Laughs Are in Short Supply, Colltalers
Romans may have got it right, after all. No society can subsist only on bread, and they had a way of keeping entertainment at arms’ length. It was a way of ruling not unlike that of populist regimes, to be sure, but still quite effective.
For societies that abhor comedy tend to be of the authoritarian kind, whose leaders enjoy a particularly cruel form of justice: to persecute those who dare to turn their divine edits into jokes.
Problem is, whenever we get too enraptured with the circus, we may not notice how stalled is the bread we’ve been served. Too often, what’s considered ‘funny’ is just a way to veer your attention toward shopping and away from what ails your life.
It’s fair to celebrate jesters, as they provide crucial relief from too many a bleak moment crammed into every single day. But there must be a healthy measure of engagement in the issues concerning our times, even if it’s hard to come up with a good bit about them.
We thought about that when it was revealed last week, by no small measure of news coverage, that the Tonight show may undergo yet another of its periodic changes at the helm. From one jokester Jay to another Jimmy, we’re told.
Immediately we got blanketed by a massive media coverage, which seems to appeal to way more than the average talk show audiences. Or so it appears, even though we still consider a miracle that so many stay up so late and still manage to keep their jobs in the morning.
Meanwhile, gun legislation may be all but dead in congress, questions about the U.S.’s drone use, both abroad as a deadly rainmaker, and domestically as a privacy-buster, are waning, and immigration reform has stalled yet again.
In other words, the gun, military, and private prison industry lobbies continue to influence and dictate policy in this country, through their loyal army of elected politicians, who once have sworn by their constituencies’ interests.
Thus when something so irredeemably serious as the citizen’s right to influence policy is so blatantly mocked by the system, what’s left to laugh about? Plenty, as it turns out, even though much of it may and should be loaded with caustic contempt and criticism.
Still we’re not completely sold to the idea that a television program is necessarily news, and should be treated with the same rigor and analysis and stats and graphs, as what’s making 40 million of Americans to go to bed hungry every night, for instance.
All proportions kept, it’s this insidious attempt at turning everything by its entertainment value, that keeps daily coverage of the war in Afghanistan, for example, locked in the inside pages of newspapers, and a thirty-second sound bite on the evening news.
Forcing a flawed metaphor, perhaps that’s what is not funny. That we act and carry on with our daily routine as if the income gap was not of our concern, or that the party in Wall Street, fueled by cheap labor and astronomical stock market gains, was finally over.
We’re not suggesting a conspiracy here, designed to keep the news that affect our survival below the fold, and the ‘human stories’ of spectacular luck and boundless success (for someone else) high up as headlines.
But we do fear the worst. Although not completely spontaneous, the combo of quick-relief stories plus the betrayal of those we’ve elected to prioritize our needs may be simply too appealing to news editors, and very convenient indeed for those who profit from it.
Off the assignment goals of traditional media companies are issues that may affect large segments of the population with the wrong kind of spending power. After all, they’re privately-owned commercial enterprises. Fortunately, there’s still the Internet.
That’s one of the reasons the fight over the proposed Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA) is so relevant. Disguised as a regulatory act, in reality is a way to crush dissent, and curb individual expression and political activism online.
For most of the 20th century, the media and the tabloids acted in synch with the great mass movements of the time, from labor rallies, to peace movements, civil rights, and political freedom. That’s no longer a certainty these days.
Thus their willingness to feed us an endless stream of entertainment trivia, and so little about what’s considered a turnoff: our own depressing reality. Perhaps it’s time for citizens to regain at least some control about what they think is funny. Have a great one. WC