Monday, May 21, 2018

Two Words: Accurate Analogies. You Won't Even See Them Coming.

Jon Schwarz returned last week to a subject he's addressed before, the apparent scarcity of conservative comedians:
This is a Weird Opinion, but I believe there's a connection between conservatives' inability to construct accurate analogies and the near-total lack of competent conservative comedians. That's because constructing accurate analogies is a key comedic skill.
Well, um, you know, I don't think so.  First, I don't think that analogies have to be accurate for audiences to find them funny.  Humor is not a rational, evidence-based phenomenon.  I also don't think that, as a group, liberals or leftists are any better than conservatives at constructing accurate analogies.  But the accuracy (weird word, actually) of analogies isn't an either/or matter anyway.

Take what I hope is an easy example; certainly, it was at Jon's blog, A Tiny Revolution, that I first encountered it.

Writers from The Daily Show reportedly helped Obama write his routine, so even if you don't consider Obama a liberal (I don't), even if you want to deny that the people who laughed at his performance are liberals  (I don't), I think this counts against Jon's theory.  I'm not even sure where an analogy comes in: the point of contact would be death by predator drone, but aside from that, what?  The Jonas Brothers correspond to American children?  One commenter under the blog post drew an analogy between the Jonas Brothers and a 60-year-old Brit slavering over a teenaged girl at a wedding.  (No permalink; just look for N E, a reliable Obama toady at that site.)  The weakness of any analogy involved didn't keep a lot of liberal Obama fans from finding the gag a kneeslapper, though they've mostly preferred to stuff it down the Memory Hole in years since. 

One commenter on the YouTube video wrote, "It IS a dark joke... but if Bush can joke about not finding WMDs (and thus mocking all the people he sent to their deaths based on a lie), then Obama can joke about this." That's exactly the point: people who criticized Bush for joking about not finding WMDs defended Obama for joking about killing kids with predator drones. It's contemptible. It also says something that the commenter focused on "the people he sent to their deaths", presumably US troops, rather than the many more Iraqis he killed: only American lives count.

Of course there are other examples I could give; Hillary Clinton's "We came, we saw, he died," for one.  Clinton's not a liberal either, but liberals didn't object, either to the terror bombing of Libya (disastrous for Libyans, not so much for the US) or to the lynching of Qaddafy.  The analogy in this one is clear: Clinton is casting herself as Julius Caesar, not a great example of democracy or human decency.

Several responses to Jon's remarks from liberals and leftists struck me as clueless.  Such as this exchange:

"Modern conservatives"?  Like conservatives were any better in the past?  Vastleft's reply is even odder.  Smarter people than I have been trying to discover and explain the nature of humor for millennia, but there's considerable acknowledgment that humor isn't empathetic, it's mean even when it's playful.  As Mel Brooks says: Tragedy is when I cut my finger, comedy is when you fall into an open sewer and die.

Dayv also wrote:

Much depends on who's the target of the satire.  Was "A Modest Proposal" empathetic toward the English?  No; it was savage to them.  And I have plenty of reason to doubt that liberals or progressives understand what satire is anyway.  Personally I think that good satire should make me wince (whether as author as as consumer) as I laugh, but I also think that's a refinement for pansy-ass intellectuals like me or Dean Swift.  The base of satire is mockery, and any empathy involved is used to make the target squirm harder.

As Ellen Willis wrote in 1979, "Humorless [is] what you are if you do not find the following subjects funny: rape, big breasts, sex with little girls.  It carries no imputation of humorless if you do not find the following subjects funny: castration, impotence, vaginas with teeth."  But that's about as predictable as it gets.  Quite a few men, including me, find her definition funny.  Others, like my Right Wing Acquaintance Number One, pull a long glum face at it.

RWA1, significantly, was extremely upset by Michelle Wolf's performance at the White House Correspondents' Dinner a few weeks ago.  (Transcript here.) It was tasteless, it was awful, it was going to hurt the Democrats' chances of getting Trump out of the White House.  Concern-trolling again, you see.  It wasn't even his ox that was being gored -- he hates Trump as only an establishment Republican Never-Trumper can -- but I suppose that was the problem: true, she mocked Trump, but she also mocked establishment Republicans and Democrats, Hillary Clinton, the #Resistance, and the respectable media, which was inappropriate, unnecessary, and definitely Going Too Far.  He seemed not to have noticed that the White House Correspondents Association was as unhappy as he was. Personally, I think he was revolted by all her references to lady parts, which always make him queasy.

Does the widespread disapproval of Wolf's performance indicate that her analogies were inaccurate, or that they were inaccurate?  I thought she was on-target most of the time, but obviously not everyone agrees.  The accuracy of analogies is as subjective, I would argue, is as subjective as humor itself.

I could also mention the popularity among liberals and progressives of fag jokes about Trump.  If I were feeling charitable, I could suggest that their motivating impulse is at base conservative, but I'm not feeling charitable.  What I think bothers me most about the distinction Jon drew is that it buys into an assumption that "conservative" and "liberal" refer to actual discrete types of human beings, perhaps reflecting innate biological differences: They are fundamentally different than Us.  Their many errors can be blamed on their nature, as our adherence to Truth is due to ours.  Something wrong with that; call it a failure of empathy.

Incidentally, today is the eleventh anniversary of this blog.