Sunday, October 15, 2006

In today's New York Times Book Review, Virginia Heffernan sneers at a biography of Doug Kenney, one of the founders of National Lampoon -- which is fine until you get to this:

Moreover, during the glory days of National Lampoon, roughly from 1970 to 1975, the pricey warehousing of bright American adolescents at bacchanalian four-year colleges became a joke with seemingly infinite possibilities. This is how prestigious colleges, notably Harvard, Kenney's alma mater, came to function as comedy schools that offered immersive lessons in life-defining irony: America's would-be laureates wasting their brains on panty raids and toga parties. (By introducing date-rape culture, coeducation dampened the comedy, replacing it with sadder genres, like the college melodrama and the P.C. procedural, including "Oleanna," "The Human Stain" and the trials of Larry Summers.)

Say what?

If I were from another planet, or another country, or half my age, the list of things are utterly untrue that I would derive from this paragraph would include, but would not be limited to, the following:

1. Harvard is a party school.
2. National Lampoon in its heyday was all about college life.
3. As a result of National Lampoon and its ancillary products, panty raids became a regular feature of American college life.
4. The separation of the sexes up through the 1970s at certain elite colleges (Harvard/Radcliffe, Columbia/Barnard, etc.) kept males and females apart as successfully as the segregation at a traditional madrassa.
5. And, of course, it's too bad those goddamn women barged into men's colleges after that, because if they'd just stayed where they belong, poor Larry Summers would still have a job.

The gender stuff is true obnoxious -- what is "date-rape culture," anyway? That's a rhetorical question, of course; we all know the answer. It's that whining women are always doing about how victimized they are when someone slips them a roofie and sexually assaults them in their sleep, or assaults them while skipping the roofie. Why can't they just shut up about that, hunh?

(And, of course, no college boy ever raped a date at an elite school prior to full coeducation.)

The rest of this is equally absurd -- Lampoon back then was about pop-culture bashing (the John Lennon parody on the 1972 Lampoon LP Radio Dinner is awe-inspiring) and Nixon-bashing far more than it was about college life.

Ah, but the review isn't through gobsmacking us. Here's the last paragraph:

And that's where P. J. O'Rourke comes in handy. Along with the brilliant Bruce McCall, O'Rourke is probably the most resilient comedy writer to come out of the early National Lampoon. He saw through the anarchists' narcissism, and has been satirizing it for years in "Rolling Stone" and elsewhere. But the conservative O'Rourke was reviled by the Lampoon staff, who saw themselves as consummately left-wing -- or disorganized, or real, or drunk, or something. For his pains, O'Rourke, who was more professional than they, and more reliably funny, won the indignation of his colleagues, whom he later left in the dust. If anyone "changed comedy forever," it was O'Rourke.

O'Rourke "changed comedy forever"? At most O'Rourke changed politics forever -- by providing a template for Ann Coulter. Beyond that, his influence on comedy seems limited to ... er, James Lileks. Lampoon bred and/or inspired (partial list) SNL, Bill Murray, Christopher Guest, Harry Shearer, David Letterman, The Simpsons, Jon Stewart ... Need I go on? Game over?

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