ted rall on the limits of leftist humour

I meant to include this in my earlier post about Ted Rall's new book. Just as well, it's worth reading on its own.
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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