Friday, September 25, 2009

Hey, that's my job

It's bad enough that the world of politics has gotten so absurd, it's nearly impossible to satirize anymore. But now the politicians have gone too far: they're getting into the game themselves. (And we're not talking about a stiffly self-conscious stunt like Dubya hunting for WMDs under his sofa cushions.)

In this ad, a candidate for Lieutenant Governor in Virginia shows her incumbent opponent MIA. The voicemail from Sarah Palin is a nice touch, as is the chicken nesting in the fellow's outbox. But the ad tries a little too hard when one of the voicemails mentions the chicken as well. A true artist knows when to stop. When politicians figure out the art of subtlety, humorists everywhere may well be out of a job.

Labels: ,

Bookmark and Share

Monday, September 21, 2009

Six for ten!

The web is positively awash with humor. You can't turn around without bumping into a satire headline here and there - even CNN isn't immune. But even amidst this crowd, HumorFeed members stand out. In a (fairly) recent list of the 'top ten satire sites', no less than six are members of HumorFeed. (The rest are no-name sites like the Onion and such.) Kudos to the sites that make a difference in keeping the web from getting too serious!

Labels: , , , , , , , ,

Bookmark and Share

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Too much of a good thing

Satirists have had a hard time lately. Not that they ever have an easy time of it: unless your name starts with "Stephen" and ends with "Colbert", generally the best a humorist can hope for is a life of not-quite-penury, and - if he/she is lucky - to stir the ire of a lot of people, possibly inspiring a serious thought or two. But what is a humorist to do with material that is already beyond absurd? The challenge has become fodder for many a mainstream columnist in recent days in the wake of the New Yorker's recent satirical cover showing Obama (if you don't know what we're talking about, go read a newspaper please).

In fact, there's a double problem: first, Obama's candidacy is in many ways outside the usual realm of acceptable political humor. As the NY Times recently noted, even comic giants Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert have struggled to find a punchline to fit Obama. Longtime joke writer Mike Barry, who has worked for everyone from Carson to Letterman, said this:

The thing is, he's not buffoonish in any way... he's not a comical figure.

But while Obama himself is nearly impossible to satirize effectively, the pandemonium his candidacy has generated is also problematic (the second problem), because it's so completely exaggerated. Columnist Leonard Pitts Jr. opined on this recently in the Detroit Free Press:

To be effective, satire needs a situation it can inflate into ridiculousness. But the hysteria surrounding Obama has nowhere to go; it is already ridiculous. In just the last few days, we've had Jesse Jackson threatening to castrate him and John McLaughlin calling him an "Oreo."

Add to that the whispers about Obama's supposed Muslim heritage (not that there's anything wrong with that), the "terrorist" implications of bumping fists, and Michelle Obama's purported use of the term "whitey" (a word no black person has uttered since "The Jeffersons" went off the air in 1985), and it's clear that "ridiculous" has become our default status. What once were punch lines now are headlines.

Faced with this conundrum, what's a satirist to do? Eventually, things will settle down, one hopes. But for the moment, there's not much we can do, except hang on for the ride along with everyone else.

Labels: , , ,

Bookmark and Share

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

That sonovabitch had to go and die on us

Okay, I'll be honest - I haven't given George Carlin much thought over the last few years. Unless you're in the field and know his backstory, most younger folks probably look at him like an old curmudgeon. And I'd relegated him to that role in my own thinking.

Now he's gone, and instead of mooning over him and how great he was, instead I'm going to post a few resources here. Whether you already know and revere him, or you want to come up to speed on a guy who you heard used to be pretty hot stuff back in the day, check out:

The Kennedy Center had recently announced Carlin as their 11th annual recipient for their Mark Twain Prize for American Humor. Few people walking this earth deserved it as much as he did. Now they'll have to give it posthumously - astoundingly ironic, considering his routine about death:

"'Older' sounds a little better than 'old,' doesn't it?," he said. "Sounds like it might even last a little longer. ... I'm getting old. And it's OK. Because thanks to our fear of death in this country I won't have to die - I'll 'pass away.' Or I'll 'expire,' like a magazine subscription. If it happens in the hospital they'll call it a 'terminal episode.' The insurance company will refer to it as 'negative patient care outcome.' And if it's the result of malpractice they'll say it was a 'therapeutic misadventure.'"

Thanks to MSNBC for publishing that, as well as a nice bio and selection of videos.

Labels: , , , ,

Bookmark and Share

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

A Shortage of Decent Satire?

Slate has an interesting article on the decline of television satire, The Satire Recession: How Political Satire Got So Flabby. The allegedly comedic trainwreck which prompted the piece is CNN's "Not Just Another Cable News Show," which, according to Slate, really is just another cable news show. More to the point, it (like Saturday Night Live often does) relies excessively on ad hominem attacks - basic mockery of a person without any insight into the underlying issues which prompt the mockery. And a lot of people are okay with this, because it allows people to feel edgy and countercultural without getting into any messy thought involved. It's pseudo-satire, which, as professor Russell Peterson of the U. of Iowa notes in his new book,

"... is often embraced by its supposed victims, who are eager to get credit for their good sportsmanship and to show they are impervious to such 'criticism.' "

Online satire is a different beast altogether, of course, largely because most websites, even the Onion, don't have to please core advertising demographics to the same extent that TV shows do. But if you write satire online, ask yourself: how comfortable would my targets be with what I'm writing? How strong is my criticism? There's nothing wrong with silly humor, but satire is, at its core, distinguished not by its subject matter but by the fact that it is a form of genuine criticism. Today, too many people assume that any humor dealing with politics or political figures is satire. The real stuff is supposed to be cutting and subtle, something that's only possible if you spend time getting to the deeper issues. It should push boundaries, at least occasionally, and have the capacity to make people uncomfortable. Otherwise, its value as a tool of social change is greatly diminished.

Labels: , , ,

Bookmark and Share

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Internet news is no longer a funny business

The Pew Research Center for Excellence in Journalism released a study with an ominous message for the state of news reporting everywhere. According to the report, financial woes are now the number one concern for journalists, overshadowing such minor things as quality and credibility. Staff is being cut at news organizations around the country, with more and more local news outlets (on and offline) relying increasingly on content generated by fewer and fewer sources.

This affects those involved in the production or dissemination of news satire, because most of us have fairly strong opinions about journalism. Usually, news satirists opt for a pseudo-journalistic approach precisely in order to highlight the problems of the real media. In other words, we care about good reporting, and challenge the mainstream media when it doesn't deliver by exaggerating (and thus highlighting) its flaws.

The web has had some positive effects on journalism, enhancing transparency of sources, for example, and making it easier to link related information. But it has had deleterious effects on the business end of the news, and ultimately, the bottom line is what it's all about. It's not just satire webmasters struggling with low AdSense rates of return - even the big media guys are having trouble making their websites a worthwhile return on investment. As a result, they're cutting corners, and the product suffers as a result. The drop in diversity and quality of news online may provide extra material to satirists, but we're not laughing about it.

Labels: , , ,

Bookmark and Share

Satire pervades the web, seeping into mailboxes and mainstream news like a spilled cup of coffee. It stains and it won't go away.

The Bitter Cup is a collaborative blog for members of HumorFeed, a collaborative of satire and humor sites that has been making trouble since 2003.