If you missed the "cold open" for Saturday Night Live this weekend, you didn't really miss much hilarity. In a skit entitled "Republican Meeting," Dan Aykroyd guest-starred in a parody of House Republican leadership. After watching the bit in stunned silence, out of curiosity, I went back and reviewed the archive with pad and pen in tow to count the laughs. Needless to say, my hand did not tire tallying the yuks in one of the longest six minutes in the history of the Not-Ready-for-Prime-Time Players.

Aside from a raucous welcome for Aykroyd, an original cast member and old friend, the best the audience could muster were a few anticipatory laughs in the early stages of the performance waiting for the bit to gain altitude. It never did. The rest of the piece could only generate a few titters and courtesy laughs as the buffoonish Republicans plotted impeachment proceedings and hatched a tone-deaf plan to pick a fight with the President's incredibly cute daughters. The burlesque had some of the elements of comedy (incongruity and irony), but the attempt lacked the essential element of plausibility without which the laughs just never could materialize.

Don't believe me? Watch for yourself--and report back on any funny lines I missed.

During the campaign, I often wondered what the inexperienced Obama crew would do if they achieved their implausible dream. As that fantasy drew closer to reality over the course of the long campaign, I began to wonder what the mainstream media would do if their dream candidate actually became President of the United States.

For twenty-five years SNL has existed as a pop-culture institution dedicated to "speaking truth to power." But what if these snarky anti-heroes finally succeeded in over-throwing the establishment and installing a revolutionary junta? What then? What would be left to lampoon?

Nothing, as it turns out. SNL has NOT come up with one funny line at the expense of President Obama. Most of us don't even know the name of the actor who plays the President. For the record, it is Fred Armisen, but he has not emerged as a star. Why? Because every one of his performances has been utterly forgettable. Why? Because the braintrust at SNL seems incapable of penetrating observational humor the portrays the President in an unflattering light.

That bears repeating: the braintrust of SNL seems incapable of casting the President of the United States in an unfavorable light.

So, what does SNL do now? They make fun of the opposition. They protect their president by parodying the out-party, mocking those who might be cravenly making fun of him behind closed doors. Sarcastic distortion of high-flying politicians, celebrities, and the mega-rich is almost always good for a laugh. But beating up on the underdog gets unfunny fast.

The ultimate ironic end for SNL? Their success in finally bringing down the ancien regime means that laughing at the powerful is now passe. And if poking fun at the president is now off-limits, the market for court jesters is not so lucrative.

Perhaps the Democratic Party will see fit to bailout their increasingly obsolete friends at 30 Rock.
From NPR:

"While it is true that Barack Obama did not actually invent the light bulb, no one has ever thrown a switch quite like him."

They did not really say that. I made up that line.

But this story this morning about how Barack is going to make reading cool again is in that vein.

First, let me remind you that I really do like this fellow. I do think he is smart and cool and am convinced that he loves his country. I concur wholeheartedly with President Bush's statement of the obvious: "we are rooting for his success because his success will be our national success." Also, I am impressed with the President-elect's love for words. I enjoy his writing (his memoir and his major speeches in which you can clearly see his hand and style coming through).

However, sometimes the breathless mainstream fawning just goes a bit too far.

"Barack Obama is a reader."

How refreshing.

Not only that, he is a writer: "You actually have both a writer and a reader in the White House who is articulate and eloquent in his own right."

Wow. He really is the new Lincoln.

Another expert commentator observes: "And it's clear that he reads not just for entertainment, but to stimulate whatever gifts he has that make him the incredible speaker that he is."

So, he won't just be reading
My Pet Goat.

While the NPR story mentions the claims that the current president reads a lot, we certainly understand why this is going to be totally different. And while Laura Bush gets an obligatory mention as a "former librarian and voracious reader," NPR reporter Lynn Neary neglects to mention that Mrs. Bush, in partnership with the Library of Congress, initiated the National Book Festival back in 2001, which, in actual fact, has become a substantial institution to promote interest and excitement in books. A fact, evidently, not germane to the story of the new President and his potential to positively change our reading habits for the better.

As NPR suggests, maybe Barack really is the new Oprah.
Category: Media and Politics
Posted by: A Waco Farmer
And the award goes to:

Alec Baldwin

"30 Rock"

Tina Fey


And if you don't think they deserve all these accolades, awarded by snarky Hollywood insiders, who love knowingly quick-witted shows about snarky Hollywood insiders, then you can "suck it!"

"30 Rock" is, in fact, a cute show. Yes, the gag gets a bit strained, especially if you don't work in the entertainment industry--but, no matter, it is smart and funny, worth watching (relatively speaking), and it deserves to stay on the air despite its traditionally anemic ratings.

But, come now, this evidently insatiable desire to exalt "30 Rock" and Tina Fey over obviously more-deserving shows and stars is growing tiresome.

We get it. You love Tina Fey. You love how she put Sarah Palin in her place. You love Alec Baldwin. You admire his politics. You swoon over his hip sense of ironic detachment. You love the show about doing a network show. We get it. You really love yourselves. Now move on. There are some truly brilliant comedies out there ("The Office" to name one).

A note on Tina Fey: I really hate this, but I just don't have anything for her anymore. Too bad for me. She was a real favorite (an intellectual brick house: smart, sexy, and funny--the ultimate winning hand). But no more. The crush is over.

And, of course, it was the Sarah Fey-lin gag that killed that loving feeling. By the time it was through, the whole bit was just so "played." When I first heard Tina Fey was going to do Palin I had my doubts. Tina Fey is a comic genius--but she is not a great actress. She is great playing Tina Fey--but anything more than that is a real stretch. But, on that first night, she hit Palin out of the park. It was a pitch-perfect tour de force. But she went down hill from there, pushing a one-gag bit way beyond its viability.

If you listen carefully, she does not really sound much like Palin (her impersonation is actually a lot more Bob and Doug McKenzie than Sarah). Upon closer inspection, Tina Fey is not nearly as attractive as Palin. Over the long haul, the Tina Fey character was thin and tinny. The gag relied way too much on a beauty contest Sarah Palin entered in her late teens. Because of her limited acting ability, Tina Fey's Sarah Palin increasingly drew on a generic dopey bubble-brained bimbo stock character. By the end of the run, there was nothing left in the tank.

And what did Tina Fey do when there was nothing left? She kept coming with the cartoon, piling on the hackneyed sexist stereotypes to camouflage the lack of penetrating content. Why? Because her friends kept laughing. And she was on the side of the angels. Maybe this wasn't completely fair--but it was for the cause. Sometimes you have to be a "mean girl" when the whole world hangs in the balance. And Sarah Palin had it coming. She had dared to insinuate that Barack Obama's stint as a community organizer had not prepared him to be President of the United States. She was fair game.

Anyhow, when I look at Tina Fey now, I no longer see a sharp attractive woman at the peak of her creative powers with a heart for the underdog. Now, I only see the bully, willing to slash and burn to be popular. It worked. Congratulations, Tina Fey. You are the toast of town.
First off, thanks to the Gardener for his kind remarks about me personally, which I fully reciprocate. I thoroughly enjoyed his response to my Joel Stein piece. Ironically, our original idea for a blog centered around what we often did through the years: the exchange of emails hashing out issues of history, politics, culture, and religion. I say "ironically," as I believe our intention was to do much more of that brand of discourse on our blog than we actually do. Well, the best laid schemes...

What is so amazing about Joel Stein?

It is his honesty about himself and his fellow travelers. This strikes me as nearly unique among his brethren.

While I concede the Gardener's point that Stein does not fully understand conservatism, I would also say that observation is almost irrelevant to my assertion of admiration.

A liberal with a sympathetic understanding of conservatism would be truly miraculous, indeed. Of course, I would guess that devout liberal readers of the Bosque Boys (if there were such an animal) would point to a whole slew of perceived misrepresentations and "straw men" over the years.

Not so remarkable. Pretty human, in fact.

What is remarkable is when a liberal (or conservative) swims against the stream of his own ideological shibboleths.

I gave three examples from Stein:

1. Liberals really don't love America as much as Conservatives.

2. Jews enjoy disproportionate representation in the media and entertainment industry.

3. Blithely proclaiming that you "support the troops" while you oppose the war is disingenuous and is put forward merely for the sake of PR.

Those are devastatingly frank admissions--and exceedingly rare.

Does he get us conservatives right? Not exactly--but, then again, it is more our job than his to get us right. Moreover, a lot of our political discussion is thrust and parry. They assert, and then we defend and counter-assert. At some point, we get fairly close to a truth.

So, Joel Stein is NOT amazing because of his cogent observations about conservatives; he is amazing for his incredibly forthright admissions about his own team.

I think this is a man with whom we can do business.
Category: Media and Politics
Posted by: an okie gardener
I have deep respect and even affection for A Waco Farmer. He's one of my hetero-life-mates. But sometimes I do a different take on things. Take his recent expression of respect for Joel Klein ( I don't think Farmer was being sarcastic). I did read Klein off-and-on, but gave up on him a couple of years ago as being a great example of the smart fool, the worldly-mind. I will grant that Klein here is honest about his own, and most liberal's, attitude toward America. But he misrepresents conservatives, and so concedes to a straw man.

In Klein's recent LA Times opinion piece he made these statements:

I don't love America. That's what conservatives are always telling liberals like me. Their love, they insist, is truer, deeper and more complete. Then liberals, like all people who are accused of not loving something, stammer, get defensive and try to have sex with America even though America will then accuse us of wanting it for its body and not its soul. When America gets like that, there's no winning.

But I've come to believe conservatives are right. They do love America more. Sure, we liberals claim that our love is deeper because we seek to improve the United States by pointing out its flaws. But calling your wife fat isn't love. True love is the blind belief that your child is the smartest, cutest, most charming person in the world, one you would gladly die for. I'm more in "like" with my country.

Klein here tells us a lot about himself, but nothing really about conservatives. He contrasts liberal love--seeking to improve the U.S.--with conservative love and concludes that liberals just "like" America. A conservative's love of America, Klein wrote, is "the blind belief that your child is the smartest, cutest, most charming person in the world." Wrong. "True love" does not mean blind belief that your children are the best. My wife and I have raised three and we are proud of them. But I have always been aware of their flaws and weaknesses, as well as their strengths. I have sought to minimize the former and encourage the latter. Conservative love for America is not blind. Any real conservative can list on the spot at least three things that objectively make America the greatest, and the ideal place to live. At this moment I would list our Constitution including the Bill of Rights, our national history of self-improvement, and the generosity of Americans with their own money and resources toward those in need. And conservatives, so long as their has been a conservative movement, would like some things in America to be different, and work to change them. Our love is passionate, but not self-deluding.

. . ., I still think conservatives love America for the same tribalistic reasons people love whatever groups they belong to. These are the people who are sure Christianity is the only right religion, that America is the best country, that the Republicans have the only good candidates, that gays have cooties.

So, Mr. Klein, you have advanced enough to transcend tribalism. Perhaps, though, you're just afraid of commitment.
Category: Media and Politics
Posted by: A Waco Farmer
Like legions of loyal conservative RCP fans, this morning I clicked onto this intriguing title: "Do Republicans Love America Too Much?"

What did I find? Joel Stein, columnist for the LA Times.

What's the big deal? I feel like a successful Diogenes. I think I have finally discovered an honest liberal pundit.

His thesis today (the Times headline writer was more descriptive than the RCP tag): "Republicans are blinded by love. Lefties just don't have the same feeling about America as the hard right does."

Can you believe a liberal is willing to admit this obvious but awkward and uncomfortable fact of life? Usually, that simple truth is "fighting words" for most left-of-center politicos. But Stein doesn't just own up to the "accusation," he patiently explains the merits of a healthy skepticism for the "tribalism" that compels patriots to slavishly adore their native land.

Savor this gem:

But I've come to believe conservatives are right. They do love America more. Sure, we liberals claim that our love is deeper because we seek to improve the United States by pointing out its flaws. But calling your wife fat isn't love. True love is the blind belief that your child is the smartest, cutest, most charming person in the world, one you would gladly die for. I'm more in "like" with my country.

How honest is Stein? His previous column addressed the awkward truth that Jews actually do run Hollywood. Did he really say that? Another must read.

Some of you may be thinking this is a familiar name. And some of you are undoubtedly thinking, "how could this ignoramus not know Joel Stein."

In fact, Stein made a big splash a couple of years ago when he wrote a column in which he explained that he did not "support the troops." Why? Because he opposed the war. And supporting the troops and opposing the war was a prima facie contradiction.


But I'm not for the war. And being against the war and saying you support the troops is one of the wussiest positions the pacifists have ever taken -- and they're wussy by definition. It's as if the one lesson they took away from Vietnam wasn't to avoid foreign conflicts with no pressing national interest but to remember to throw a parade afterward.

One more must read, equally brilliant in its honesty and impeccable logic.

I am now recalling the dust up back then resulting from this piece. A lot of the right-wing talkers held him up as the ultimate disloyal liberal pundit. Too bad. That reaction misses the point.

In Joel Stein we have an incisive and honest (and laugh-out loud funny) opponent. My guess is that we can learn a lot from him. Stein is now a permanent must read for me.
I read Newsweek sometimes. Fareed Zakaria does some good pieces, like this one (although it's not actually IN Newsweek, but Foreign Affairs). Plus, I like the page toward the front that has cartoons and quotations on it. Usually good stuff there.

But this week's cover story by Lisa Miller does a good job of wiping away any respect I held for the mag. As journalism, the piece is lacking - she only interviews one side of the debate, and makes assumptions as to the arguments of the other. As biblical exegesis (hey, it's what she's purporting to do, so she should be judged on it) it is un-nuanced, incomplete, and dead wrong on several assertions.

I'd go on, but Molly at getreligion.org did a much better job than I could - LINK.

I have no idea how this made it in the mag, let alone got the cover. I can only think that the magazine as a whole is completely shot. Sorry, Fareed, but your next article will have to make it to Foreign Affairs, too, before I'll get around to reading it.

For the last eight years, I have paid $9.83 per month for cable. Upon moving to Waco, Texas, back in 2000, I asked for the most basic cable package available. The customer service rep replied that this would cost me approximately $35 per month. I asked for something even more basic, at which point the official reluctantly volunteered that I could purchase a less-than-basic package for a monthly charge of $8.99.

For less than ten dollars per month, I get all the network affiliates, two PBS stations, two Spanish language stations, the TV Guide Channel, Waco public access, a local weather channel, TBS, and C-SPAN 1 & 2. This has been a great deal.

As a result of our entertainment deprivation, my family loves to travel and stay in hotels and wallow in the luxury of expanded cable. These intermittent excursions always reaffirm my sense that cable TV is of the devil--mostly because of my contempt for Cartoon Network and the Disney Channel.

On a quick trip across the Gulf Coast this summer, however, I experienced the malevolent power of the cable news media. My nine-year-old son, previously a John McCain booster (because of his views on the war), announced, after thirty minutes of watching CNN’s political coverage, that he could no longer support McCain and would switch to Barack Obama.

What explained the change of heart? Just good objective reporting, I guess.

Some Context: my nine-year-old is not a political junkie (like I was at that age), but he is still brighter and more knowledgeable concerning the mechanics of politics and history than most voters. But he was certainly impressionable enough to embrace the palpable political narrative hawked on CNN.

Another example.

After John McCain's classic concession speech, an infuriatingly large number of friends and colleagues observed that this was the McCain they had formerly admired--but had somehow gotten lost in the "Rovian makeover."

A very common statement: "if he had run his campaign like that, I might have supported him."

These Pavlovian responses revealed that none of these so-called educated Americans really bothered to watch the campaign. For most of them, I suspect, the concession was the first John McCain speech they had witnessed in full all season.

In truth, McCain was McCain in 2008. As someone who watched literally hours upon hours of raw footage of all four candidates on the stump (thank you, C-SPAN), I can tell you that the concession was thoroughly in keeping with the campaign. McCain is McCain. McCain was McCain. Love him or hate him, or fall somewhere in between, but the man has not changed one iota during my twenty years of watching him.

Why did so many voters perceive him so differently this season? Most of us understand the answer to that question all too well. McCain faced a stiff headwind in terms of the coverage he received--and he never really broke through all the partisan noise. What I think I heard people saying last week was that they had accepted a mainstream media template buttressed by a few seconds of McCain on the stump or a McCain campaign ad followed by a few minutes of talking head analysis reaffirming the Obama political line:

McCain went negative. McCain went racist. McCain went Karl Rove.

Balderdash. An honest reassessment of this campaign at some point in the future, of course, will reveal a much different story--but, then again, who will care?

Finally, a telling personal observation based on experience:

Confession: I actually cheated in re cable. During the last week of the campaign, I had the opportunity to watch massive amounts of cable news network coverage of the canvass. For the first time in my life I watched a full "Hannity and Colmes." I watched O'Riley. I watched Anderson Cooper. I also watched Keith Olberman, admittedly for only a few minutes at a time--Olberman is an excruciating experience for me.

Honestly, for the most part, I loved it. The sounds and sights. The intoxicating noise. The swirling graphics. The constantly changing television topography. My eyes were the size of saucers. For me, it was as addictive as chocolate candy.

But the weird and scary aspect of the experience comes in the detox. When I finally found my way back to C-SPAN, I was a bit bored. My cable news interlude had shredded my attention span. Ordinarily, I am excited to watch a stump speech from the introductions to the main speaker to the ritual handshaking afterward choreographed to a driving rock and roll beat. But it does not take long to lose the discipline necessary to watch a full campaign speech. It is much easier and quite tempting to get the entertainment news media Cliff's Notes and fake the rest.

This cotton candy system of delivering information is full of momentary exhilaration--but it is contributing to our rapid decline.

Cable TV is the devil--or, at the very least, the seductive song of the Sirens.

Strip down your cable to C-SPAN and save American democracy.
I wrote this piece for another venue (it was "give a conservative the mike night" at Osler's Razor). But I thought some of you might find it interesting.

Recently, a Saturday Night Live skit skewered Nancy Pelosi, Barney Frank, George Soros, “deadbeat” homebuyers, speculators, and Herb and Marion Sandler for their roles in the mortgage meltdown. Pretty clever. To my great surprise, it proved insightfully critical of Democrats.

Then, last week, without explanation, the clip disappeared off the program's website. Why? According to spokespersons from SNL and NBC, when pressed for answers, the bit "didn't meet [their] standards."


It did not meet SNL standards? Really!?!

What standards exactly? Standards of accuracy? Good taste? Fairness? Standards? Really!?!

Do you remember the one about (fill in your favorite tasteless SNL moment here)? But this one did not meet your standards?


No harm, no foul—I suppose. After a lot of wailing and gnashing of teeth on the conservative blogosphere, the skit is back on the website—but, come now, standards?


The Good News: the Tina Fey/Sarah Palin material, evidently, continues to live up to all aforementioned SNL “standards.”

Does the Media lean left? Pretty hard to name a sitcom or drama with a conservative undertone. There is no conservative late night talk show or equivalent to SNL. I cannot think of a conservative David E. Kelly or Aaron Sorkin. Or, for some of us old timers, a conservative Norman Lear. Anybody?

Are there logical reasons for this? Certainly. Creative folks are naturally more prone to a “liberal” sensibility. Entertainment is a product of New York and L.A. Conservatives just aren’t that funny?

Am I whining? I don’t think so. I don’t mean to be. I have come to accept the world as it is. I am not one to rail against the liberal bias of the mainstream media. I am, in fact, a big fan of Saturday Night Live, and I have been, literally, since the very beginning.

I suffer their politics because I enjoy their art. Such is life. The perfect is often the enemy of the good.

Important Confession: I am also a big fan of NPR. I admire their artistry. I acknowledge their left-leaning bias, which often colors their coverage of Republicans and conservatives in unflattering and unfriendly ways. Nevertheless, I appreciate the skill and erudition that permeates every aspect of their operation.

However, there are times when the subtle bias of NPR makes me cringe. The other morning I was listening to a story about a bell-weather county in Indiana in which the poor NPR correspondent, Howard Burkes, dutifully reported on three ignoramuses who wondered whether they could vote for a Muslim. Berkes immediately inserted into the audio narrative, with his well-modulated authority, a correction: “of course, he [Obama] has always been a Christian.” Later, a more enlightened white voter asserted (without challenge): "If Obama were a white man, I'd say he'd be way out in front here and nationally."

According to reputable national polls, approximately 90 percent of voters understand that Barack Obama is a professing Christian. Give national news organizations credit for digging up the ignorant tenth in disproportionate numbers to buttress the obligatory mention of the most famously false accusation in American history. Then, the corrective from Berkes: “he’s always been a Christian.” From birth? Funny—but also a cultural commentary that even this basic fact of Protestant Christianity somehow eluded this top national reporter. This is a mistake you might expect from one trying to make sense of a foreign culture. More importantly, it also omits a telling episode in the life of the candidate (the way in which Obama came to Christ). And then there is the ubiquitous assertion that “race” is somehow holding back this candidate. Presumably, if he were white (like John Kerry, Al Gore, Mike Dukakis, Walter Mondale, or George McGovern), Barack Obama would be fourteen points ahead by now.

As I say, I love NPR—but this story is just another example of the unexamined assumptions that permeate even the best reporting in America.

Again, don’t hear me complaining. But I do get a little frustrated when I hear liberals rail against FOX News and other arms of the conservative media as somehow egregiously biased (compared, presumably, to the mainstream media culture).

FULL DISCLOSURE: I should mention that I do not watch FOX News on a regular basis. Why? I have an ultra-frugal cable package, which, blessedly, does not offer FOX News, CNN, MSNBC, or the Cartoon Network. Thanks be to God. However, my package does come with C-SPAN 1 & 2 (my wife has long suspected some kind of conspiracy regarding that piece of good fortune). FYI: there is no skullduggery involved—I am just lucky that way.

Having said that, I do monitor FOX News—and feel competent to comment on the following question:

How is FOX News different from the other network and cable news organizations?

Fox is not under the delusion of "objectivity." The liberal mainstream media labors under the self-serving certainty that they are reporting the news of the day in an objective way.

No matter how many studies show that an obscenely high percentage of "Beltway" reporters vote for Democratic candidates, mainstream reporters continue to argue that their personal politics do not impinge on their ability to report the news in a detached manner. They are professionals. In their own minds, they are expertly objective.

I have always believed that the FOX News slogan, "fair and balanced," was partly a parody of the mainstreamer’s tortured self-perception.

What do I mean by that?

Most of the Fox pioneers were veteran reporters and producers from the mainstream orgs (think Britt Hume formerly of ABC News). They had toiled in the fields of their oppressors for years. When they broke free and raised their own flag, they signaled their independence and defiance with a series of slogans like "We Report, You Decide" and "Fair and Balanced."

Moreover, they knew well that the competition would see FOX as conservatives reporting the news through a lens of conservatism. But they also knew that their liberal counterparts would NOT see FOX as their mirror image; the established media would continue to see themselves as faithful adherents to the sacred calling of objectivity; they would see FOX News as unwashed infidels desecrating the holy temple of objective journalism.

The FOX News brain trust fully expected that their conservative cable news network would make the mainstream newspersons apoplectic. Furthermore, I am convinced that they think the whole situation is quite hilarious.

Bottom Line: it really comes down to whose ox is getting gored. FOX viewers appreciate a reading and framing of the news sympathetic to conservatism. This makes some non-conservatives very angry. Liberals should calm down, be more generous, and let conservatives have one news outlet.
I am not sure what this is worth, but will offer the following for consideration.

I teach an American History Course on Ft. Sill over the lunch hour. The class is mixed military and civilian, many of the civilians being post workers or military spouses.

I was surveying the 90s today, and the Clinton Administration. I remarked about Clinton still providing fodder for late-night comedians. Blank looks. I asked, "You folks have heard the Clinton jokes on late night TV haven't you?" Negative response. "Do any of you watch Letterman, Leno, Conan, Ferguson?" Negative responses.

It turns out that NO ONE in my class watches the late-night comedy/talk shows, even on Friday night. It's not that they did watch and for some reason quit watching. They just do not and have not watched these programs.

I knew that today's youth watch far less TV than previous age cohorts, instead playing video games, chatting on the internet, or watching videos. But I had no idea so many are unaware of the monologues.

If my class is anywhere close to representative, then the late-night comics are not affecting the youth vote by their monologues on Old McCain, Moose Hunter Sarah, or Hair Plug Biden. (Rarely do I hear or read jokes about Obama on late night.)