White Liberalism Dot Jpeg
We live in an era of peak political comedy. The President of the United States is a Donald Trump, a savage idiot hellbent on everything and nothing at the same time. He cannot control his impulses and is buffoonish in ways your average politician just isn’t. He is the PERFECT comedy villain. He is Rodney Dangerfield but as a grossly evil personification of the ills of capitalism.
The density of political comedy available at this time is humongous. Beyond the number of Daily Show related hosts in late night comedy (Colbert, Bee, and Oliver), the existence of a president Donald Trump has most definitely made comedy more political, with mainstream stalwarts like Saturday Night Live. The advent of mediums like podcasts and web video platforms like Instagram, Facebook, and YouTube has lowered the bar to entry for anyone to get in on the political comedy game.
In 2017, everything is basically just a web video now. Sure, John Oliver is on TV, but the way we all experience it is as some web video you see on facebook over and over and over again. Everything is designed to be easily digestible, shareable, and topical. In “Capital in the 21st Century”, Thomas Piketty examines the growth and distribution of wealth over the past century as a model for the future. The core finding of his analysis is that wealth begets wealth, with self-reinforcing behaviors that create an unequal distribution leading to massive inequality.
The viral nature of social media acts in an incredibly similar way to wealth. The algorithmic structures reinforce the success of the most popular video, purposely making the most popular videos show up more in user’s timelines encouraging them to be shared more and spread further. This structural design of social media makes it a perfect metaphor for our modern societies; sure, anyone can make a video and share it, but those with the largest platforms will always dominate the space as their size and power give them inherent advantages that most people cannot even dream of.
The virality of political comedy segments, timed to be as topical as possible, has to lead to huge cultural moments over the past year. No program has been more successful in capturing the media, both traditional and digital, than the venerable Saturday Night Live. While Lorne Michael’s 42-year-old comedy institution has employed political humor ever since Dan Aykroyd played Nixon while seeming to refuse to shave off his mustache in 1976, this year has been overflowing with political sketches, from the great, Melissa Mccarthy as Sean Spicer, to the terrible, Alec Baldwin’s Donald Trump impression.
For liberal America, the video du jour for this week was undoubtedly Tina Fey on Saturday Night Live’s Weekend Update where she responded to the horrific events in Charlottesville by eating a cake on TV. The clip has been trending on YouTube non-stop since it first was posted on August 17. Fey delivers numerous quips and attacks on the alt-right neo-nationalists who emerged out of their basement based gaming dens and put on a polo shirt to march for white identity, making ample points concerning the “both sides” equivalency employed by Trump when condemning the violence of the last week. The analysis of the horrible ideology of these racists was very clear from Fey’s monologue, and for many liberals, especially your center-left #resistance types, a cathartic moment of release.
Many on the left, especially leftist of color, had problems with Fey’s proposed solutions to the rise of a militant ethno-nationalist right. The final points of Fey’s segment are incredibly damning to her perspective and bely not just immense privilege of middle-class whiteness but are themselves damning to the broader worldview of modern American liberalism. Isha Aran in Splinter had a damning post, “Tina Fey’s Response to Charlottesville Is White Privilege Personified,” where she examines the ways in which a liberal like Fey cannot help herself but commit the same rhetorical sins of Donald Trump:
“I’m sure Fey’s heart’s in the right place, but it just goes to prove once again that even liberals can fall into the trap of assigning the violence that white supremacists cause to the people trying to stand against it — the flip side of the very same rhetoric Donald Trump was spouting earlier this week.”
Fey’s supposition that we ignore the racists and ignore direct action is not just a form of blind hypocrisy, but in many ways the heart of the center-left worldview we call liberalism in America. Even her most salient and unobjectionable point, to support a minority-owned bakery to buy the cake to make you ignore hoards of alt-right maniacs marching for genocide, is based on one of the core principles of modern liberalism, conscious consumerism. Never mind the fact that for a huge majority of people in this country the only cake they could afford to buy would be from a giant chain grocery store designed to extract wealth from the local community to shareholders and executives while avoiding giving the bakery workers health care coverage, parental leave, or a set schedule. This idea of consumerism as politics both puts the onus for action on the individual as well as giving the inequity of capital a free ride.
The old cliche is that the opposite of love is not to hate, but apathy. As she ended her segment on Weekend Update, Fey explicitly says “Don’t Show Up.” This is what comfortable liberals have always said, dismissing the radicals and activists who decide to show up and stand up to those who don’t believe in democracy. On Democracy Now this week, Cornel West explained how the torch-wielding polo shirt brigade was marching towards a church having an anti-racist interfaith prayer group to trap them when Antifa used the force of their presence to move and hold back the racist protesters to give the prayer group a chance to escape to safety. No cake can do that.