I admit that I am old-fashioned enough to have taken initial offence at certain television programs that turned out to be superb satire. When the program, “The Simpsons” first came on the air, I rejected it because it seemed crude and unworthy of my attention. “What’s funny about celebrating Bart’s and Homer’s low-life behaviours?” I thought as I changed the channel to find something more uplifting, more worthy of my attention. But in time, with recommendations from people I trusted and with repeated brief exposures to the show, I got it and I started watching as episode after episode lampooned greed, stupidity and gluttony. It was excellently written. It was a hoot!
But here’s the thing. Not everybody gets satire.
Too much of the under-educated audience enjoys the show for other reasons. Too much of the audience for this and more recent iterations of the shucks-we’re-just-regular-folks “reality” shows seem to take such extreme behaviours as “normal.” They reinforce acting dumb or rude for the entertainment value therein. Sure, go ahead and laugh as people on silly TV shows backstab each other, ridicule each other, insult each other, demonstrate how low they can go. Now that it feels normal to you, why not turn it into practice in your own life? After all, you’d seen other people doing it, hadn’t you? Of course you had! You just didn’t realize that it had been put on for your entertainment – to show you how low or how crazy some people can be. Is that what you want to emulate?
In a commencement address Robert De Niro gave to Brown University graduates, he accurately assessed that “in movie terms,” the country was once “an inspiring uplifting drama” but now has turned into “a tragic dumbass comedy.” It is tempting for me to lay blame for this turn of events upon one, Donald J. Trump, but that would be way off target. He is not the cause. He is a symptom. His election to the presidency of the U.S. is the result of decades of having celebrated stupidity as entertainment, thereby normalizing it and encouraging it to flourish. To his credit, he does know that the perception of truth is entirely malleable and he uses that advantageously for himself and his anti-democracy Kremlin buddies. He knows that distraction in any form is good for keeping truths from being discovered and the surest route to distraction is to accuse his opponents of that of which he, himself, is guilty.
Oh, there are other causes for America’s troubles too. It is not just that fully half the audience for satirical TV shows doesn’t understand that the humour is not found in its representation of normal behaviours but in its outrageous deviation from what ought to be normal or accepted. America’s troubles are also in the evil perpetrated by some very wealthy, knowing people who feel that their wealth can only be maintained if they keep their workers misinformed and dumb as clay – clay that can be manipulated into doing whatever they want clay to do.
One instance of such manipulation would be their tooth-and-nail fight against universal health care. The ultra rich don’t want universal health care. The ultra rich regard medical doctors as being among the “poor folk,” who can’t even afford to have their own private jets with standby flying staff. They live in a different world. Their world will never know the pain of letting a loved one die because there is not enough money available to have proper, timely medical care applied. The ultra-rich don’t understand why people want them to part with their money on behalf of the children of the poor. Didn’t Charles Dickens give Ebenezer Scrooge an appropriate line addressing this issue? It was something about getting on with dying in order to reduce the surplus population.
So celebrate stupidity at your peril, America! I am not against satire nor any other form of free speech. But cigarette packages now come with dire warnings and even those who smoke know that smoking is bad for them because they have been educated. So satirical shows ought to educate audiences that the idiot behaviours shown in the program are for the entertainment in seeing the idiotic revealed to normal people who would naturally avoid doing those same things. After all, ignorance is curable, stupidity is not! It is perilous to celebrate stupidity. It tends to cause people who might otherwise aspire to greater things to take the easier path of joining the easy-going, “everything’s okay with me,” non-thinking crowd. It’s one thing to be entertained by a dumb-ass comedy movie, it is another thing to live in a dumb-ass society. The movie will always end happily. What do you suppose will happen with the dumb-ass society?