micah holmquist's irregular thoughts and links
Welcome to the musings and notes of a Cadillac, Michigan based writer named Micah Holmquist, who is bothered by his own sarcasm.
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Sunday, August 24, 2003
The difficultly in evaluating "serious" humorists
Less than two weeks ago Fox News sued Al Franken for using their trademarked term “fair and balanced” in the title of his then soon to be published book Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right.
Last Monday, in a New York Daily News column, Fox News Channel personality Bill O'Reilly defended the suit saying that Franken was not a satirist because he is a "political activist" and "[a]ttempting to smear and destroy the reputations of those with whom you politically disagree is not satire."
Although O'Reilly doesn't explicitly make the point, he does hint at how Franken is part of a group of humorists and political commentators -a group that includes Ann Coulter, Bill Maher, Michael Moore and Ted Rall- who blur the line between those two vocations and in the process make it difficult to evaluate what they say.
It is worth stressing that comedians have long commented on politics just as political commentators have long used humor, but the line has usually been clear as evidenced by how comedians like Dick Gregory and more recently Janeane Garofalo have changed their tone when they have wanted to be taken seriously as a political commentator. Comedians and humorists are generally given greater latitude with facts and information that "serious" commentators because they are engaging in an artistic endeavor and to do otherwise is to miss the point. A good example of this is David Cross' 2002 two-disc comedy set Shut Up, You Fucking Baby (Sub Pop). Cross isn't always "fair" to the members of the Bush Administration as he ridicules them but it hardly matters since the point is the presentation of an attitude that is anti-Bush. In contrast, if a political columnist, or U.S. President George W. Bush himself, were to take such liberties with the facts, they should be criticized because what they should be conveying is a literal message.
Franken's Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right, however, blurs this line with a mix of "serious" political commentary and satire. Mostly a clear dichotomy exists that the average reader would pick up but the book, when viewed as a whole, does not fall solely into either category and thus it becomes difficult to evaluate the work in a literal fashion and yet to fail to do that at all is to let Franken off too easily. Ultimately criticism that works on a dual level is needed to effectively review the book as well as most of the work from humorist/political commentator hybrids. (Which isn't to say that the book deserves to be reviewed. My reading of it in the comfy confines of a bookstore in Grand Rapids, Michigan lead me to believe that the book was neither particularly funny nor a particularly damning indictment of the those that Franken takes on.)