With all the articles that have been written about the TV writers’ strike (how crappy the signs are, Eva Longoria’s strike breaking, neonatal guild members birthed onto the picket line, career-change opportunities for Hollywood hacks, and Dowd’s space filling), no attention has so far been paid to the real victims here. “I shudder to think what’s happening to all the kids who keep in touch with world news by listening to reports of late-night comedians,” some guy told Dowd portentiously. The kids? ‘Excuse me while I whip this out: Screw the future. That’s right. Bump them and focus on the least fortunate in all this, those ugly, peg-legged fawns baying bravely in a media forest aflame with irrelevance and starlets’ lady parts. Without late night satire, where do minor league, one-issue wanna-pundits like myself go to rent ourselves five minutes at the ‘popular’ table? A very bad thing has happened to good blow hards.
Not even those with whom I share DNA give a damn about what I do for a living, but Mahr, Colbert and Stewart do. And as long as they had four nights a week to fill and less than 24 hours in which to do so, dweebs like me – churning out earnest bleatings no one but study hall monitors cared about – had our shot at cool. So long as you define ‘cool’ as being thoroughly, expertly pants-ed astride the 50 yard line during the Homecoming Game and boy do we. You know why? Because you can’t torture us interestingly enough to make good television without grappling with our arguments. We’re the castor oil, they’re the spoonful of sugar. It was the perfectly matched set. In this digital age, when our bosses know exactly how many people read us on the sub-prime mortgage scandal versus Joe Moron on Paris Hilton, we’re used to being humiliated and scoffed at. We factor it in, make obscure jokes about it and keep on theorizing because we know who we are; the original Geek Squad. Go ahead and laugh but your economy breaks down? You maybe wanna know if your new Attorney General has a position on, I don’t know, torture? Who ya gonna call?
We columnists, think tank blowhards, reporters and whack-o activists — all in all the most cocktail-party ending, ozone-depleting gasbags ever found in the captivity — are the satire boys’ sidekicks. Not the kind with proto-super powers like Batman’s Robin or Willow but the kind who make such helpful nuisances of ourselves that our contributions can’t be ignored. We fascinate with our surprising harangues on stuff you should, and deep down do, care about. Snicker at us if you must for constructing Student Council President platforms on the poor old lunch lady’s nose-picking but don’t pretend you didn”t at least think about it whenever she disappeared into the kitchen. Gotcha! Made you think, something only the boys of satire could have slipped past you. Without us tripping over those gnarled tree roots because we can never find our reading glasses, or goofily pushing the glowing red button marked DO NOT TOUCH just to see if the threat was bullshit, you’d never find out what the evil genius is up to. Brainy badinage disguising their civic-mindedness, they’re the guys who make us oh-so-serious schmendriks funny when we mount one of our many high horses over exactly what it was that the Whigs believed and how it affects today’s gas prices. They gave America room to simultaneously take, and not take, itself quite so seriously. Global warming still matters, but what’s a laugh or two gonna hurt?
For all their irony and their anger, Mahr, Stewart and Colbert are among the most idealistic figures in pop culture today (they could also kick ass as journalists. Thank God they don’t ’cause we can only funny by accident.) I sometimes think Stewart’s actually going to cry furious tears when he’s trying to get an administration official to give the straight skinny on the war. Mahr, I suspect, will someday sucker punch someone, so pissed off is he by stupidity. Colbert, the truest performer of the three, is just a naughty little imp having fun screwing with all our heads; who knows what he actually thinks? But I digress.
College kids love them because they make caring cool and the primary way they do that is by out-sourcing the dweebery to nerds like me who long ago embraced the geek chic of primary sources and well-thumbed pocket Constitutions. The late night satire system has subverted the high school pyramid. We do the work. Colbert, Mahr and Stewart, primarily by being appalled at either what we’ve uncovered or what we’ve screwed up, make it interesting and accessible via ridicule. They invite us on their shows and make fun of us while we attempt to save the world, an offer no nerd burger could ever refuse. It’s win-win. We’re cool by association and so is serious thinking because when Joe Cool tells everyone to shut up and listen to the dork they’ve just pinned a ‘kick me’ sign on, they do. Or they did before the stupid writers’ strike, selfish bastards. Where do my socially retarded colleagues and I go now to force ourselves on the unsuspecting who don’t know how badly they need to know what we’re thinking about?
Don’t believe the hype, chickens. There isn’t an ink-stained wretch out there who doesn’t fantasize about getting ‘the call’ from one of the satirist troika of Colbert, Stewart and Mahr (I know. he’s weekly, not nightly). There isn’t one of us who hasn’t done the math – by the time the strike is over, the election will be so close that none of us small names will see a green room while there’s a Bush in the White House. Sigh
Ah, the street cred. The envy of those with Pulitzers and tenure but no backstage time with ‘the boys’. The unbelievable stash of booze in Colbert’s swag bag, according to legend. Gone. Poof. Back to hyper linking and arguing with each other on conference panels.
To paraphrase the dearly departed Maude Flanders, “Won’t someone please think of the pundits?”