"Let nothing human be alien to me"- Terence

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Jay and Sarah and Dave and Mitt

So, in direct opposition to my "only pop culture post" below, I am going to go again.  Sarah Palin was on Jay Leno tonight, and Mitt Romney was on Letterman.  And even though I dislike to loathe 75% of that crew, I felt obligated as a fan of late night, and observer of our politics, and- most importantly- as a lazy, lazy man to not get off the couch and instead flip back and forth.

Let's start with Palin on Leno.  Hopefully I will be able to get to her stand-up routine.  I am not drinking tonight, though, so I am unsure I can handle it emotionally.  I'll see if I can get there.  Palin came on, in jeans and some kind of sweater, and had her "hey how ya' doin'?" thing going on.  It was folksy and charming, I guess, if you didn't know what a seething ball of vindictiveness and cognitive-dissonance lay beneath the faux-rusticism.  But she immediately launched into stale responses to boring questions about the media (essentially, and unchallenged: she joined Fox because the mainstream media mixes opinion with reporting.  Straight face on that.) and about what Americans want, and how she is out there looking for common-sense solutions.   It was pablum, but she does deliver pablum with a searing intensity.  It is because she really believes it, I think- she is unable to think beyond derivative nonsense, and that endows her with an integrity that can't be faked, regardless of the morality or heft behind the words.

So it is a commercial- let us jump to the candidate for whom "can't be faked" has no meaning: Mitt "Mitt" Romney.  Him and Dave used the first segment to talk about what it was like to have a famous father, a car executive, and a few other softballs.  Romney was charming, and even funny.  We've seen this before with Dave- first segment is soft, then he goes into politics.  I found myself liking Romney, especially in comparison with Palin.  He told good stories about the beat-up hand-me-down cars that he got, despite (or because of) his father's position, and how he put racing stripes on one of them to be cool. (Dave: "Look out chicks!")  He ended by talking about the airplane attack, with a well-delivered "he broke my hair."  I don't know if he has used this before, but it was new to me, and I actually laughed out loud.  Commercial.

Back to Palin, and, like Dave, Jay was using the second segment to talk politics.  He asked about the Tea Parties, and she talked about how they are non-partisan and just looking for common sense and frustration with th government who needs to get back on their side.  This sounds good, of course, but their rallies actually resemble a "no government" approach.  Jay's most probing question: "I saw a guy with a sign saying "Government hands off my health care", which was a nice touch, but Palin rebounded professionally by dismissing it and moving quickly on.  And then: then.  He asked if she wanted to make her comedy debut.  She went off-stage, and Jay introduced her.

Readers: it was awful.  But very, very well-done, I suppose.  Every "joke" had the "Yeah, so I did X.  That is like Y".  Set-up/punchline, almost with the same syllables.  Perfect harmony. There were two kinds of jokes, how about Alaska ones, and politics.  Alaska sample: "Yeah, I liked the Olympic Closing Ceremony.  WHen they had the giant inflatable moose I remembered that I hadn't made dinner yet."  Or, politics "Shaun White did a (para) Twirling 1280 Switcheroo.  I haven't seen that since last week with the White House and health care."

OK, she isn't a comedian, and I guess that skit was kind of charming.  People who love her will love it ("Sarah can do anything!") and people who hate her will find a way to pick apart everything (which I won't do).  But what really struck me was that I had no idea if she wrote her material or if Jay's people did- there literally was no way to tell.  The hackiness, the ease, the pandering, the bitterness behind it, the contempt for anyone without the same worldview: they have the same essential audience.  Politics aside, it is extremely conservative: nothing unexpected, nothing challenging, nothing forward-looking.

(as an aside, I will note that Dave's monologues are pretty painful.  But he delivers them with a kind of smirk, as if he knows this is bad and wants it over with.  Jay is constantly mugging, over-selling, trying desperately to please.  Letterman is not a stand-up.)

OK, quickly now, because I started this way too late.  After that head-spinning piece of avant-garde political theater, I went back to Romney, who suddenly appeared by comparison ten times more dignified than I had ever seen him.  Him and Dave sparred over the tea parties, with Mitt essentially echoing Palin, though he did concede a bit over the partisan thing when Dave asked him why this wasn't around under Bush.  They battled a little on health care.  Dave did his "I'm a dumb guy, but..." and asking a pointed, common-sense question routine, which never gets old with me.  Romney did a good job answering- I didn't much like his answers, but they were solution-based, and not resorting to the "I am in favor of solutions" garbage over at NBC's Political Laff-Fest.   I found myself remembering that Romney is a grown-up.

But then Dave plugged his book, No Apologies: The Case for American Greatness.  I admittedly haven't read the book, because I would rather fucking die, but the cover and what I have heard make it clear that it is red-meat to the base, a pander to the hysterics and fear-mongers on the far right, all of whom Romney is ten times smarter than.  Before that, I had thought "this guy could be President."  But it was a reminder of the disconnect between his technocratic identity and overwhelming, personality-smothering desire to be President.

So an odd night.  Though Palin and Jay are sympatico their essential fakeness, Romney and Leno could also be brothers.  Both sold their ideas to their ambitions.   Leno, a talented comedian, took the mantle of Allen and Carson, and in his desire to be liked, played to the worst of comedy, the way Romney plays to the worst of politics.  Neither can go back, I think.   So we had two lame, cringe-inducing performances on NBC, and one that was essentially sad on CBS.  And then of course there was Dave, comfortable with who he was, and rhetoric to the contrary, the only one who seemed to authentically care that there is a great disconnect between the American dream and its sad reality.

1 comment:

  1. On behalf of thinking people everywhere, thank you for taking one for the team.