Some of the time we usually spend perusing the news and composing our thoughts about it has been taken up this past week by our annual appearance in an amateur theatrical production, a revue of skits and songs spoofing local and state and national newsmakers, so we hope you’ll forgive any resulting lack of our usual depth of analysis and gloominess you might have noticed over the past few days. The show has been a rather desultory affair this year, and as usual all the money is going to journalism scholarships that we don’t approve of, so on a slow news day that and an infuriating speech by “Doonesbury” cartoonist Garry Trudeau have set us to thinking once again about the sorry state of satire.
The other folks involved in the show are mostly a swell bunch, and we highly recommend the brief camaraderie that amateur theatrical productions provide to anyone who is looking for a once-a-year hobby, but of course there are always what we show biz folk call “creative differences” involved. This year we were limited to a few lines in a skit about a recently deceased cast member, which got some nervous laughs on opening night, and a more featured role in our own script about a poor fellow who just wants to order a cup of coffee at Starbucks without being subjected to a meaningful conservation about the state of racial relations in America, which got even more nervous laughs, and perhaps that was for the best. There’s an entirely apolitical bit by one of the veterans about dealing with computer tech support robots, a version of “Mein Herr” from “Cabaret” about Bruce Jenner’s sex change that would be considered egregiously transphobic in more enlightened communities, and a sharply partisan skit about Hillary Clinton’s e-mails and what might be on them, all of which we found very funny, but the rest was mostly about Kansas’ Gov. Sam Brownback and Secretary of State Kris Kobach, and we weren’t in on the joke.
Those of you who are out of state and also not in on the joke need only know that Brownback is a sexually repressed Puritan who gleefully slashed the state’s education budget to such levels that the poor urchins in the state’s schools cannot afford the alphabet, and Kobach is such a racist that he does not want illegal immigrants to vote in Kansas elections. All the right people here in Kansas seem to think so, so audiences are grateful to be let in on the joke, but even that exquisite frisson of blessed conformity that comes with thinking like all the right people and being let in on the joke can’t quite square those creative differences for us.
Having known Brownback since we were 18 and working as summer interns for the now-venerable Sen. Bob Dole, and having run into him often on the campus of Kansas State University when he was student body president, and having run into him again here and there on campaign trails and at Kansas State Fairs during his other stops on a long career of public service, we know him as a nice guy and decent family man, and although he would probably be sympathetic toward any baker who didn’t want to bake a same-sex wedding cake, and he did support that stupid “sin tax” to raise revenue on the backs of smokers and beer-drinkers and other fine Kansans we know, otherwise we can assure you that he does not seem to harbor any sexually-induced neuroses that might affect his duties as governor. As for the education cuts, we note that the average school district in the state was spending around $13,000 per pupil the last reported year, which for some reason doesn’t include the generous bond issues that voters have approved, and which is around the national average, and with the lower-than-average cost of things around here that means we’re still ahead of the rest of the country, and we’re ahead of all the countries in the world except Sweden and Norway, and we’re way ahead of countries such as Japan and South Korea, which seem to have better math students, and there’s no denying that the Catholic schools around here do a better job for a lower fee, and a friend of ours has a kid in this “classical school” who is clearly getting three times the education at nearly one-third the cost, and we guess that all the right people who are in on the joke just don’t know this.
Neither do we get the joke about Kobach hating Mexicans because he doesn’t want them to vote in Kansas elections, any more than we feel the least bit hated because the Mexican government doesn’t want us to vote in their elections. Such policies have been a fixture of representative government since its inception, and consistently poll more than 70 percent approval, which is more than same-sex marriage or the latest Spielberg movie or the First Amendment gets, and it was enough to win Kobach an easy re-election just last November, but apparently all the right people who are in on the joke think otherwise.
All the right people who are in on the joke, we have begun to suspect, are the wrong people to do satire. This suspicion was heightened by reading Trudeau’s speech accepting Long Island University’s George Polk Career Award, which is as annoying a piece of drivel as we’ve come across lately. The award is named in honor of a journalist who died in the line of the duty, yet Trudeau took the occasion to criticize the editorial staff of the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo for publishing the cartoons that offended their murderers. Poking fun at the sort of radical Islam that would murder the staff of a satirical magazine is “punching down,” said the once-edgy Trudeau, noting that it satirized a “powerless” and “disenfranchised” minority rather than “comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable.” The Muslims are France are not disenfranchised, of course, and their growing demographic strength will soon make that fact unhappily apparent at the polls, even if a French Kobach should somehow emerge, and they are not so powerless that they can’t slaughter the staff of any magazine that offends their strict notions of proper respect for their religion, and enlist the support of award-winning and well-heeled and oh-so-respectable cartoonists and other gullible examples of the right sort of people who are in on the joke, and we’d like to think this is the reason no one outside Long Island University has heard of “Doonesbury” since the early ’80s.
Satire and journalism should indeed comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable, tiresome as that old cliché has become, but Trudeau and all the rest of the right people who are in on the joke should know that the roles have been reversed since the good old days when Groucho Marx and his brothers were sticking it to Margaret Dumont’s society dame. These days it’s the Starbucks and the computer tech support robots and the rich and corrupt feminist ceiling-breaker Hillary Clinton and the award-winning cartoonists who are the comfortable that need afflicting, and now it’s the guy who just wants a cup of coffee, the reader subjected to the latest developments in Bruce Jenner’s sex change, the guy who just wants his e-mail working, and the guy who sees through Clinton’s champion-of-the-common-man schtick, and the taxpayer who’s expected to pay more for an educational system that needs thorough reform more than it needs more money, and the people who are being slaughtered rather than merely offended, who need comforting.
— Bud Norman