The Fountainhead

We’ve always been drawn to satire. From Mad to SNL to Spy and beyond, satire has been the refreshment for our soul. We drink it in, savor it, remember it for decades.

Satire makes sense of the world. It brings order to chaos, the rational mastering the irrational. Satire gets at the truth, by revealing the lies. Like jazz, the genius of satire is in what remains unsaid.

We have practiced satire whenever possible. We wrote a satire column in college. We helped produce a tabloid with a satirical undertone. We launched a blog whose dominant theme is satire.

And yet we have produced little satire for a long time.

There was a moment, a year ago spring, where we felt the urge leave us. It was not that the dominant Republican candidate wasn’t ripe for satire — you would think it unavoidable, really — but that satire wasn’t up to the threat he presented. The truths that satire could reveal, the truths that make good satire fun to produce, were unneeded. Nothing was hidden, nothing needed teasing out, nothing needed highlighting. It was all there, for all to see. Satire could add nothing to the picture. It was the wrong tool.

Which really bothered us, because from Nixon on, whether as audience or producer, satire had gotten us through a lot. Through everything, really. And from Nixon on, there’s been a lot to get through. So why, now, when we would need satire to get us through the worst yet, has it failed us?

That question’s been on our mind for more than a year. The answer has been as well, but we’ve seen only glimpses. But we’re starting to get it now, and in a manner that really surprises us:

Satire is a luxury.

For all the shit that has gone down from Nixon on, the Republic has never been threatened. The world, chaotic as it seems, has remained orderly. Things would get better or worse (and much better or worse for some folks), but they weren’t falling apart, not even close. Improvement was always possible. Hope was not broken.

Satire thrives in that orderly world, because satire is fundamentally optimistic. Things can get better. Here’s a clever way of expressing how. The how is what’s left unsaid, the rationality that drives the exposure of irrationality. Rationality will emerge victorious, given sufficient time. Meanwhile, let’s have some fun with the blowhards.

But we do not live in that world, not now. We live in a familiar world, but that familiarity is historical, not contemporary. We have been here before. It wasn’t fun.

We joked recently that we were gaining an appreciation for Weimar cabaret, and somebody immediately responded that he had felt that for months. The reference of course was to 1920s Germany, following a devastating war and a devastating peace, a brief calm when the coming storm was already inevitable but not yet arrived. It’s hopeless, everything’s hopeless, you see everything and are powerless to stop it. Things are only going to get worse, much worse, and they will not get better for a very long time.

Satire? Candle in the wind.

And then, more recently, we’ve been thinking about Dada.

Dada had its own art-historical roots, of course, a satire on the idea of art itself, but it also emerged at a very specific place and time: Duchamp’s Fountain, Dada’s iconic work, was created in 1917, in New York. Duchamp was in New York because he had fled Paris two years earlier. The Great War was devastating Europe, and the culture he had known.

The allure of Dada is that it is complete, determined nonsense. There is no point. It thrives on the assembly of random conventional objects, with no purpose other than being intuitively pleasing, of seeing what meaning occurs in a vacuum.

Dada does not represent, but it expresses. It expresses absurdity, total absurdity. And in a time when the world is falling apart, where sense itself is hopeless, an art that expresses the sheer pointlessness of it all can be very compelling. Our world today is not irrational, but nonsensical. Dada succeeds where satire fails.

We’re not a fan of hopelessness, as it happens. Hopelessness is failure. Hopelessness is defeat. The world has survived a hundred years beyond Duchamp’s toilet, fifty or sixty of them not that bad, considering. But we see what’s happening, not just at the top but all the way to the bottom, we see the nonsense that permeates our Republic, almost overwhelmingly so, and when satire fails us, when our candle blows out, we have but one urge, and it’s getting really, really strong:

We need to take a good, long piss.

50 comments:

8:21 pm • Saturday • August 12, 2017

And again, satire fails to rise to the moment. We are not in the world we thought we were.

9:18 pm • Saturday • August 12, 2017

In re the Weimar Republic: I used to hate Bertolt Brecht. Over the years, I gained an appreciation for him, and his work with Kurt Weill. It seems fitting to review all of it right now.

10:18 pm • Saturday • August 12, 2017

@rptrcub: Yeah, my high school drama teacher (still around!) reminded me that we did Wilder’s “Skin of Our Teeth” forty years ago, which I sure as hell didn’t appreciate at the time. (Precis: The world literally falls apart while the family pretends all is normal.)

Some things you just don’t get until you get them. You had to be there. And here we are.

8:24 am • Sunday • August 13, 2017

Sigh. Trump = Hindenberg. Deluded, bloated full of gas and an explosion waiting to happen.

3:08 pm • Sunday • August 13, 2017

It’s hard to crack wise when the White Trash House is packed to the rafters with Ru$$ian agents and fascist neo-Nazis, however the McCONjob/Twitler/Lyan Axis of Evil is the shock that will propel people out of their complacency and apathy and move the nation forward. The burst of resistance and protests this year has been amazing and humbling. Don’t lose hope–it’s the most powerful tool that we have.

Unless it all goes to shit in 2018 and 2020 as the GOP goes full Nazi, in which case we should very well freak out.

4:44 pm • Sunday • August 13, 2017

@¡Andrew!: At least we would have clarity. I’m fucking tired of the bullshit. Just embrace it, dudes, so we know who to hang. We’re hanging you anyway. Go out proud.

9:36 pm • Sunday • August 13, 2017

Apparently my father reads my FB posts.

We don’t talk about the news anymore.

I saw my father change during Hurricane Katrina. I changed, too. We became despondent after being confused and angry. This was the first time we talked about “news breaks,” something I’d never heard of or done. We promised each other to ignore the news for a week. We felt guilty, like we were abandoning those people ourselves. The willful ignorance seemed like a survival imperative.

From time to time, we talk about this and that current event, but for the most part we talk about our health, his recent interest in genealogy and shock that his DNA does not show NA ancestry. We talk about family and accept that this road he and I have been on towards a less critical relationship is unpaved and worthwhile.

I was inconsolable, terrified, when Trump was elected. We can’t talk about Trump.

I was too young during the ’60s to know if then was worse than now. Sure, they threatened to lynch my maternal grandfather because he married a white woman, and I swear my paternal grandmother was white. She would lie about their address so my father could go to white public schools in Philly much like I used her address, her idea signed off on by my parents, so I could get a subsidized summer job when I was 15.

I would wonder if it would do some sort of damage to my son if I told him the family stories of intimidation and danger. I chose to tell him, although it was one of those things I didn’t want poisoning his brain.

Yes, darling. People can be that evil. Yes, darling. We are not immune. Yes, darling, Granddad says now is worse than then.

9:49 pm • Sunday • August 13, 2017

@JNOV: My 60s waa Batman and Laugh-In, so I’ll trust granddad on that one, too. And my 60s still would have been different, obviously, but my awareness began with Bobby and MLK, and it hasn’t stopped.

9:24 am • Monday • August 14, 2017

@rptrcub: I took an entire class on Brecht in college (German nerd alert!) and he does seem more relevant now than then.

11:17 am • Monday • August 14, 2017

@nojo: I was stunned by JFK but wen back to being a kid. RFK and MLK, along with the local riots kind of ended all that. What REALLY made me stay vigilant to the bullshit was Kent State. Now Texas wants to make it legal to run over protesters. Of course, the students at Kent State were sitting on on the commons eating lunch when the National Guard decided to do something about it.

11:31 am • Monday • August 14, 2017

@DElurker: You must have me by just a few years, and I’ve long been aware that shit went down so fast, a few years either way makes a big difference. We all caught up by Kent State (and especially Watergate), but you either did or didn’t sweat through the Cuban Missile Crisis. I may have seen Oswald shot. I was trying to watch cartoons that morning, and something else was on instead, and that is all I remember.

But we’ve really come full circle to the Fifties, something I had missed entirely the first time. Happy Days and the Southern Strategy have landed.

6:36 pm • Monday • August 14, 2017

In reading up and reflecting on the neo-Nazi race riot this past weekend, I’ve found that anything I could potentially say or do to condemn them, as well as to express the horror and revulsion that I feel, just seems totally inadequate.

Suffice it to say that I wish Captain America were real, and that he’d beat the living shit out of each and every one of those evil fascist scumbags, including Presinazi Twitter Troll and his despicable, racist maladministration.

7:24 pm • Monday • August 14, 2017

@¡Andrew!: I actually wrote this before that shit went down. I was aware of Tiki Friday, but this was effectively a response to North Korea.

Hey, who remembers North Korea? Fun times!

And then shit went down after posting, and I felt this more than ever. Satire may be up to these times, but I’m not up to satire. It just feels like a really weak response.

12:42 am • Tuesday • August 15, 2017

Marianne Rubin, age 89, escaped from the horrors of the Holocaust as a child. She has a simple and timely message for President Trump: “Fuck you.”

11:52 am • Tuesday • August 15, 2017

@¡Andrew!: Trump still has not responded to the Minnesota bombing and Gorka’s excuse is detestable. Of course the mainstream media is not covering that so Trump does not give a rat’s ass.
@nojo: I was outside playing just before Oswald was shot. The TV then was tuned to nothing but news from the time Kennedy was shot. I was just walking in through the living room when Ruby pulled the trigger. I thought my mother would faint.

1:08 pm • Tuesday • August 15, 2017

Today’s sadly all-too-believable installment from the hatemonger-in-chief:

President Trump’s war with CNN went off the rails Tuesday morning after he retweeted an image of a Trump train running over a CNN reporter, then quickly deleted it after the meme sparked criticism as inappropriate just days after the Charlottesville violence.

2:16 pm • Tuesday • August 15, 2017

@DElurker: I spent a couple of days a few months back watching the coverage. All the coverage. All day. All networks. I have no memory of Thursday, and only that fleeting glimpse of Sunday morning, but I have it all in me now.

Oh, I remember why: Robert Caro. His LBJ books are epic and thorough, and I wanted to get a better understanding of That Moment from the outside, because he really nails it from the inside.

2:34 pm • Tuesday • August 15, 2017

@nojo: I made the mistake once of looking at a frame-by-frame breakdown of the Zapruder film. One frame in particular you can’t help but go, “Yep, that’s when it happened, that’s the exact moment he died.”

2:42 pm • Tuesday • August 15, 2017

@mellbell: Yup.

And once I was done with JFK, I did 9/11. You just get in that frame of mind. Or I do. I’m weird like that. But it’s watching reality shift.

5:02 pm • Tuesday • August 15, 2017

Speaking of watching, I don’t watch Trump. I’m fine with the horror expressed by those who do.

5:29 pm • Tuesday • August 15, 2017

@nojo: Same here. His droning, whining, sneering voice has always given me rage epilepsy.

I prefer to just picture his head exploding like a melon tossed from a ten story building. But I’m not bitter, tee hee hee : )

6:20 pm • Tuesday • August 15, 2017

Feeling like Mugatu up in here.

6:26 pm • Tuesday • August 15, 2017

“Both sides are to blame!”

– Franklin D. Roosevelt
December 7, 1941

6:41 pm • Tuesday • August 15, 2017

I’m not calling the end yet, but something very big has happened. Anyone left supporting him is gonna feel some serious heat.

7:00 pm • Tuesday • August 15, 2017

@nojo: I’m sure that Paul Lyan is deeply troubled by these remarks by some random, mysterious person that do not represent the real, true views of the RepubliKKKan party.

7:02 pm • Tuesday • August 15, 2017

Will there be anyone left alive at the Washington Post after this afternoon’s aneurysms to write tomorrow’s op-eds?

7:41 pm • Tuesday • August 15, 2017

Wow. The stupids got the preznit they deserve and the rest of the world is stuck with.

7:58 pm • Tuesday • August 15, 2017

@¡Andrew!: No action, so sale. Colorado Cody is back tonight with Strong Words, and that was very welcome the day after, but shit’s moving fast, and unless you abandon Trump now, you don’t get slack.

12:50 pm • Wednesday • August 16, 2017

Seth Meyers tore into Donald Trump’s “clinically insane” press conference shortly after it happened last night.

“You know that list of side effects at the end of a pharmaceutical ad? He apparently has all of them,” Meyers said.

Meyers expressed shock at Trump’s statement that there were “very fine people” at the neo-Nazi protest. Trump wondered if the next statues to come down after Robert E. Lee were George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, asking “where does it stop?”

“Normally when someone is talking that level of crazy Batman crashes through the ceiling and punches him,” Meyers added.

Meyers then pointed out General John Kelly, Trump’s new chief of staff who was supposed to restore order to the White House. Kelly was seen looking pale as a ghost during the presser with his arms folded and his eyes to the floor.

“Look at that guy. Trump is so fully out of his mind he broke a general. That guy has been in wars.”

2:16 pm • Wednesday • August 16, 2017

@ManchuCandidate: Do you think that if I wrote a letter to Justin Trudeau and Chrystia Freeland begging them to boycott trade talks with the US until Twitler is removed from power that it would make any difference?

6:23 pm • Wednesday • August 16, 2017

@mellbell: I’m a big fan of “Mahagonny.”

7:16 pm • Wednesday • August 16, 2017

@¡Andrew!:
Probably not.

As much as I hate Trump, it’s not our fight. I loathe when certain US politicos meddle into Canada City internal affairs.

7:22 pm • Wednesday • August 16, 2017

@ManchuCandidate: As a White Male American Citizen by birth, I hereby give Canuckistan permission to meddle.

You’re already taking all our comedians’ jobs, anyway.

Or, if you want it in American Threat Format: Meddle, or we’ll find some other cheap country to shoot our damn TV shows.

7:25 pm • Wednesday • August 16, 2017

Or, y’know, just have Atwood write another book.

10:03 pm • Wednesday • August 16, 2017

@nojo:
She already wrote the book, but didn’t picture it as if it were directed by Tom Green.

10:55 pm • Wednesday • August 16, 2017

@ManchuCandidate: Yeah, I thought as much. I’ve just been brainstorming resistance strategies, and they were talking about the beginning of NAFTA renegotiations on the CBC.

In as much as the Twitler Nazis have any kind of coherent political goals, it’s that they want to establish a violently oppressive apartheid state. So, it occurred to me that an international economic boycott similar to the one that brought down the South African regime might be effective.

11:02 pm • Wednesday • August 16, 2017

Also on CBC, they mentioned that Twitler has emboldened Canadian racists. It could be your fight sooner than we may think, eh.

11:06 pm • Wednesday • August 16, 2017

@¡Andrew!: We’re a wee larger than South Africa. Too big to fail, and all that. Also, y’know, dollars. They’re everywhere! So were Krugerrands, but not as many.

So, boycott as such won’t work.

Oh, did I forget nukes? We have lots of them. And they’re everywhere, too.

The problem is that we’ve made ourselves the guarantor of world safety. Which has worked out okay, allowing for every exception we could spend a day listing. But now we’ve gone bad, and there’s nobody to contain us.

Our friends beyond our walled borders can’t help us. We have to fix this shit ourselves.

5:10 am • Thursday • August 17, 2017

@¡Andrew!:
It already has.

Sigh.

11:49 am • Thursday • August 17, 2017

God Damn America.

It’s okay, I can say this. I’m white.

11:56 am • Thursday • August 17, 2017

Jeremiah Wright:

And the United States of America government, when it came to treating her citizens of Indian descent fairly, she failed. She put them on reservations. When it came to treating her citizens of Japanese descent fairly, she failed. She put them in internment prison camps. When it came to treating her citizens of African descent fairly, America failed. She put them in chains, the government put them on slave quarters, put them on auction blocks, put them in cotton field, put them in inferior schools, put them in substandard housing, put them in scientific experiments, put them in the lowest paying jobs, put them outside the equal protection of the law, kept them out of their racist bastions of higher education and locked them into positions of hopelessness and helplessness. The government gives them the drugs, builds bigger prisons, passes a three-strike law and then wants us to sing “God Bless America”. No, no, no, not God Bless America. God damn America — that’s in the Bible — for killing innocent people. God damn America, for treating our citizens as less than human. God damn America, as long as she tries to act like she is God, and she is supreme. The United States government has failed the vast majority of her citizens of African descent.

3:04 pm • Thursday • August 17, 2017

“A terrorist-driven van plowed through a crowded pedestrian plaza…”

Barcelona. And Charlottesville.

Trump condemned the Barcelona incident immediately.

As a “terror attack”.

7:49 pm • Thursday • August 17, 2017

@nojo:
Re: The Wright stuff

All of that is true, and there’s plenty worse if you include the millions dead from our foreign wars of choice and governments that America has overthrown.

However, if I may offer a gentle counterpoint, this nation is still capable of tremendous good. During my own life growing up as a gay man, we’ve gone from LGBT Americans denounced as total pariahs through the 80s, 90s, and early 2000s all the way to full celebrated citizenship and equality in employment, marriage, and the military. As recently as 2003, this was totally unthinkable. We weren’t the first by any means, but eventually we’ve done the right thing. We’re seeing the same incredible progress on trans rights now. I never expected any of these victories growing up.

Social progress in fulfulling the promises of this country has been agonizingly slow, yet it is still happening. I’ve become strangely patriotic since the Womxn’s March in January, perhaps because I took the freedoms offered by our nation for granted… until the election from hell put that all in jeopardy. I still believe we’re going to see a massive positive change in the next ten years.

It’s worth fighting for…

We’re worth fighting for.

8:19 pm • Thursday • August 17, 2017

@¡Andrew!: Well, that’s the thing: Are there enough of us?

Reagan won by millions of votes. That’s what made the Eighties crushing. Well, besides everything he did.

And yes, Hillary won by three million. But this isn’t about that. This is about the capability of an electorally significant number of Americans to recognize plain evil. We shouldn’t even be having this argument about last weekend. But here we are.

9:28 pm • Thursday • August 17, 2017

Also, I can’t afford to move to Canada : (

11:07 pm • Thursday • August 17, 2017

@¡Andrew!: I like being warm.

11:53 am • Friday • August 18, 2017

And Friday, we’re talking about statues instead of Nazis.

They won.

1:52 pm • Friday • August 18, 2017

Bannon’s out, no discernible difference detected.

2:47 pm • Friday • August 18, 2017

@nojo: Bannon says Twitler can’t fire him because he already quit.

Even now I cannot believe any of this insane bullshit is real.

3:33 pm • Friday • August 18, 2017

He has a breight future as a Faces of Alcoholism spokesmodel.

“Bannon looks like he spends more time puking than showering.”

Add a comment