Comedy: the new tool for collectivists?

John Stewart. Bill Maher. Stephen Colbert.

It would be useless to attempt to deny the comedic prowess of these entertainers. They’re smart, quick and razor sharp in their satire. But could there be an ugly utility behind the beauty of their wit?

This occurred to me as I was watching Real Time with Bill Maher last week on HBO. Maher moved so effortlessly, it seemed, from one insult to the next – never giving me (or his audience, not that they would have wanted it) a moment to consider the complex reality behind his jokes.

Depth of observation is not a new topic, and one that I’m not here to discuss. My real fear here is that comedians like Stewart, Maher and Colbert have become powerful tools for the new collectivists in this country.

Their comedy has become a weapon for the war on individual liberty.

When I was growing up in the ’80s, the comedy seemed a little more supportive to the idea of individual liberty. Soviet Russia was both a punchline and a strong supporter of firing squads. The evils of collectivist ideology, and its consequences, were very real to us. And if I had to guess, I imagine that the US State Department was pretty happy to have Smirnoff (stage name) generate some pretty good Yankee Doodle propaganda.

But John Stewart, and his ilk, are something quite different. To these performers, liberty seems to be a punchline in a tea bagger joke – a flexible idea that extends to their right to lampoon and light up, but one that dissipates quickly when considered in the context of a free market. Their view of the role of society, and of individual’s submissiveness to it, is something that would have been rejected wholesale just 30 years ago.

Sure, there were plenty of social critics. Richard Pryor on racism. George Carlin on religion. But their routines never seemed to marginalize the entire Enlightenment-thought foundation of America. If anything, they seemed to extend the ideas of liberties to brave new places, natural consequences of a foundational belief in freedom.

Now, the very voices that used to call for the reform of government are calling for its growth, and largely distracted from the fact that their own messiah has lied to them about every liberty-oriented promise he made, from drug policy to war mongering (his affinity for such being the only reason he moved to allow gays in the military). The iconoclasts have joined the Washington crowd, declaring that the only way to fight oppression is to build taller government buildings and deeper government bureaucracies. And the young folks, people who are now the same age that I was in the 80s, are lapping up every word, nestled inside late night’s stand-up routines.

We went from satire being a tool for extending liberty to it being co-opted by those hellbent on subverting it for their own, collectivist agenda.

What a country.


About SWIRLosopher

The SWIRLosopher is Sean Trapani, a professor emeritus of advertising who - despite a degree in philosophy - has abandoned all reason and is trying to make a living in the wine business.

10 thoughts on “Comedy: the new tool for collectivists?

  1. I don’t want to start a huge debate with ya, but I’ve got to say this seems a bit polarized of a perspective. Then again, most blogging does as we tend to let out some more honest vents of ourselves. 🙂

    I think I would agree with you thought that these comedians aren’t just comedians. Their satire is highly directional and holds within it much of the contents of a well formulated argument. Stewart often defends this by simply stating that his goal is just comedy, and you know, I don’t want to be cynical enough to immediately disbelieve him. However, I think he and the others would be naive to disbelieve or deny the profound ideological influence of what they’re saying. I think a good person should admit some responsibility for that too even if it must just be on a simple backburner level.

    But to say their comedy is waging war on personal liberty, at least if you mean they’re doing so intentionally, sounds a lot like the pestilent Christian claim that there’s an ongoing war on religion. That’s just hyped up. There liberals, sure, they don’t like a free free market as much, sure, but if anything they seem to hope for the individual to have a good free life and their comedy even sometime directly hits and defends it. Now there beliefs on how to go about it may well be wrong, but your diction seems highly presumptuous and simply unwilling to consider the other view. Again, forgive me for this is your blog, it just pains me how polarized our country has become and thus unable to sustain peaceful dialogue (Stewart vs. O’Reilly being an example hah).

    • “War” is certainly a hyperbole in the sense that Stewart or Maher haven’t dropped any cluster bombs on any Ron Paul rallies to date. But let’s consider the colloquial/metaphorical usage of the word, played as it may be.

      If we consider “war” as a marshalling of forces to achieve an objective against an enemy, do these comediens fit the definition? Consider the evidence: they use propaganda (their schtick), treasure ($1,000,000 donation ain’t peanuts) and competing forces (Colbert, spawn of Stewart). Thess elements, taken together, might excuse the blogger or two for the accusation, provocative as it may be. Maher’s agenda is as clear as Limbaugh’s (google the little feud between Maddow/Maher and Stewart for a good chuckle). As for Stewart, I’m not convinced that he’s only in it for the laughs, either. I think he’s simply more diplomatic.

      All this said, thanks for the comments. It may be a kooky comparison, but kooky can be a lot if fun to talk about.

      • I’ll definitely give you that, and I believe some hyperbole is needed, especially in the realm of blogs if we are intent on maintaining our sanity. It is simply unfortunate that the public dialogue is so caustic amongst our media figureheads (Limbaugh, O’reilly, Maher, and etc included)…. but then again, the humor does have its merit. An interesting question to me is where the line should be. To that, I do not know.

        I might google that little feud you mentioned indeed. I seriously (seriously) enjoy a few laughs when either side takes a go at each other.

  2. I’m an avid follower of Maher, Colbert, and Stewart, but I don’t believe I’ve every heard any of them say ‘I want government to be bigger’ or ‘I don’t believe in the free market’. Have I missed something? I would think that all would be pro-market, as it has rewarded them handsomely. Collectivist? I think it’s a stretch. Sorry. Still enjoyed your post.

    • I wish the government would do more for education, the environment and healthcare for children. I didn’t say, “I want government to be bigger.”

      (Or did I?)

      • Point well-taken. But I think you’d have to weigh that with other things you might say as well, such as ‘I’d like the government to get out of Afghanistan’ or ‘I don’t think the government should snooping around in my bedroom’ – those comments would tend to weigh in on the small government side wouldn’t they?

      • It’s been my observation that conservatives tend to appreciate the importance of economic liberties, while liberals tend to get the importance of personal liberties. Each has it half right. The reason I, personally, tend to lean much more toward conservatism politically these days has to do with the evolution of those ideological positions in reality: the conservative position with regard to personal liberties has weakened dramatically, while at the same time the liberal position with regard to economic liberties has succeeded hugely, and become almost totalitarian. For my sensibilities, both are wrong in their respective positions, but conservatives have been pushed into a very small area of my life, while liberals have pushed out into vast areas of power, thus displacing my freedoms dramatically. Conservatism weakly (and, I suspect they know, illogically) contest my freedom to marry another man (yawn), whilst liberals force me to enter into contracts, assert the power to have the military detain me without trial, take away my property rights, take my money and give it to their political allies, and tell me what freeking light bulbs I can buy. Putting each respective philosophy into a balance, I’ll take conservatives all day long.

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