aTypical Joe: a gay New Yorker living in the rural South
Tuesday, January 29, 2008
Do you really think they could be conducting on-air seminars?
A reader responds to Robert Thompson’s notion of a missed opportunity to educate on the late night comedy shows:
Clearly this matter concerns you. Let me tell you a little about myself so that you will better understand my point of view.
If I’m preaching to the converted, forgive me, I don’t know what your background is. I’ve worked in the theatre in the UK and the US for more than 40 years. One of my plays was produced on Broadway quite recently and is now being produced around the country and abroad. I am a member of AEA, SAG (no, I didn’t vote, I loathe award shows and find them demeaning - unless, of course, I’m involved), AFTRA and the Dramatists’ Guild. I have been involved in strikes and I do not cross picket lines. Were I invited, I would not appear on a program whose writers are striking. It’s that simple. Without my unions I wouldn’t have health insurance or a pension, I would be working under worse conditions for much less money. I pay Equity 2% of everything I earn under its aegis and it’s worth every penny. I haven’t done much TV here but I did quite a bit in Britain.
Messrs Colbert and Stewart are under contract to Viacom. They must fulfill their contracts or face huge lawsuits. By doing so they are inevitably undermining the position of their staff writers. Since they themselves are members of the Guild it’s a particularly difficult position for them to be in and I’m sympathetic to their plight. I thought they both found graceful ways to re-introduce themselves without their writers: they were both funny and informative. I, however, choose not to watch till the strike is over.
Do you really think that Viacom and the producers of The Daily Show would allow Stewart to be conducting on-air seminars about the virtue of the writers’ strike? And do you think his audience would put up with it? They want to laugh at Dubya or Billary. Viacom wants to sell advertising: that’s why these shows exist.
Anyone can watch if they like. My only point in communicating with you was to suggest that it might not be a good idea to link to this material which has been written by scab labor. Would you stay in a hotel if the maids were on strike? I wouldn’t.
I wouldn’t. And I won’t going forward.
More on THE difference between Hillary Clinton & Barack Obama
This week John Heilemann writing in New York Magazine on The Test says much the same thing, but differently:
Not surprisingly, Hillary believes that her battle-testedness confers on her a clear advantage. “The Republicans aren’t going to give up the White House without a fight,” she says. “And what has worked for them is going after whoever our nominee isâ€”going after, in fact, where the nominee thinks he or she is strong, going after the nominee in a way that sort of turns that person into an alien to big parts of America, right? So is there any doubt in anybody’s mind that will happen to our nominee? And is there any doubt that I have been through this, and much of what they have thrown at me for fifteen, sixteen years has already been discredited?”
Clinton’s argument has real force. But if she’s correct that the brutally polarized partisan dynamics of Washington are ineradicable, isn’t the logical conclusion that a Clinton restoration would mean four (or eight) more years of the Clinton wars-a perpetual 1998? The thought of it produced a dull throbbing in my temples, and I told her so. “I can understand the feeling,” she said with a laugh. “But, in some ways, psychologically and emotionally, that might be less painful and more short-lived than it would be with someone who’s never been through it. Because it’ll happen. I don’t think I’m saying anything negative, I’m just stating a fact: It will happen.”
What, dear reader, is your reaction when you hear talk like that? Do you find yourself vigorously nodding your head-or cradling it in your hands? The battle between Hillary and Barack has produced plenty of heat, with more to come, no doubt. But it has also generated considerable light, clarifying for many of us that the choice we’ll be making on February 5 isn’t mainly between two sets of policies or even two individuals. It’s between two different ways of looking at the world.
If you find yourself drawn to the Clinton candidacy, you likely believe that politics is politics, that partisanship isn’t transmutable, that Republicans are for the most part irredeemable. You suspect that talk of transcendence amounts to humming “Kumbaya” past the graveyard. You believe that progress comes only with a fight, and that Clinton is better equipped than Obama (or maybe anyone) to succeed in the poisonous, fractious environment that Washington is now and ever shall be. You ponder the image of Bill as First Laddie and find yourself smiling, not sighing or shrieking.
If you find yourself swept up in Obamamania, on the other hand, you regard this assessment as sad, defeatist, as a kind of capitulation. You’re perfectly aware that politics is often a dirty business. But you believe it could be a bit cleaner, a bit nobler, a bit more sustaining. You think that paradigm shifts can happen, that the system can be rebooted. Most of all, an attraction to Obama indicates you are, on some level, a romantic. You never had your JFK, your MLK, and you desperately crave one: What you want is to fall in love.
A vote for Clinton, in other words, is a wager rooted in hard-eyed realism. Her upside may be limited, but so is her downside, because although the ceiling on her putative presidency might be low, the floor beneath it is fairly high. A vote for Obama, as the Big Dog said, is indeed a role of the dice. The risks of his hypothetical presidency are higher, but the potential payoff is greater: He could be the next Jack Kennedy-or the next Jimmy Carter. The gamble here entails both the thrill and the terror of letting yourself dream again.
I’ll comment later. SEE ALSO: Veep speculation. And mine.
Thompson on Colbert & the WGA: a missed opportunity to educate
Robert Thompson is a professor of Television and Popular Culture at the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications and the director of the Bleier Center for Television and Popular Culture at Syracuse University. Last week, after a particularly strong Colbert Report that tackled race, civil rights and the WGA strike, I quoted him in a gushing post I wrote on Colbert.
Thompson says the late night comics, not bound by journalistic standards, are free to play fast and loose with the facts. “Any comic fool can rush in, where the angels of journalists and historians fear to tread,ï¿½? he told me on Friday. “And as we know if we’ve ever watched any Shakespearean tragedy, fools can often be the wisest people on the stage.ï¿½?
I wanted to know if Thompson shared my view that Colbert had approached the writers’ strike “in a stunningly effective way.ï¿½? That the Colbert episode “demands to be seen.ï¿½? Thompson saw it differently.
“In many ways,ï¿½? he said, “instead of becoming more informed about the strike by running late night comedy I think sometimes we can actually become more confused because they themselves make the issue confusing because they seem to be supporting it at the same time they’re back on the air.ï¿½?
Thompson sees a missed opportunity:
The comics, while they’re showing solidarity for the writers while they go on the air â€“ even though by going on the air the solidarity has to some extent been betrayed â€“ I think they are constantly trying to justify why they’re going back on the airâ€¦ Ok, first of all the Leno argument, because other people are put out of work. That’s not such a great argument because that’s what happens in a strike. The second argument, I think, is that if we can keep the writers’ goal in front of the public then we are justifying going back on the air because we’re going to be the voice of the writer. Here’s a place that I think late night comedy is not succeeding. And as interesting and as complex, and even as funny as that Colbert thing was about the hospital strike, it certainly didn’t clarify for me anything about the details of the writers’ strike; where it’s going, how it’s changed, what’s going to happen, what was the deal with the directors and why don’t the writers’ like that kind of deal? And all those kinds of things remained no more clear at the end of that show.
There is a lot of obligatory support being tossed about for the writers. But there isn’t any sense on these shows, I think, that they’re actually educating us any better then the other places that seem to be failing in educating us about it. And they could do that. For example, Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert could have, say, every Wednesday a 5-minute conversation about the strike. And they could invite writers to come on and say, “What exactly do you feel? Where is this now? What do you want? What is this all about?ï¿½? And then you could invite the producers. Now, of course, in the first weeks the producers wouldn’t come because, for one thing, they seem to be less on the moral high-ground here. And for another, comedy writers are going to be funnier than they are and they’re going to feel that they are going to be a visitor on the home team’s field and that they’re not going to look good. However, if every week the writers got up and you really ask them specific questions about what was going on and what they thought, eventually the producers would want to get their two cents in and you could actually turn the public education about this strike â€“ as well as the potential ad-hoc negotiations â€“ into the very three-ring circus of a late night comedy segment. I haven’t seen any of that kind of thing done yet.
So are the comics just making excuses?
I think we’re seeing the complexity. They always, I mean, the late night comedians saying how much we need the writers has become like someone who’s questioning the war saying, “We support the troops.ï¿½? I mean there’s almost that obligatory support the troops that you’ve got to say before any conversation can continue. And the same is true in their support of the writers and their necessity and how important they are and all the rest. And that’s being done constantly by either coming right out and saying it, or making these, getting into a situation and then getting all weepy because, you know, “be nice to me I’ve got no writersï¿½? kind of thing. The self-deprecation that comes, that “don’t blame me that this is bad, it’s the writer that are all the brains.ï¿½?
If the Colbert episode failed at educating it’s viewers, how did it fare on emotion?
Well, I think one of the things that segment did best on, strangely enough, there are an awful lot of people who are watching The Colbert Report every night who had never heard the name Ralph Abernathy. Who don’t remember any of those periods of Civil Rights. And if nothing else, it was a little mini documentary about...an important labor/civil rights event in history that I think otherwise most people would have had no idea aboutâ€¦ it’s almost like Trojan Horse education. They sneak these little history lessons into the Trojan Horse of another Stephen Colbert show. You know, a goofy sort of a thing. And I think that’s really useful. A lot of the audience of that show learned something there, accidentally, that had actually nothing to do with the writers strike, very little to do with Steve Colbert and even though he framed it in, it’s all about me, in fact it ended up being about a lot other stuff as well. I mean I think if you can give someone a two minute little glimpse of some of those activities that went on in that period, especially to people who have no idea about, that’s a good thing.
SEE ALSO: Colbert, Murrow, & me.