Friday, April 19, 2013

Comedy in 2013

Currently reading Vernon Chatman's book Mindsploitation. Chatman was the PFFR member behind Final Flesh, a taunting of made-to-order porn companies with absurdity. This is that for the online-essay-writing industry, this conceptual gambit that maybe strays into the profound, by way of people for whom English is probably not their first language contending with a series of puns and gambits.

The Comedy Central series Nathan For You has a different tone and sense of humor but seems to proceed from at least some of the same premises. It is produced by Absolutely, the Tim and Eric production company, and I am probably forever going to view their work in parallel with the PFFR gang in my mind. Nathan For You is about a canadian comedian, going around, helping businesses with sort of short-sighted or gimmicky promotions. Or, that's the nominal premise, but there have been episodes that don't fit into that model at all: It is sort of about spectacle as a be-all end-all in a world where business and money-making doesn't really work, so doing things that are sort of ridiculous or fun or dangerous serves as an end in itself, because of how ridiculous everything is.

The tone on Nathan For You, despite it maybe seeming exploitative in its premise, is pretty gentle, warm. It seems like the same people advocating for it on Twitter are the same people who were proponents for HBO's Enlightened, a few weeks ago, the Laura Dern vehicle created by Mike White, that I really liked but sort of knew was not for everyone due to how gentle it was. Enlightened is a show that is about politics, or the damages being wrought by capitalism on the world at large, and the people who, in their activist opposition to these systems, might be damaging the lives of people close to them.

Armando Iannucci's Veep could also maybe be brought into this argument, with its politicians that act out of self-interest and accomplish nothing. These are dark times, these feel like appropriate satirical responses, targets along an axis point. Mindsploitation takes on globalism, and the laziness of American students, Nathan For You addresses the desperation of small businesses, Enlightened is about corporate malfeasance and indifference to its workers, Veep is about politicians' operating desperately out of self-interest. All of these things are also sort of only able to get meager laughs: The first two because of the distancing effect of their conceptual aims, (aiming more for a sort of stupefied awe), Enlightened because it is basically a melancholy drama, and Veep is sort of relentlessly jokey and mean in a way where its moments don't breathe. Comedy at this particular moment seems like it is being made by people who sort of view comedy as useless, a mild balm that can't really destroy sadness, and is frequently used as a device to stifle real change. (See also: Charlie Brooker's Black Mirror, where comedians stop making jokes altogether and instead write dark science-fiction that blurs into horror.)

But still all these things seem way more liberal and effective and "good art" and "not just the ruling class congratulating itself" than TV drama does, to say nothing of action cinema's franchise propagation and deeply problematic politics.