Two Stars and A Wish — Happy Independence Day, Homeland!

American Flag

Roy Lichtenstein’s “La Nouvelle Chute de L’Amerique” 1992 (taken from live auctioneers.com)

I don’t know what’s current in American education. Well, alright. I have a vague idea, but not intimate knowledge. I’ve never taught there. I qualified in Dublin, taught there and taught here. And at least in classrooms over here, we repeat the phrase, “two stars and a wish” to our students, often when they’re marking each other’s work (imagine it in saccharine Hallmark tones: “Alrighty, class! Give your neighbour two stars and a wish and when you’re done with that give ’em a big ole thumbs up!”), the rationale being that children emphasise the positive in each other’s work twice as much as the negative.

And that’s what I’m doing today. Two proud Americans for whom I have a great fondness and one who really, really “could do better” (That’s another thing teachers write. Quite a bit. Just in case you didn’t quite see what I was doing there…).

Jon Stewart

Jon Stewart American

The Man, The Legend, The Stewart (image taken from jewishjournal.com)

Comedy is a hard thing to keep up with while living abroad. Ask me to name the big ones on the American scene and I’d struggle. Sara Silverman. Is she still big? I think Andy Borowitz is rather funny, but I’m partial to him because he hosts the American version of my favorite satirical British radio show, The News Quiz. But Stewart will always hold a special place in my heart. For it was The Daily Show that gave me solace with its grimly side-splitting conceits in the wake of Dubya’s theft of the election in 2000. And it is Stewart and his show that still form a bonding point when I go back home on my yearly summer pilgrimage and sit down with my brothers to convulse giddily while watching the man let rip with his Kronkite delivery and his incisive wit, tearing the powers that be and anything else that seems utterly ridiculous and nutty in America to shreds. I have caught my Irish wife, who has become suspicious of all things American — nothing to do with marrying me, she assures me — especially American comedy, laugh out loud (No really, she did. It’s not one of those cases where someone types it but they’re barely amused) at Stewart and it takes genuine funny to crack an Irish skeptic. Long live Stewart, fine American.

Ralph Nader, The Leftie We All Left Behind

Nader American

Man of Integrity (Image taken from guardian.co.uk)

If you could have been there. Here was a man who stood for something. Here was a man we used to toast at meetings of Amnesty International over wine and… letters. Here was a man who ran for president and who you voted for even though you knew he wasn’t going to win because in the end, you wanted to news broadcasters to say that a significant percentage of Americans cared about the issues. Because that’s what Nader did. He insisted on not shutting up about the issues like environmentalism, corporate greed and corruption and accountability, issues that no other politician would consent to mention in public. And he’s still doing it. Brazen enough to respond to the criticism that he split the vote for Al Gore, I once saw Nader respond to this issue on The Daily Show by saying, “Al Gore prevented me from being president!” Got to admire that spirit.

Dennis Miller, Clearest Transformation To A**hole

Dennis Miller American

Jerk! (Image taken from worm radio.net)

Ever tried googling “Was Dennis Miller always…”? Try it now. Actually, I’ll spoil it for you. Your non-evil browser will help unite your thought with the rest of the browsing community by suggesting, “conservative” and the second link it presents is headed, “When exactly did Dennis Miller lose his mind?” Which is entirely appropriate. I always thought that Miller was the obscure political comedian whose jokes I got because I was well-read and he made recondite references that no one else got, making him the pretentious intellectual comic that no one liked.

Until I saw him on Fox at my parents’ house (my folks are slightly bigger fans of Fox than I am) chumming around with Bill O’Reilly and frothing at the mouth about “damned liberals.” He had that same deranged and “slightly off the deep end” focus in his eyes that you saw the last time you were arguing with someone who thought that Ann Coulter was a perfectly legitimate authority. On anything. That conservative, “Oh but I know I’m right!” righteous look. You know the one. It was a sad moment for me. Because my earliest memories of Miller are also nostalgic ones of my older brother letting me stay up late to watch The Dennis Miller show on his TV. I remember laughing even though I didn’t get it a lot of the time and then the knowing, superior laugh when I finally started to get it. Never in my wildest dreams did I suspect that he was a rabid Repundit.

The concept that conservative commentators don’t seem to get though is that humour is generally subversive. It’s a bit cheeky. A bit naughty. A bit rock-the-boat. Confirming one’s own reactionary values with a knowing laugh is never going to be as funny or as popular. That’s why the miserable 1/2 News Hour was never, ever going to work. Yes, Joel Surnow, satire does tilt right sometimes, but then we call it desperate.

I think at some point in his career when we’d all forgotten about him Dennis Miller made a conscious decision that he wanted to be remembered for something. It’s just a shame he chose to be remembered for being a slightly off-the-bend right-wing maniac. Could do better.

Well that’s it folks. Peace out. I’m at work tomorrow. Rest assured, I’ll be reminding my British colleagues that I’m internally celebrating my independence from them. In the meantime, Happy Fourth ya’ll!

Image from writing-the-wrongs.blogspot.com

Image from writing-the-wrongs.blogspot.com

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4 responses

  1. You nailed the characterizations of U.S. comics. Jon Stewart brings more news to Americans than much of the mainstream media, albeit with satire. I think ‘desperate’ is the right term to describe Dennis Miller. (How did ABC ever pick him as a color commentator for Monday Night Football?) He symbolizes why comics are typically progressive – conservatives are unable to laugh at themselves, and thus are mostly not funny.
    As for Nader, as much as I admire his values, I never quite forgave him for handing the country over to Dubya in 2000. I think his comment that Gore kept him from getting elected indicates a lack of humility.
    We won’t be openly celebrating this July 4th while we are here in the UK. Nonetheless, Happy Independence Day to you, too. 🙂 – Mike

    1. Thanks very much for your kind words, Mike.

      Miller is thoroughly loathsome, though I think he enjoys being hated, perhaps has even embraced it. Since you’re in the UK now, have you got into Radio 4 yet? Have a listen to The Now Show and News Quiz podcasts. Hilarious.

      I see what you’re saying from a practical standpoint with Nader, but shouldn’t we be reframing it to say, “Why didn’t Al Gore work hard enough to engage the Nader protest voters in issues that really mattered because then it might not have been so close anyway and we wouldn’t have got entrenched in an unjust conflict because of Bush’s unilateral action and countless other evils of his presidency would have been avoided?”

      I’d like to think Nader’s mission was always to bring the issues to the forefront of the minds of the voters.

  2. Thanks for that. It’s very annoying that Channel 4 isn’t showing the weekly version of the Daily Show at least. It’s almost enough to make me get sky …

    I’d always thought that if Nader knew just how close it was going to be, he would have taken himself off the ballot in Florida at least. I quite liked his comment to Jon Stewart though!

    1. Thanks for commenting. Glad you enjoyed.

      I still think it would have paid off for Gore to have worked more for the left wing core and struck some deal with Nader to take a clear stand on at least two or three of the issues that he was hot on, but then, I guess Gore veering to the left might well have lost the popular vote.

      Ah. Pondering the unknown unknowns.

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