Thursday, September 28, 2017

Where art and politics meet

This one's a little complex. Follow closely.

Pam posted a link on her Go Retro Facebook page to an article about late-night television and how politicized it has become lately, especially in favor of the liberal side:
...Regardless of your position on Obamacare or on the 2016 election, the bigger picture here is how ponderous and self-reverential and sanctimonious our late night shows (and their hosts) have become. Can we get back to entertainment please?  If I want political debates on candidates and issues, I’ve got plenty of cable channels to choose from.
Last I checked, the network late night talk shows were supposed to serve a different purpose. I want a humorous and entertaining talk show at the end of my busy and complicated day. and I doubt I’m alone.
However, in the post-Jon Stewart‘s Daily Show era, these hosts (or their producers and networks) have decided that it’s actually more important for a late night comedian to be important and relevant.  In the immortal words of Casey Kasem: Ponderous.

The article mentions former Tonight Show host Johnny Carson as a model of how talk show hosts should be. I thought of Ivan, since I know he appreciates the talk show hosts of the past, so I shared the link on his Facebook page, wanting to find out his opinion. I should say here that while I remember watching Carson and other talk show hosts like Merv Griffin and Joe Franklin on occasion, it was as a kid, with a kid's limited understanding. I don't have warm fuzzy memories of these guys and their shows, which is why I shared the link with Ivan: I knew he did.

On Pam's page, this one guy wrote a long comment saying, in essence, that modern hosts like Stephen Colbert and Jimmy Kimmel are providing a platform for the disenfranchised, such as gay and trans people; they're speaking up for them in a society where atrocities like what happened in Charlottesville, VA this summer still happen. Pam and others said talk shows should either skewer both the left and the right equally, or neither. (Unfortunately, she deleted the thread.)

Meanwhile, back on Ivan's page, he and others mostly praised Carson ("impeccable timing and wit... intelligent and humorously self-depreciating") and the caliber of his guests ("There isn't a show today that can handle the wattage of that kind of star power"). They were more cynical about the modern hosts ("Hiring Colbert was a no brainer for CBS given his built in audience," "Most people are too fuckin lazy to get any truth in their lives").

Ivan wrote a post that was mostly to promote a new Carson DVD box set, but he also expanded on his thoughts on the initial link, which refers to an earlier, similar article in the National Review by Dennis Praeger:
...As fond as I am of movies, TV, and radio past…I acknowledge that with each passing generation, standards in the broadcast industry get loosened, and there are now a few words from the classic George Carlin routine that you can say on television that no one (well, those folks without a stick wedged up their keister) will bat an eyelash about.  Pundits like Praeger fall back on one reliable bit of shtick: the American discourse is coarsening, and it’s all the fault of “the Left,” godless Commie bastards that they are.  (I’m ashamed to have linked to Dennis’ article, because in its online state you can’t even use it to scrape off whatever’s on the bottom of your shoe.) [link added by me]
Still with me?

All this got me thinking once again about what we want out of our entertainment: do we want a mirror, or a window? I don't watch late-night TV, so I can't testify to what Colbert and Kimmel do, but I can talk about bloggers. On occasion this year, Jacqueline and Le, for example, have used classic film to point out the flaws in the current administration, in a "history repeating" manner. That's their right; they don't answer to anyone but themselves. If they did it in support of the present occupant of the White House, I admit, I'd be unhappy. I'd want them to keep their views to themselves and just write about movies. Is that fair?

Speaking from the relative safety of my tiny, obscure blog, I think expressing personal politics within the realm of entertainment has to be a matter of individual conscience. WSW has always been a place for my opinions on life through movies; on occasion, that has included politics. That's just me, though; not everybody chooses to do that, and that's fine.

In a perfect world, perhaps a given entertainer, such as Carson, would poke fun at both sides equally - they certainly deserve it - but these days, America has become more polarized; people expect you not only to choose a side, but to defend it as loudly as you can. Social media makes it easy. Liberal or conservative or whatever, that gets you noticed, whether you're a talk show host, or a blogger, or a singer or athlete or actor; as long as that holds true, some of them will continue to do it because any publicity is good publicity.

Is it fair to expect safe havens in entertainment from politics? Yeah, but just remember, for every celebrity endorsing a cause you disagree with, there'll be another one, somewhere, banging a drum for something you agree with too... and there'll be somebody wanting them to shut up and stick to pies in the face.


  1. Very nice piece, Rich.

    I have heard quite a bit of back-and-forth in recent months about this "politicization" and speaking only for myself, we pretty much brought this upon ourselves. (I'm using the editorial "we," you understand -- you and I have alibis.) When the media promotes a Presidential candidate whose last job was that of a rancid reality show host, there are no more barriers between politics and entertainment. Dissenters just need to chew on that for a bit.

    It's no secret to anyone who's ever stopped by my 'umble scrap of the blogosphere that I lean left when it comes to politics...and so I bristle a bit when I hear folks like the ones you reference above complain that TV comedy shows only attack right and not left. There are venues where comedians go after "both sides"; RT America's Redacted Tonight is very even-handed when it comes to cuffing the ears of Democrats and Republicans -- the only problem is that it's not available on a lot of cable systems (which kind of makes me wonder how liberals can accuse the network of the alleged influence they had in the 2016 election) but you can find Tonight on YouTube. YouTube is also home to The Jimmy Dore Show; Dore is an unabashed progressive who skewers both Dems and Repubs because he's frustrated by the current political system (I believe it was Upton Sinclair who remarked that the two parties were "two wings on the same bird of prey"). You won't find anyone who's anti-establishment on network or cable TV (with the possible exception of Lewis Black once in a while), which is a pity because the satire of Dore, Lee Camp (host of Redacted Tonight), and others makes the jokes of Stephen Colbert, Trevor Noah, etc. seem toothless.

  2. Nice to know there are shows out there that go after both sides. I guess it's not surprising they're not as well known.


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