearly all major attacks on American values and in no way in the interests of the American people. Apparently Malone's films are wildly unpopular in An American Carol as well, as opposed to the massive popularity of Moore's documentaries. Someone's struck a nerve.)

Of course they would, Jimmy. They don't love America and seek to improve it by acknowledging and criticizing it's problems. They hate it and would elect Ahmadine- Ahmadine-... Achmed over there in Iran to the White House if they could!

Naturally, it's up to a played-out Charles Dickens parody (The man's probably spun in his grave so much that his bones're a fine powder by now.) led by country star Trace Adkins ("I sing them patriotic songs! How hard can this acting thing be if the lib'ruls do it!?") to teach their Moore-analogue the valuable lesson that you're basically nothing more than an America-hating terrorist if you aren't a neo-conservative - voting Republican in the 21st century is all America boils down to. Also, unfunny things are hilarious. Always. (And also something about "support the troops! Support unnecessary and illegal military conflicts! War is not merely always okay, but always necessary and the greatest thing we can do is a nation!" (Specifically, that the more freedoms and humanity we sacrifice in the name of 'protecting freedom,' the greater we are as a nation. And "SHUT UP, STOP THINKING."))

Yeah, now I'm gonna take the wacky, bold stance by saying that no, I actually don't hate Michael Moore. I'm not going to pretend there isn't some amount of bias in his documentaries - he makes an argument in each of them, after all - but he's trying to create public awareness of issues worth drawing attention to, to use cinema to actually make an effort to give something back to moviegoers and society. That deserves a nod. (Unlike, say, Ben Stein's Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed from earlier this year - yes, it does indeed have an ironic double meaning in the title - which is outright intellectually dishonest propaganda, once again trying to bring up the incredibly faulty argument that religion and science are somehow the same thing at their core. Anyone who has a real understanding of what both are knows this to be false - as well as that you do not have to renounce religious faith to pursue a career in the scientific field. You simply have to be intellectually honest enough to acknowledge that these two concepts are in no way the same thing - that you cannot find anything concrete in trying to mix the provable and unprovable.)

Zucker's "proud conservative" notion of "truth" in "satire" doesn't just miss the mark - it simply panders to the lowest common denominator. It's downright insulting to the sensibilities of anyone who does write satire - as I do at times myself - or simply knows how to appreciate good satire.

What exactly makes up the anatomy of a conservative "comedy," you ask? Let's take a look at these "deep truths" An American Carol exposes.

First off, apparently Michael Moore is accurately describable as being a fat man. Apparently this is some deep insight that many have missed out on somewhere along the way. And repeatedly pointing this out - or remarking about body odor (I'd assume this might be some sort of jab at the old stereotype of more left-leaning individuals all being "hippies who never bathe," but frankly, that'd be giving Zucker too much credit.) - equals comedy gold. In the 21st century. What I'm wondering is why they don't just go ahead and give Zucker an Oscar now? I mean, seriously, this is clearly genius cinema. Who would've guessed that Michael Moore wasn't thin? My eyes have been opened!

These "liberals" that Zucker writes about with such vitriol - apparently god hates them. Or so Zucker is telling us in this movie, through George Patton and George Washington. If you don't vote Republican, you're a-goin' to the hell! Quiver in fear, progressives, there's a big magical man in the sky waiting to smite anyone who dares question the neo-conservative ideal status quo - whether you're a homosexual who makes conservatives feel uncomfortable and insecure with the whole idea of love, a Vegan or Vegetarian infringing on our red-blooded American meat-eating ways (And don't get Jonah Goldberg started on organic food - according to his Liberal Fascism book, if you're interested in organic food, you're basically a Nazi.), or anyone who dares to use their brain. (This blogger postulates that liberal use of the Leaf Shield ability would take care of that man in the sky plenty easily.) Also, apparently black people have a conspiracy to make you feel guilty about slavery (And exist as one-dimensional stereotypes fixated on slavery and slavery alone.), lesbians look like hairy men, evil hippie college professors are brainwashing us all (Despite recent studies actually showing that college professors don't tend to have much influence on college students' politics - their peers, on the other hand, do.), leftists are pathetic losers who would've let Hitler win in World War II (Makes one wonder what left-leaning members of our military today would have to say about all this. Especially considering how many Iraq war veterans we've seen return and condemn the Bush administration, instead of shouting "WE LOVE WAR! SEND US BACK NOW PLEASE!" like the neo-conservatives regard them. An especially amusing assertion considering that conservatives weren't in power during World War II.), we've been misrepresenting JFK all along (Apparently he was actually a proud conservative warmonger, whaddaya know?), the ACLU is nothing but a bunch of zombies (As opposed to maybe, just maybe, an organization founded to help protect our civil liberties - the very things we're being told have to be taken away in order to be protected. After all, we can't have "freedom" unless we destroy the rest of the world first so they can't take it away from us instead.), if "Mohammed" or "Hussein" is one of your names you're automatically a terrorist, if you're a pacifist then you wanted the Civil War to never happen (And the film suggests that if not for a conservative rush to war, we'd all be happy slave owners today - downright mindboggling.), and when it comes to feminism? Women are all horrific butch shrews or clueless airheads unless you're fucking them.

In short? Everything intellectually honest, progressive, thoughtful, respectful of one another? All a bunch of evil liberal lies tearing this country down. Racism? Awesome. Women? Get down on your knees. The Middle East, even just in ethnicity? Git them terr'ists! Civil Liberties? We'll tell you what rights you can have! By the way, the second amendment's far more important than the first. Homosexuality? An abomination against god! Not voting Republican? Yer goin' to hell, boy! The Civil War? Justifies all war! We're the ones who ended slavery, not them damn lib'rulz! African Americans? We don't care about history! Shut up! Religion? There's only one true god and he's on OUR side! The environment? It's our planet and we can do whut we want to it to make money!

How do they deliver the important, enlightened, regressive message of neo-conservative talking points? Not through any sort of actual comedy, per se - just having historical figures played by a bunch of far right celebrities smacking the Michael Moore analogue around. He's made out to be nothing more than an effective terrorist himself, as the film childishly screeches that that's all leftists are - we only believe in not just tolerance, but embracing ethnic diversity, gun control, environmental protection, and things like higher education because apparently? We just hate freedom. We hate it a lot.

That's basically all their argument comes down to: "We don't like what you have to say or what you support in trying to make the world a better place, so we're going to make a movie where we beat you up and you somehow see the light as a result after lots of weepy time travel. Also you're fat and you stink, neener neener." It's hard not to take a look at the chickenhawk cast listing either and feel that most of these people probably should never work again - those who've lowered themselves to this dishonest cinematic trash that fails even as a low-brow comedy. Zucker went from Airplane! to a veritable airplane wreck of an end to his career with his more recent films. And many people were cast in the film - like country singer Trace Adkins - who had no place acting to begin with. (But of course you'd almost expect to see a far-right-wing ultra-"patriotic" country star in a film like this, wouldn't you? It's reality living up to stereotypes.) Even Bill O'Reilly had a bit part. And there's no measure of brilliance in a project quite like getting Bill O'Reilly involved - he has one of those no-spin zones and everything! (Last time I checked, though? There seemed to be an awful lot of spin in that particular zone. I guess he broke it somewhere along the way. This is why we can't have nice things.)

The funniest thing about the film itself is its actual claim to be a comedy, when most of it? Soppy one-dimensional attacks on "the liberals," asking without a sense of irony, "Why do they hate our freedom?" Malone gets smacked around on ground zero after September 11th as the film tells you "They've forgotten 9/11! Remember 9/11! Never forget it! Learn nothing from it!" and also "All wars are justified - always. So long as there's a Republican in charge, anyway. Stop asking questions." At its core, again, it's nothing but neo-conservative masturbation and whining about Michael Moore cloaked with a painful amount of melodrama and oversentimentality - comparable to all those exploitative "9/11" CDs conservative country musicians put out in the wake of the World Trade Center attacks.

When the film bombed at the box office? There could only have been one reason, they proclaimed - liberal sabotage. Yes, apparently there was a vast liberal theater conspiracy to make the film fail. That's the only plausible explanation as to why the conservative Disaster Movie/Meet the Spartans could have tanked in theaters. (It's almost as if Americans aren't stupid enough to buy into this shit, and that most of us don't live in the alternative neo-conservative reality! Fancy that.)

Naturally, when the film outdid Religulous on its first weekend, the angry neo-con crowd on the IMDB tried to herald it as some sort of great victory - despite the fact that the film actually opened on far less screens and did better in terms of how many people actually saw the film per screen. (And before too long, Religulous still made more at the box office despite An American Carol opening in three times as many theaters.) Of course, when An American Carol was poorly received and did poorly overall in theaters, they had to start shouting about a "liberal conspiracy" to keep films like that down. (Not unlike the one we saw over Ben Stein's intellectually dishonest Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed back in April.) But however you look at it, they're completely different films with completely different messages - An American Carol is pure, mindless neo-conservative masturbation desperately masquerading as a comedy when it isn't remotely funny, and there's no deep hidden truths revealed by its disgusting attempts at satire. (As such, it's effectively the opposite of satire, railing against the truth and anyone remotely progressive and acting in the name of the greater good for the American people, in the name of invoking 9/11 (Which, like Nazism's Godwin's Law, could really use a describing law of its own at this point.) to justify everything the neo-conservatives have done in tearing this country and the world down these past eight years while attacking those who stand against them as "anti-America." (Just as Sarah Palin outright has in recent public addresses.)

As for Religulous, it pretty much comes down to whether or not you like Bill Maher's approach to humor - I agree with his take on things myself, but I'm not exactly one of those aggressive atheists who spends all their time railing on religion. Religion can be a positive force, depending on how someone shapes themselves with their faith. More often than not, it seems like it isn't - those using religion and religious ideas for negative aspirations, oppression, and hate seem to be much louder than those who simply take away the importance of love, acceptance, and understanding of one another in life from religion. And while Maher is rather harsh on those who are religious, there's something to value in the spirit of his film - the importance of questioning things, as especially in the west, religion is more often than not simply something people are brought up with that they're taught not to question, but simply to accept as some deep universal truth without so much as one iota of actual evidence behind it. But that's faith right there - to accept something unquestioningly without proof. It's in that that faith itself can be dangerous, when people feel the need to define the world as we know it by their faith and push everyone else to agree with their perceived "universal truth," their insecure need for the whole world to believe in their unprovable beliefs. An American Carol is angrily opposed to free-thinking, to opposing the status quo established by neo-conservatives - the film itself decries the truth more Americans are embracing now after eight years of the neo-cons wrecking the nation and getting tapped into the complexities of reality and the complexities of thought and philosophy required to exist in and understand the modern world and the challenges existing within it - especially as we try to make progress as a society. Likewise, Expelled focuses on attacking honest intellectualism by attempting to paint them as close-minded to serious intellectual possibilities and answers to the big questions, when Intelligent Design itself has failed to ever qualify as the serious scientific theory, being completely unfalsifiable. It fails in the basic scientific method, and this crowd wants it to be regarded as a scientific theory when it simply doesn't qualify - to degrade science, the objective, concrete search for the best answers we're actually capable of coming up with from what can be understood and known, in the name of pushing an oppressive, dishonest religious agenda.

Back on topic - in short, An American Carol is a portrait of American politics in pop culture at its most braindead and insulting - it's not satire, it's just neo-conservative elitism (Actual elitism - not the neo-con definition they bandy about where if you live in a city, like to partake in any sort of culture, support education and have pursued one yourself, and are in any way remotely left-leaning, you're somehow looking down your nose at the rest of society. Remember, kids! In the neo-conservative world, all good things are bad! We should all proudly live in squalor and go fight in wars for natural resources for ultra-powerful corporate and political entities while shouting cries of nationalistic pride as the rich get richer and we have no rights or national infrastructure! If you think? the terrorists win.), tooting the horn of proud ignorance - outright masquerading as a comedy from a washed-up director who hasn't been remotely relevant in decades. Of course he'd make a scene when the critics slammed it and nobody went to see it. Hell, given the choice between this and Beverly Hills Chihuahua? I'd go with the talking dogs too. (Not so much that crappy Max Payne video game adaptation from this past weekend, though. When will people learn? Video games do not make good movies.)

Stay tuned next week for my first full-on comedy piece in ages in this year's Halloween short story!

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