Thursday, October 21, 2010

The Fog of Guffaw

This month, media reporting on media reached an all-time crescendo, with a scherzo interjecting the old canard about Jews running the show.

We had comedian Stephen Colbert, who plays a fake newscaster who is genuinely liberal but pretends to be staunchly conservative,on Comedy Central’s “The Colbert Report.” He seeks to ridicule Fox News (which claims to be “Fair and Balanced,” but alas, that’s why his irony works).

Before a congressional hearing and in character but under the guise of being legit (it sounds like an oxymoron … but it’s what we’re dealing with), Mr. Colbert, in jaw-dropping testimony, promoted some pretty horrendous shtick.

Not since Groucho Marx stood before and insulted the leaders of Freedonia in “Duck Soup” has a comedian revealed the underlying, absurd elements of a government.

The Congress sat there and naively, politely listened (while cameras rolled) as if they’re supposed to take this demonstration seriously.

The entire mockery then got tossed into the blender of banter occupying several days of otherwise worthy news and commentary. When fake news reports on real news, it makes for satire. But when real news reports on fake news, it dilutes the seriousness of the real thing.

Lending further distortion, I learned about this stunt on Facebook, which showed a clip from YouTube that lifted it off C-Span. This is a McLuhan-esque realm, where media and message collide.

While such lenses make for a hall of warped mirrors, somewhere inside them are real issues and real people in pain being affected socially, economically and politically.

Oddly, a lot of Mr. Colbert’s viewers will be lured to witness his live Oct. 30 event in Washington, when he will lead a march titled “Keep Fear Alive.” While real, it’s a faux cause in response to his counterpart Jon Stewart’s “Rally To Restore Sanity,” which is in reaction to Glenn Beck’s August rally to “Restore Honor To America.”

Mr. Beck’s rally was held on the same date and place where Martin Luther King Jr. gave his immortal “I Have A Dream” speech. Because of that and his close identification with the Tea Party, his construct smacked of appropriating hallowed ground.

Surely, in a never-ending cycle, these dueling real-time rallies will garner the same kind of media exposure and frenzy (only exponentially) because of the hyper-real hype.
Not enough? This comedic spectacle coincides with the Jon Stewart/ Rick Sanchez mano-a-mano.

Mr. Sanchez, fired for making comments on Pete Dominick’s satellite radio show, called Mr. Stewart a “bigot.” When told Mr. Stewart was Jewish and a minority “as much as you are,” Mr. Sanchez said, “… to imply that somehow they — the people in this country who are Jewish — are an oppressed minority? Yeah.”

As a country with real problems, we tumble downward into a Carollian wonderland, all because a CNN show host, mad because he was ribbed by a comedian, ended up revealing his true, ugly nature on tape.

Comedy has a way of unmasking it without us realizing it. Mr. Colbert stripped down Congress by making a mockery of it. Mr. Stewart tweaked Mr. Sanchez just enough for him to blurt out what he really thought.

Yet there is no comic relief from this ongoing agitation, only a frustrating, furious intensification.

Abe Novick writes monthly for the Jewish Times on the intersection of American and Jewish culture. His work is at abebuzz.com.