Friday, April 14, 2006

lofty thoughts on lowbrow humor

Very interesting article in USAToday about The Waiter Rule: how you treat a waiter can predict character.

On a different (though perhaps related) subject, lately I've noticed the trend in "edgy" television shows of using the cover of irony to say racist or offensive things. The Mind of Mencia and Wonder Showzen are two examples I've come across recently.

Mencia's attitude is that the stereotypes he talks about are inherently true, though liberal America is afraid to admit it. He pokes fun at his own culture as much as he does African American, Asian, White, and Middle Eastern.

I don't think spouting the politically correct idea that everyone is the same and ignoring all cultural differences is a useful way to promote equality. Yet I find Mencia's comedy very cynical--rather than elevating people, or exploring the exceptions, he reaffirms the same negative stereotypes we've seen a thousand times.

And I'll admit, he can be f*cking hilarious. But I always walk away from his show feeling a little dirty and certainly no more enlightened.

Where Mencia uses the "hey, I'm just being honest" tactic, Wonder Showzen hides behind the the Irony Defense: we can say anything hurtful, disgusting, or ignorant as long as it's couched as irony. It's the idea that being ironic proves your superior stance on a subject. Maybe it's funny, but more than that it's smug, and ultimately offers nothing but self-righteous defeatism.

I like irony, and I think it can be used very effectively. Look at South Park, a show many people would lump in with the ones I've been discussing. While there is no doubt Trey Parker and Matt Stone push the limits of good taste--hell, they knock the limits down, run them over, and piss on them--I believe behind all of their disgusting, offensive plotlines is optimism.

Hey, stop laughing.

No, I mean it, bear with me.

They know people can be better--and that doesn't mean "more progressive" as you can see from the clip above. What they do with almost every episode is take the piss from people who think they have all the answers. They believe there is no Truth (with a capital T) and that True Believers are inherently misinformed and blinded by their cause.

Their message over and over again is that people should be more tolerant, that we all have different points of view--and some make more sense than others--but that no one has all the answers. They reject the arrogance of Rush Limbaugh and Alec Baldwin alike; they question authority and expose the ignorance of the masses in the same breath; they are frustrated by the stupidity of the world yet optimistic about its ability to change.

And yes, they like piss and fart jokes.

I don't think comedy should be sanitized or safe. But I do believe everything we do--from treating waiters with respect to making people laugh--should be an attempt to leave the world a better place than we found it.

1 comment:

nelse said...

Makes me want to go watch more southpark.