Making Comedy Safe for the World

Don’t let the system fool you/All it wants to do is rule you[.]”

Bruce Cockburn

Many American colleges are insular freak shows resembling the Duggar family – except the incest is intellectual. And their Duggar-like offspring, political lobotomees untroubled by self-doubt, want to save the world. Justice is their business, and business is good.

And so we have San Diego State University’s Anthony Berteaux, catechizing the uninstructed Jerry Seinfeld for complaining that college students are too politically correct:

We need to talk about the role that provocative comedy holds today in a progressive world.

It isn’t so much that college students are too politically correct (whatever your definition of that concept is), it’s that comedy in our progressive society today can no longer afford to be crass, or provocative for the sake of being offensive. Sexist humor and racist humor can no longer exist in comedy because these concepts are based on archaic ideals that have perpetrated injustice against minorities in the past….

So, yes, Mr. Seinfeld, we college students are politically correct. We will call out sexism and racism if we hear it. But if you’re going to come to my college and perform in front of me, be prepared to write up a set that doesn’t just offend me, but has something to say.

borg queenOh, would that Political Correctness could Borg the world, submitting everyone to a frictionless, unified consciousness while actualizing our individuated diversities.  As Arthur Allen Leff observes, “[w]hat we want, Heaven help us, is simultaneously to be perfectly ruled and perfectly free, that is, at the same time to discover the right and the good and to create it.”  Until that deliverance, we must ensure the progress thus far made. Doing so requires domesticating comedy, proscribing jokes that “can no longer exist” because they reprise the hateful past. Moreover, comedy can’t simply amuse; like propaganda, it must improve us (Read Nick Gillespie’s excellent take-down of such “[d]idactic [a]rt.”)


Remembering Jefferson: Beagle, Friend, Terror

April 25th marked one year since I lost Jefferson, beagle and beloved terror. I write to remember him. Doubtless some of you are thinking “It’s only his fourth column and he’s already eulogizing dead pets. Spiraling into narcissism are we?  And isn’t this supposed to be a culture blog?” Fair enough. One defense: My dogs have been an education in politics and economics:  When two dogs get new the exact same toy, each still wants the other’s; that a toy may be abandoned for months, but as soon as one rediscovers it, the other demands it; that the keeper’s love and attention are always a zero sum game; and that my basset hound, like a French royal unwary of the guillotine, can laze about while demanding my servitude. Another defense: Life is often hideous and crushing; appreciating its blessings softens its blows. Jefferson and I shared plenty of both, and I’m better for it.

Jefferson was a beagle’s beagle (with possibly a little foxhound mixed in): avid hunter, neurotic demander, chaos on four legs. A definitive anecdote: One afternoon, two dumb-dumb tourists picnicked in a favorite dog park upon ground perpetually befouled by urine and feces. They took a few minutes to retreat, but not before Jefferson indulged multiple drive-bys, snatching their food in perfect glee.



My Bloody Easter Basket: Appreciating Lair of the White Worm


It’s Eastertide, so I’m thinking about human sacrifice. Feeding monsters virgins is for primitives and pagans. We Westerners are above all that. Except we’re not.

Human sacrifice centers Christian identity. Forget the Jesus-loves-you sentimentality churches retail to smooth their theological edges. At bottom, Easter is about filicide. God murdered his only son (incarnated for that purpose) to save people from the hellfire God himself prescribed (because Eve talked to the wrong snake). Of course, everything’s cocaine and cream cakes because God’s sacrifice saves the world and Jesus comes back to life. So it’s human sacrifice, but with a Hollywood ending.

Yet, “human kind/[c]annot bear very much reality[,]” so we’ve turned Easter into egg hunts and Peter Cottontail. Easter reminds us that God kills. A lot: the Great Flood (so much for that beta test), the Midianites (except for female virgins kept as war spoils), Passover (which somehow reminds me of this), and finally Jesus (sort of). Maybe it’s marketing for kids. Try explaining to a child that God murder/suicide loves you. Or maybe it’s because dying for something is what we pay other people to do.



Will You Suffer to Come Unto Me? Remembering Daniel Von Bargen and Lord of Illusions

nix2We lost Daniel Von Bargen on March 1st. He had dozens of acting credits, Seinfeld’s Kruger arguably the most famous. I write to remember his underappreciated turn as Nix, the black magic cult leader in Clive Barker’s Lord of Illusions (1995).

The best horror films, I observed last time, disturb our moral reality. In America’s moral reality remains decidedly Christian. And, as Protestants (culturally, if not by affiliation), we (in the words of Illusions’ hero, Harry D’Amour (Scott Bakula)) “[c]an’t have too many saviors.”) We’re always open to new messiahs, either religious (snake handlers, peepstoners, faith healers) or informally so (Tony Robbins, Oprah Winfrey, Dr. Oz). Charisma conquers reason, and suddenly we’re in love again. Lord of Illusions examines what happens when we fall for the wrong messiah.

Nix presents as a redeemer. Calling himself “The Puritan[,]” he promises that death is an illusion and that he and his followers will “cleanse the world.” Sound familiar? As often happens with captivating leaders and credulous minions, it all goes to shit. Spurned by his chief disciple, Philip Swann (Kevin J. O’Connor), Nix becomes an anti-Christ who “could eat your fucking soul[.]” He confesses that he “wasn’t born to show people the error of their ways,” but rather “to murder the world.” Von Bargen triumphs by adducing more sympathy for Nix the spurned lover than fear or loathing for Nix the mass murderer. We want to hug our would-be destroyer. For, without love, Nix is “a man who wanted to be a god, then changed his mind.” He discovers that “[t]he grave is lonely,” but, without Swann, “[l]iving is worse.” And he declares, before finally incarnating evil, “I’m going to be rotten shit from now on.” There, there.


zombie 30th

I Hope Jesus Isn’t a Zombie: Return of the Living Dead and Re-Animator Turn 30

Return of the Living Dead

Thirty years ago, America’s two best horror films emerged: Return of the Living Dead (written and directed by Dan O’Bannon) and Re-Animator (co-written and directed by Stuart Gordon). Both function farcically.  In Return, mistake begets mistake until good intentions make a blood bath.  In Re-Animator, man’s attempts to improve reality only expose his incompetence to do so.  And, in reminding us of our limitations, both films affirm traditional morality, even while appearing to mock it.

The Return of the Living Dead occurs courtesy of our absurd war on drugs.  A “typical Army fuck-up” mistakenly sends barrels of 2-4-5 Trioxin, an anti-marijuana toxin that happens to reanimate the dead, to a Louisville, Kentucky medical supply warehouse.  Instead of returning the barrels, warehouse owner Burt (a perfect Clu Gulager in a deathlessly uncool Members Only jacket) hides them in the basement.  Then Frank (James Karen), Burt’s dim-witted underling, accidentally ruptures one while showing off for new employee Freddy (Thom Matthews).  The 2-4-5 Trioxin revives the warehouse inventory: Pinned butterflies flutter, split dogs bark, and a naked, piss-yellow cadaver (call him “Yellow Man”) thunders against his freezer’s door.

Burt attempts a cover-up. He persuades Ernie (Don Calfa), the mortician working late at the neighboring Resurrection Cemetery, to cremate the reanimated inventory.  But this multiplies his problems.  A flash thunderstorm rains the contaminated smoke onto the cemetery, reviving its residents.  Soon, rampaging zombies besiege not only Burt and company, but also Freddy’s punker friends, who’ve been partying in the cemetery.  As the zombies overwhelm dozens of heavily-armed police called to the scene, Burt contacts the Army for help.  The Army responds by nuking Louisville.  This is the ultimate error.  The incinerated zombies mix once again with the rain, threatening another outbreak. (more…)