Wednesday, July 16, 2008

On Art, America, and Life (or How Fucked Up This Fucking New Yorker Shit Is)

Amidst the original satire (The New Yorker) and the analysis of the satire (The New York Times) with the commentary in the analysis (Bill Maher, Stephen Colbert, etc.) and the satire of the analysis (Andy Borowitz) and the commentary that analyzed the satire with commentary (Maureen Dowd), it's no wonder Americans are getting headaches (and then reaching for the government-manufactured headache-killing pill).

Still, amongst all the stupid outrage and the outrage about the outrage, one of my favorite things about this New Yorker Obama cover art controversy is how people, including Mr. Obama himself, are calling this comic their "attempt at satire." It almost suggests as if the magazine's editors are trying out this newfangled elitist type of humor that is some pole-vaulting feat if done just right.

To take more of Obama's response, which he gave on that old Jewish comedian's television show ("Larry King Live" I think?), the Senator and fashion mogul said, "I know it was the New Yorker's attempt at satire. I don't think they were entirely successful with it."

Let's stop there. Why weren't they entirely successful with it? It was a logical satirization, was it not? The creator does not really believe Barack and Michelle are two Osama-hailing, flag-burning, terrorist fist-jabbing radical Islamic extremists disguised as the next President and First Lady of a nation that they are not "proud" of or pledge allegiance to. Rather, the creator believes that those who believe those notions are probably rather silly. Thus, he poked fun at the siliness. Via a cartoon. In a magazine known for satirical cartoons.

Obama answers his own question: "In attempting to satirize something," he says, "they probably fueled some misconceptions about me instead." And how could they fuel misconceptions with their "attempt" at satire? Simple: the audience doesn't get the satire. And not the New Yorker's usual audience, but the American people.

Obama is legitimately upset and worried about this cartoon. And we should be legitimately upset and worried about that. It suggests that Americans do not understand satire, and when compared to the basis of humor in many other nations --despite the public enthusiasm for Comedy Central's newscasters -- satire is indeed M.I.A. in the U.S.A. Does this make our art weaker? Probably. Does this make many Americans stupid? Probably as well.

Then comes the most troublesome part of it all: The New Yorker probably did make a mistake by publishing this on the front page. And, to paraphrase the late Albert Camus, that shit is fucked. It was not a mistake, however, for the reasons any pundit or politician from any party has been saying for the past couple days. No, it was not an artistic mistake, it was a moral mistake.

We're fighting an unpopular war the other candidate might continue for 100 years; we're experiencing a climate crisis that much of the other party ignores; we're in a housing crisis the other candidate could hardly come up with a solution for; many of us don't have health care which the other candidate won't provide. The list of issues goes on, and the issues are large. Unfortunately, in fact, the issues are too large -- too large to possibly risk having a candidate who jokes about killing an entire people with cigarettes and who parodies Beach Boys songs to sing about war.

So, in 2008, American art and American humor may have to be (even more) dumbed down for the American people. Perhaps one day, a morning in '09 after history is made, the New Yorker could create comedy that satirizes what a tragic mess this all was. Afer all, some say comedy does equal tragedy plus time.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

No She Won't (And Can't)

APRIL 23, 2008:

Hillary Clinton has run a campaign on falsities, cheap shots, political pandering, special interest cash, and crying in New Hampshire. But nothing compared to her Pennsylvania victory speech, where she won by 9.2% in a state she had 16% more than her opponent just a couple weeks prior, wherein she manipulated her fellow Democrat’s words into her own stolen slogan: Yes We Will. (Get it?) Here’s the problem.

No she won’t deliver universal health care; she failed the first time. No she won’t.
No she won’t fight for working Americans; her campaign is sponsored by more Washington lobbyists than any other candidate. No she won’t.
No she won’t end this war carefully; she carelessly voted us into it. No she won’t.
No she won’t reform Washington; she and her husband have been part of its hierarchy for over a decade. No she won’t.
No she won’t stop standardized testing from warping classroom education; state exams still reign supreme in her own state of New York. No she won’t.
No she won’t restore America’s standing in the world; she voted for the War in Iraq and suggested the notion of “obliterating” Iran. No she won’t.
No she won’t win this nomination; she is behind immensely in both the delegate count and the popular vote. No she won’t.

And so when Ms. Clinton suggests Americans are going to use their right to vote to prolong the brutal Democratic nomination process by voting for a candidate who can’t win—and moreover and more importantly shouldn’t win—I just have three words for my fellow Westchester County resident:

No we won’t.

Obama’s Own: How Can Barack Turn The Sourest Media-Made Lemons into the Most Delicious (and Eloquent!) Lemonade?

APRIL 21, 2008:

Magicians pull rabbits out of hats and make people vanish with the wave of their wands. Barack Obama can make a news story disappear and turn a cloth of controversies into a reaffirming bouquet of flowers. It’d be fun to have a magician for president.

First came the cigarettes. A smoker in the White House? No way. Last time there was a cigar in the Oval Office, the leader of the free world was impeached. So Fox News’ John “Make More Babies” Gibson calls it Obama’s “dirty little secret.” How could this guy be a role model for vulnerable young people like me? Heck, I started to think, if a guy running for president smokes cigarettes, shouldn’t I? But now, when the press dares to bring it up, Obama appears to be a hero for young people like me ‘cause he’s trying to kick the habit. He tells a crowd of college students at West Chester in Pennsylvania during Chris Matthews’ “Hardball” college tour to “get straight” if they smoke. He jokes that it’s hard to keep it up when his wife told folks on “60 Minutes” to let her know if they see her husband lighting up. Somehow, a “dirty little secret” became Barack Obama’s emergence as one heckuva family man.

Only Barack Obama can lose a seemingly must-win New Hampshire primary and end up getting his losing speech sung by Scarlett Johannson. Sixteen points up by some polls the night before, the Obama camp seemed shocked by the halt of their one-state winning streak. He emerged as the loser of the night and still managed to give a speech that riled support from across the country. It inspired and Jesse Dylan to make a star-spangled video that got posted on every website from the to Zach Braff’s MySpace. It got shown to students at the Bronx High School of Performance and Stagecraft, which launched an exercise wherein students wrote their own “Yes We Can” speeches. What part of losing does Barack Obama not understand?

Then comes Reverend Wright—a pastor who yelled a bunch of times when he got angry at the country he fought for as a marine. And who likes to hear talk of the Tuskegee Experiment or someone saying “Goddamn America” during a presidential campaign? Evidently, cable news networks do, so they replayed clips of the controversial sermons like they were alternate shots of the O.J. Simpson car chase. People seemed surprised to see that Obama’s poll numbers didn’t really suffer from it…in some he even gained. Maybe it’s because the 13% of Americans who thought Obama was a Muslim heard talk of a pastor and figured out he too prayed to Jesus (the same 13%, incidentally, also believes that Paris Hilton is a virgin and that George Wallace is the old guy on “60 Minutes”). Low and behold comes what MSNBC’s Michelle Bernard called “the most important speech on race” since MLK’s “I Have a Dream” wherein Obama, said Jonathan Alter of Newsweek, “rang the bell hard and well.” Chris Matthews probably had to send his pants to the cleaners. “A More Perfect Union” gave cable news teams a choice, as Jay Rosen wrote, and although it’s hard to stop an ex-Clinton aide from asking “Does Reverend Wright love America as much as you do?” it allowed the controversy to settle down while tackling the issue of race in a such an eloq—okay, what can I say that our pants-wetting pundits haven’t already?

So we have three things that were supposed to blow this guy out of the water: an addiction to a national killer, a poll-shocking early defeat, and a pastor who cursed the country Obama’s running to lead. Yet somehow, they all amounted to Barack Obama, the frontrunner primed to beat John McCain in November. It just seems like we could find out Obama has a bunch of wives and kids sprinkled around the country and he would make a tearful speech about reviving the lost sex lives of women and showing them the magic of childbirth. This guy can turn crap into gold. And Iraq looks like crap to me. So does the economy. And the environment. And America’s stature in the world. Sure, these issues aren’t equivalent to political fumbles, but shouldn’t this all be a good sign? I don’t just want this guy as my president, I want him as my doctor, my teacher, my housekeeper, and my shrink.

Is Barack Obama the Cure for My Generational Apathy?

APRIL 19, 2008:

These days I wonder if kids are starting to turn off YouTube and care for the first time about politics. I admit I am a big fan of YouTube and any of my diminishing grades in school can be attributed to “Babies Eating Lemons.” However, I can’t include myself as one of the kids who never paid attention to politics.

In third grade I wrote a paper endorsing Bill Bradley for President. Granted my reason was that he looked like a nice guy and he played for my favorite basketball team, but still, it was good to get involved young—and I even got my parents to vote for him in the New York primary.

But many of my buddies really don’t give a shit. A few of them will watch The Daily Show (perhaps they prefer Monsieur Colbert) but few watch as religiously as myself. Anyway, I’m a political junkie. Anyone who's refreshed the Huffington Post or the Drudge Report twice within one minute knows how that feels. But can you really blame my peers—and often myself—for choosing iChat over C-SPAN?

We were born into a Bush and a war in Iraq. Then the next president did something mean to his wife and at a young age I had to learn that “blowjobs” were not special techniques for cleaning cars. Even worse, I had to learn it from Wolf Blitzer. That year I also learned what my therapist father told me about Freud was wrong: sometimes a cigar isn’t just a cigar. It was also a lesson that if a president lies, he will be prosecuted accordingly…

Then, as a member of Generation Fellatio, when I was in around fourth grade, my parents voted for someone who won the election but didn’t become president. Then, around 25 minutes from my 5th grade classroom, people flew planes into two buildings I used to be able to see out my window. Then, we had a Bush and a war in Iraq.

Teenagers hate cycles like this. We go through them every day. First period, second period, third period…take out the garbage, walk the dog, do homework, go to sleep (YouTube gets in there somewhere). Maybe, for my peers, Obama is a chance to break a painful cycle.

On Super Tuesday, I thought I was a hotshot for going to school at 7:00 in the a.m. with my friend to pass out Obama literature outside the gym where people were voting. We’re junior guys and when we got there we ran into some sophomore girls volunteering as well (Obama is a uniter!).

At around 7, after my friend picked me up, we saw two other junior guys from my school across from a firehouse. One was Korean, the other half-Jewish. They were holding Obama for President signs in the February cold.

I know it’s not 60’s activism, but moms and dads out there…how hard is it to get your teenager to get up for school on time?

Later I was in math with one of them.

“An Obama fan?” I asked as we experimented with trigonometric functions.

“Yeah,” he said. “My parents are voting for Hillary though.”

Lately in my home of Westchester County—where the Clintons live, incidentally—and I think all over the country, Generation Fellatio is slowly becoming Generation Obama. Kids see through the shit that comes out in political campaigns (which is why we’re turned off by them—to get away from the stink) and we rarely see that shit from Barack. We see a lot of it from that nice Westchester County lady though.

But that’s what happens right? We get older and sell out. We start accepting the status quo because trying otherwise has fucked us over so many times in the past. But if parents in Pennsylvania and North Carolina and Indiana try something different and listen to their kids, like Caroline Kennedy and Bob Casey did, this guy might have a chance in November. ‘Cause lately, I often find that as I’m procrastinating on YouTube, I’m watching one of Barack’s speeches.

Teen to Presidential Candidates: Don’t You Forget About Me

JULY 12, 2007:

As you Democrats are off in Hollywood battling for star money and you Republicans are at the doors of your corporate sponsors, I know it’s easy for you guys to forget the little people. You know, the ones with the acne and the cracking voices. We’re not at the top of your list of people to listen to, and we know why: we don’t have a voice in the media or in Washington, we can’t vote for you, and we can’t give you a lot of money. But since we are, as scary as it may seem, the future of tomorrow, I pray that you will keep our interests in mind and set a new example of leadership.

What are those interests? Easy.

You’ve ignored the research on climate change until Al Gore made a slideshow. Look, I can’t say I’m a scientist who knows that global warming is real, but please do what you can to make sure my friends and I are going to be all right, and that we can have children who will be as well. We dig the cool light bulbs. Hey, maybe MTV can have a show called “Pimp My Hybrid.” It can air after “A Shot of Love with Albert Gore.”

Learn from unpopular wars. Do not send us to fight battles unless they’re absolutely necessary, and when you realize you have made a mistake, let us come home.

Please make sure the tragedy of 9/11/01 doesn’t repeat itself. I know that’s not a simple request but I am convinced you can do it. Get our allies back so we’re not fighting terrorists alone, and in the process you’ll be regaining that moral standing the U.S. seemed to have according to our history books. Increase security everywhere (this means armed members of America’s finest in hot spots, not wiretappings into my house).

Finally, and the issue most on our minds, when it comes to our schools, be creative. We know it is easy to send out boxes of standardized tests as opposed to actually examine our abilities to think critically, but the research is in: these tests do not evaluate the most important kind of knowledge and are simply unfair to students and teachers. Look at the studies—my peers are far behind in the world when it comes to academics. Get rid of some of the absurd curriculums and replace a class with something called Civics. Make it mandatory to learn how our nation should function and maybe we’ll be able to uphold those rules of civics one day. That is perhaps the scariest issue of all: the leaders of tomorrow are simply not equipped to lead.

Oh, and take care of that trillion-dollar national debt. We know you’ll be gone and you won’t have to pay it, but your kids will. And that pisses us off.

I love America. We all do. That’s why we’re all going to raise our families here. But how dare you question our indifference and distrust. We’ve been embarrassed by this beautiful country since day one. When I was born, a guy named George Bush was in a war with a place called Iraq. When I was about six or seven I was confused by what I saw on television: the guy my parents voted for was apparently doing naughty things with someone who wasn’t his wife. Then he lied about it to us and was impeached. When I was nine, that guy’s vice president had won the election of 2000 but wasn’t elected. Sworn in was a George Bush, son of George Bush, who also went to war with Iraq. But this George Bush made up funny words and evidently had a criminal record. When I was ten, the twin towers I was able to see across the Hudson from my rooftop were knocked down. Nobody knew what happened or how to deal with it. Then they said they found out who was responsible for knocking the buildings down, but six years later, they still can’t find him. In fact, that’s when the President went after a different guy, for reasons people say turned out not to be true, and members of congress are calling for his impeachment.

We’ve lost faith and we’ve become a little cynical. Excuse us. Folks wonder why we idolize Paris Hilton and Puff Daddy. It’s because when they screw up, the country doesn’t screw up. That, and the constant celebration of these stars on the channels that say they are showing us the news.

We’re growing up in some absurd times. We’re living in a time and place where our worst actors make more than our best teachers, and our neighbors are dying in a war led by a guy who went to Yale and got a 71 in Political Science and a 76 in History. Each generation has their own obstacles to overcome, each witnesses tragedies. Our parents saw their President killed, the President’s younger brother killed, Martin Luther King killed, and John Lennon killed. Some had to march alongside Dr. King and sing “We Shall Overcome” and maybe some spoke out against Vietnam with their tie-die t-shirts. Maybe it’s our turn to overcome the apathy and move away from our TV screens where us kids are watching more “Flavor of Love” than the evening news. I quiver to admit that the tests we’ll be given through the years will be far more challenging than the ones our states give us during finals week; instead, they will be real tests—tests that demand our sharpest action and our sharpest reaction, whether it is an attack on our soil or an attack on our civil liberties. But until that fateful day when my peers are forced to get off their couches and take charge of the country you’ll leave behind, please be our voice, or at least serve us well. Think about us—the hormonal bunch everyone likes to poke fun at—next time you make a speech or debate one another. We cringe when we hear our parents or our doctors tell us that our teenage bodies and our teenage minds are changing rapidly—we want to go back to the fun early days of our childhood and step back from those new responsibilities. But as I look around at the country I live in now, you know, rapid change doesn’t sound like such a bad thing after all.