Advocate: Speaking of the Left: in your book you are pretty harsh on some very well liked and admired figures on the Left. Michael Moore, for instance, and the Yes Men, whom I think are really hilarious...
TR: They are hilarious.
Advocate: So, what’s up with that? What’s the problem with what they do? Aren’t they allies in your cause?
TR: I would say the reason I picked them is because they are so good. They are the best that the official American Left has to offer, in the same way that Obama is the best, in terms of the mainstream political system, that the system has to offer.
Michael Moore has got this immense audience of tens of millions of people, his movies can open up in hundreds of theatres, he can talk about things that no one else can talk about, he’s got this great Midwestern folksy sensibility, he has a gentle delivery; he’s really kind of a genius. And his TV show was even better than his movies I think. And the Yes Men are great too.
And I am sure you’re asking yourself, ok what are you talking about, why are you down on these guys so much, and it’s because they don’t go there. Like Jon Stewart and Colbert, this kind of dissent validates the official system by saying “look at the American political system; it’s so big and open minded that it even allows a guy like Michael Moore or the Yes Men or John Stewart to operate.” And the implication is, it’s not that bad.
But you notice that they marginalize people who actually call for radical change, like Howard Zinn or Ralph Nader. Those people are not allowed to get their message out. So you’re allowed to go up to the edge of ridiculing, but you can’t call for real change; all you can do is poke gentle fun, or not so gentle fun, but it’s got to be all in fun. You can’t call for the actual system to be replaced, and that was really the argument I was trying to make there.
I would argue that Michael Moore has indeed called for the system to be replaced, but as Rall says, he has couched these demands in humour. People like Moore, Stewart, Stephen Colbert, Chris Rock and others function like court jesters: they are given freedom to ridicule leaders and speak truths others can't get away with, but no one in power takes them seriously. Stewart, with his softball interviews with right-wing celebrities and obeisance to some false notion of balance, is especially jester-like.
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