Thursday, April 24, 2008


Although he doesn't say it in so many words, I see from Anthony Lane's review in The New Yorker that the new Tina Fey-Amy Poehler movie is about the Clinton-Obama campaign:

...what fuels "Baby Mama" is not the eternal quest for motherhood, or the topical conflict between parenting and careers, but an old-fashioned scuffle over class. Nothing places us on the social scale as accurately as our child-rearing, and one shot of kids being called across a sunlit playground -- "Time for your playdate with Wingspan and Banjo!" -- summons a world of liberal cuteness. Clean-living and high-earning, Kate [Tina Fey] markets gloopy green soup and other organic treasures to the discerning. Angie [Amy Poehler]: "That crap is for rich people who hate themselves." Oof.

... If you want to see scene-stealing turned into grand larceny, watch ... Steve Martin, as the presiding genius of [the organic food company Kate works for,] Round Earth. Hand the guy a thick hank of ponytail, relieve him of the burden of a central role, aim him squarely at the bull's-eye of eco-smugness ("I've toasted pine nuts on the edge of an active volcano"), and you find him happier onscreen than I have seen him in years. Who cares whose baby is inside which mother, when the laughs come from the grown man doing business with his inner child?

This is practically the only way we ever talk about class in America. We don't discuss economic haves versus have-nots in any serious way, and even our pop culture is rarely about the little guy battling entrenched power. We do, however, laugh at comedy that mocks upscale lifestyle quirks. Those quirks aren't what's bleeding the less well off dry, but nobody wants to talk about what is, so we channel that discussion into this kind of humor.

The odd thing is that the people who make this kind of comedy usually do some of the very things they're making fun of. They think they're poking gentle fun at their own kind. But then -- and this is a point I garbled when I first posted this -- the general sense that culturally sophisticated people (who are presumed to all be liberal) are laughable buffoons (while we seem to have nothing bad to say about plain old rich people, many of whom don't seem culturally frou-frou) helps get George Bush and his son elected president three times (because, even though they're rich, they reassure voters that they're not culturally sophisticated), and might help elect John McCain, too (ditto), while undermining any momentum for reversing right-wing policies -- after all, if those people who eat breakfast cereal made of organic spelt want national health care, say, how good an idea can it be? We should mock greed; instead, we mock spelt.

In an odd way, it almost works like gangsta rap -- people take the material of their own lives and the lives around them, exaggerate it (for comedy rather than, in gangsta's case, melodrama), and think they're just making popular art. Then a lot of people declare that the end products are documentaries, not art. What's meant as entertainment becomes self-indictment.

(Edited hours after I originally posted it, because the original post seemed to say something very different from what I meant.)

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