Archive - 2006

December 15th

A Sales Campaign

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Memo to Jeff Greenfield, with a side order of Rosie O'Donnell: YOU ARE DUMB.

Of all the excuses in the world, the one I may very well hate the most was "It was a joke". Because even when it's true, it's not an excuse. If you have to use it as an excuse, it means that nobody's laughing. And if nobody's laughing, it was a shitty joke.

Rosie O'Donnell got in trouble for a shitty joke. The shitty "Chinese people talk all ching chong ching" joke. That's a joke you have to put some fucking effort into to make work. It's not something you toss off as a segue on The View. But she did, without working any of the necessary and vital irony and detachment, and just came off looking like a fucking idiot. She held off apologizing for a week, and even when she caved, it was the "sorry you didn't think I was funny" variety.

But at least Rosie O'Donnell has a mild form of comedy as her vocation. At least you can understand why she was trying to be sort of funny. Not so with Jeff Greenfield, CNN correspondent.

Earlier this week, Greenfield was making his regular appearance on Wolf Blitzer's "Situation Room", where the news is more accurate, more exciting, and more real because it's surrounded by lots of other news on big video screens in the background. Greenfield was doing a piece on Barack Obama, informing us on the vital issue of how he dresses. ACTUAL QUOTE TIME!

"Ask yourself, is there any other major public figure who dresses the way he does? Why, yes. It is Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who, unlike most of his predecessors, seems to have skipped through enough copies of "GQ" to find the jacket-and-no-tie look agreeable... Now, it is one thing to have a last name that sounds like Osama and a middle name, Hussein, that is probably less than helpful. But an outfit that reminds people of a charter member of the axis of evil, why, this could leave his presidential hopes hanging by a thread."

As a news piece, this strikes a number of nerves. Like whatever nerve it is that conducts Completely Fucking Ridiculous impulses from the ears to the brain. The "his middle name's Hussein" thing is the latest non-issue drummed up by bigots to try and take Obama down a few notches - to at least slow his ascent. I'm not sure why they're bothering. All the people that are upset about his middle name can already see he's black. PREACHING TO THE CHOIR.

After being called out on several fronts for being an idiot, Greenfield got snippy and went on the defensive. You see, it was a joke. ACTUAL JOKE EXPLANATION TIME!

"A piece I did for "The Situation Room" -- a piece I thought an obvious, patently absurd parody of muddled political thinking -- engendered howls of outrage from elements of the blogosphere, where it was assumed I actually meant to tie Sen. Barack Obama with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Of course he DID mean to tie the two of them together. He just didn't want us to take it seriously. But you have to tie the two together even if you're joking. That's the whole premise of the alleged joke. That's how comedy works.

Greenfield spins several variations on "how could you think I was serious", including saying it at least three times, telling us his wife said it, and, in one of the most amazing bits of unintentional projection I've ever seen, tells bloggers they have hair-triggers because they have "the need to fill all that space every day, or hour, or 15 minutes)". But that's the thing about blogs. They don't have to fill all that space every fifteen minutes. They can post whenever they want, when they have something. There's only one industry that actually has to fill every non-commercial minute of the day with some form of pseudo-information, Jeff. You may be familiar with it.

But let's take Greenfield at his word. He was trying to be funny, the bloggers didn't get it, the bloggers overreacted. This still leaves us with one huge, burning hemorrhoid of a question. Why, in the middle of The Situation Room, on CNN, was Jeff Motherfucking Greenfield trying to DO A BIT?!

Just because people get their news from The Daily Show doesn't mean they want to get The Daily Show from the news. And if there was such a thing as a state-mandated comedy license, I'm guessing Greenfield would fail the written and never even make it to the road test. And even assuming that a comedy bit in the middle of the show was a good and proper thing, and Jeff Greenfield was exactly who you wanted to pull it off, the joke doesn't work.

And the reason the joke doesn't work is that, to be a parody, you have to be an exaggeration. To be a satire, you have to overplay the worst excesses of what you're satirizing. Jonathan Swift wouldn't have caused a stir if he wrote a paper suggesting the Irish FEED BABIES.

And that's what Greenfield's piece on Obama was. It wasn't a parody of muddled political thinking, because it was functionally equivalent to the exact same muddled thinking and analysis that passes for content on all the cable news networks every hour of every day. When you spend all day swimming in a pig lagoon, "Hey, you've got some pig shit on you!" is not comedy.

And "It was a joke" isn't a good excuse.