Peter Shelton

Comedy and its opposite

Posted in Watch columns by pshelton on November 19, 2009

I want to see Sarah Palin as pure comedy. As nothing more than a laughable creation of our celebrity culture. I mean, come on. The woman described accurately by Peggy Noonan (one of Ronald Reagan’s speechwriters) as “a dope” resigns from her job as governor of Alaska, “writes” a hurry-up autobiography, a book designed to trash John McCain’s campaign and launch her presidential ambitions at the same time, hugs Oprah, matches Barbara Walters blue-suit for blue-suit—and says that running for president isn’t even on her “radar screen”?

You betcha!

The woman can’t come up with an honest answer to a question about what magazines she reads. And she can’t lie convincingly either.

But thinking of her as nothing more than a joke is potentially dangerous. Given the wounded-animal culture at the core of the Republican Party, misunderestimating her appeal, and therefore her power, would be a mistake. It’s a scary yin-yang. Here she is gallivanting around the country stirring the fear pot, talking (still!) about death panels, endorsing (and dooming) ideologically-pure right-wing candidates, and generally selling herself as ready to lead the United States of America because she’s a mom, doggone it.

Laugh. But as Max Blumenthal wrote on recently, “[Palin’s] career has become a vehicle through which the right-wing evangelical movement feels it can express its deepest identity in opposition both to secular society and to its representatives in the Obama White House. Palin is perceived by its leaders—and followers—as. . . a kind of magical helper, the God-fearing glamour girl who parachuted into their backwater towns to lift them from the drudgery of everyday life, assuring them that they represented the ‘Real America.’”

More moderate Republican hopefuls like Mitt Romney and Tim Pawlenty have to worry about Palin’s mesmerizing effect on the base. Even 2008 primary star Mike Huckabee, a Baptist preacher for heaven’s sake, may feel the need to out-Palin Palin in order to prove his bona-fides to true believers.

What this might mean for the future of our politics is the unfunny part. Sad, actually.

For some reason, we’ve been struck on the funny/sad bone a lot lately. There is the shitstorm of irony involving The Brothers Karzai in Afghanistan. First, we get stuck with Hamid Karzai as president of the country after his people rig the election just as our people in Washington say that our number one priority over there is establishing a government the population can trust.

President Obama wags his finger at President Karzai, tells him he must clean up the corruption. But Hamid’s brother Wali Karzai, unelected boss of southern Afghanistan, is perhaps the most corrupt of all. The New York Times says he has been on the CIA’s payroll for the last eight years, while at the same time merrily participating in the heroin trade that supports the Taliban.

It would be funny if it weren’t so tragic, so intractable. Meanwhile, American boys and girls come home in metal boxes.

The most visceral funny/sad conundrum of late has come on our living room couch. At one end Ellen reads a couple of pages of Kurt Vonnegut’s Timequake and busts out with an ungovernable snort, apologizes sort of, and reads on with an inextinguishable smile on her lips. At the other end I scowl at E. Annie Proulx’s Postcards, an unrelenting grim-fest about a young Vermont farmer who kills his lover and hides her body inside an old field-stone fence.

Timequake milks its comedy from an unexplained time-space-continuum glitch. Free will has been suspended; everybody has to live the last 10 years over again, word-for-word, mistake by mistake. But the book is also about endings—the death of Vonnegut’s long-time alter-ego, Kilgore Trout, and Vonnegut’s own impending death. He lived another decade, as it happened, but he said this would be his last novel, and it was.

Dear friends from California sent us the book, along with a Firesign Theatre CD—also very funny and also about time—in this case the end of time as imagined by “millennial morons” during the countdown to 2000.

These friends have always had genius radar for detecting the big ironies, the funny/sad truths in the human condition. Now they are facing down cancer. They’re doing OK. Laughing when they can. Celebrating encouraging medical skirmishes. Therapy includes quoting liberally from “Everything You Know Is Wrong” and “I Think We’re All Bozos On This Bus.”

It’s enough to make you laugh until you cry.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: