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April 9, 2014

Jonathan Tobin: Why Did Kerry Lie About Israeli Blame?

Samuel G. Freedman: A resolution 70 years later for a father's unsettling legacy of ashes from Dachau

Jessica Ivins: A resolution 70 years later for a father's unsettling legacy of ashes from Dachau

Kim Giles: Asking for help is not weakness

Kathy Kristof and Barbara Hoch Marcus: 7 Great Growth Israeli Stocks

Matthew Mientka: How Beans, Peas, And Chickpeas Cleanse Bad Cholesterol and Lowers Risk of Heart Disease

Sabrina Bachai: 5 At-Home Treatments For Headaches

The Kosher Gourmet by Daniel Neman Have yourself a matzo ball: The secrets bubby never told you and recipes she could have never imagined

April 8, 2014

Lori Nawyn: At Your Wit's End and Back: Finding Peace

Susan B. Garland and Rachel L. Sheedy: Strategies Married Couples Can Use to Boost Benefits

David Muhlbaum: Smart Tax Deductions Non-Itemizers Can Claim

Jill Weisenberger, M.S., R.D.N., C.D.E : Before You Lose Your Mental Edge

Dana Dovey: Coffee Drinkers Rejoice! Your Cup Of Joe Can Prevent Death From Liver Disease

Chris Weller: Electric 'Thinking Cap' Puts Your Brain Power Into High Gear

The Kosher Gourmet by Marlene Parrish A gift of hazelnuts keeps giving --- for a variety of nutty recipes: Entree, side, soup, dessert

April 4, 2014

Rabbi David Gutterman: The Word for Nothing Means Everything

Charles Krauthammer: Kerry's folly, Chapter 3

Amy Peterson: A life of love: How to build lasting relationships with your children

John Ericson: Older Women: Save Your Heart, Prevent Stroke Don't Drink Diet

John Ericson: Why 50 million Americans will still have spring allergies after taking meds

Cameron Huddleston: Best and Worst Buys of April 2014

Stacy Rapacon: Great Mutual Funds for Young Investors

Sarah Boesveld: Teacher keeps promise to mail thousands of former students letters written by their past selves

The Kosher Gourmet by Sharon Thompson Anyone can make a salad, you say. But can they make a great salad? (SECRETS, TESTED TECHNIQUES + 4 RECIPES, INCLUDING DRESSINGS)

April 2, 2014

Paul Greenberg: Death and joy in the spring

Dan Barry: Should South Carolina Jews be forced to maintain this chimney built by Germans serving the Nazis?

Mayra Bitsko: Save me! An alien took over my child's personality

Frank Clayton: Get happy: 20 scientifically proven happiness activities

Susan Scutti: It's Genetic! Obesity and the 'Carb Breakdown' Gene

Lecia Bushak: Why Hand Sanitizer May Actually Harm Your Health

Stacy Rapacon: Great Funds You Can Own for $500 or Less

Cameron Huddleston: 7 Ways to Save on Home Decor

The Kosher Gourmet by Steve Petusevsky Exploring ingredients as edible-stuffed containers (TWO RECIPES + TIPS & TECHINQUES)

Jewish World Review August 10, 2007 / 26 Menachem-Av, 5767

Woohoo! Satire seeing a revival

By Jonathan V. Last


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http://www.JewishWorldReview.com | On the weekend of July 27-29, The Simpsons Movie grossed $74 million, the fifth-largest opening weekend of 2007. It was also the most surprising hit of the year. Industry analysts had expected more in the range of $40 million. (Disclosure: My other employer, the Weekly Standard, is owned by News Corp., which also owns Fox, where The Simpsons airs.) Why the big surprise?


Surely part of the explanation is nostalgia. The Simpsons has been part of the cultural landscape for 18 years, and while the show isn't what it used to be, the movie promised, and delivered, a return to some approximation of its golden years. But more important, perhaps, is what The Simpsons represents: a high-water mark during a fine era of American satire.


After a long period of waning, satire is back in American culture. It has not just arrived, of course, but in the last dozen or so years, it has flowered, finding both high achievement and popular success.


On television, cartoons were the major energizers, with The Simpsons and South Park. Old standbys such as Saturday Night Live and Mad TV have chugged along, if unevenly. For what they are, The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and The Colbert Report are probably smarter than they need to be. Perhaps the best TV satire in recent times has come from Ricky Gervais, whose BBC shows The Office and Extras were wonderfully, darkly jaundiced looks at the modern workplace.


Satire has done well at the movies, too, even if the high-mindedness of Dr. Strangelove and Woody Allen's early work has dissipated. But in its place we've had more middle-brow perfections. Mike Judge gave us Idiocracy and Office Space - the latter of which may be the funniest movie ever made about suburban America. Christopher Guest created an entire series of satires about some of our more bizarre subcultures, from dog fancy (Best in Show) to the '60s folk scene (A Mighty Wind) to the world of amateur theater (Waiting for Guffman). And don't forget Trey Parker and Matt Stone who, in addition to their TV work, managed a parody of the Hollywood action movie done entirely with puppets (Team America: World Police) and a satire of American nationalism, wrapped in a satire of low-brow comedy, wrapped in a satire of the movie musical (the ingenious South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut).


The printed word has seen the least impressive flourishing of satire. Certainly, there are no literary giants such as Twain, Mencken, or Waugh. But we do have strivers such as Christopher Buckley (whose Thank You for Smoking remains the single funniest thing ever written about Washington), Andy Borowitz, and even Steve Martin.


And let's not forget the greatest satirical achievement of the last 30 years: The Onion. Founded in 1988, the newspaper parody is often brilliant and consistently excellent, taking aim at anything and everything around us. (My personal favorite was its 2004 headline: "Jacques Derrida 'Dies.' ")


What's to account for this miniature golden age? Surely many factors. One of them may be that since the 1980s, it seems to have become more socially acceptable to make a living writing in Hollywood, which opened that career path to the type of elite university students who otherwise might have headed off to the fascinating world of hedge funds. Harvard, in particular, has grown a reputation for being the birthplace of a comedy mafia, churning out humorists and satirists who have swamped the TV and film world. (The Harvard Crimson reports that at one point, 10 of the 12 writers on The Simpsons were Harvard grads.) Education isn't everything of course, but all things being equal, smarter is often funnier.


It's also possible that American life has become more suited to satire as, with each passing day, humankind tiptoes deeper and deeper into farce. That's essentially the conservative motto, of course: Never discount the probability that matters will get worse.


I suspect that what's at work is actually something more systemic: The dissolution of America's common culture.


Thirty years ago, we had three television channels and two national newspapers. We watched the same shows, went to the same movies, and read the same books. There's a lot to be said for having a common culture. Witness how exciting the release of the final Harry Potter book was. But that rarely happens anymore. We have hundreds of television channels, blogs, Web sites. Our culture has broken into a thousand tiny niches, each carefully sectioned off from the wider whole.


One might have thought this segmentation would be the death of satire, that to flourish, satire needed a common culture to host it. But the reverse has been true. What do the great satires listed above have in common? Very little. They traffic in politics, popular culture, academia, dog shows, the working world - you name it. As our culture fractures, the many shards reflect and refract one another - and, individually and all together, they create a funhouse reflection of modern life.


No matter what part of the culture you inhabit, these little worlds we've built around ourselves all call out for satire. As Mr. Burns would say: Release the hounds.

Every weekday JewishWorldReview.com publishes what many in in the media and Washington consider "must-reading". Sign up for the daily JWR update. It's free. Just click here.

Jonathan V. Last is a columnist for the Philadelphia Inquirer. Comment by clicking here.


Previously:

07/31/07 Historical model: For Obama, it's Carter
07/26/07 Baseball, apple pie, a 2nd chance
07/24/07 Harry Potter and the alchemy theory
07/06/07 Life is hard — and often short. The perils of professional wrestling
06/21/07 After Bush: Gingrich and others worry that his shortcomings could have a far-reaching effect on the GOP
03/09/07 Why the British outclass us in acting
01/23/07 Romney: Seriously great, but with baggage
12/23/06 When truth is transpicuous
12/05/06 A realistic plan: Split the country in two
11/08/06 We could easily pull out of Korea and let China have regional hegemony. But would it be the right thing?
10/24/06 The decline of revolution
10/18/06 Why the free market is king
08/07/06 Democracy, of itself, not solution to all problems
08/01/06 We get the movies we deserve
07/27/06 How long will U.S. empire last?


© 2006, The Philadelphia Inquirer. Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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