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An excellent article in the latest issue of Harper’s, about the current cultural significance and historical context of animated comedy television for adults, from the Simpsons to Family Guy to the latest one, Archer. Charles Bock delves deep into the brilliance, depravity, and ubiquitous cultural presence these shows have produced.

The same year “Cape Feare” aired, David Foster Wallace published an essay in which he commented on how irony — formerly a weapon of the avant-garde — had been co-opted by corporate America: Isuzu winking at itself with a lying salesman named Joe Isuzu, so we’d remember the name. “The next real literary ‘rebels’ in this country might well emerge as some weird bunch of anti-rebels, born oglers who dare somehow to back away from ironic watching,” Wallace argued. “Who eschew self-consciousness and hip fatigue.”

Wallace sensed that undercurrent wherein smart young adults who’d grown up on popular culture, and who now considered it their canon, were not simply aware of and charmed by and fluent in its forms but also exhausted by those forms, distrustful of them. Which didn’t mean slackers were going to stop consuming, commenting on, or making references to pop; and they assuredly weren’t discovering the golden hues of the sincerity for which Wallace eloquently pined, or eschewing any kind of ironic anything. The Onion’s deadpan generic AP-style headlines (“Death Star to Open Day Care Center”; “Scissors Defeats Rock”) were finding an audience in cities and college towns (though the paper was not yet successful enough to pay its writing staff salaries); Seinfeld had devoted a chunk of its fourth season to a plotline in which Jerry and George develop an NBC pilot for a show about nothing. And in 1996, pop’s ironizing self-consciousness cranked into high gear with Scream — a movie whose masked killer consciously employs tropes of teen slasher films in order to slash teens.

In New York City, meanwhile, on Monday nights at the Lower East Side’s Luna Lounge, cast members of Saturday Night Live, MADtv, and MTV’s short-lived but seminal sketch-comedy show The State — and such emerging comedians as Janeane Garofalo, Marc Maron, and Sarah Silverman — were performing stand-up and skits for audiences in semi-organized evenings that the New York Times called a reaction to “the tyranny of the punch line,” a kind of collective striving for honesty and originality in a profession glutted with mediocre cable-TV stand-up and ossified by jokes about airplane peanuts. There was one rule at the Luna Lounge: no previously performed material allowed. Nobody got paid. Sets were freer (obviously); their lack of form could lead to rambling and, often, to a kind of searching: Maron was described by Times reporter Neil Strauss as performing “ideas as much as jokes,” Silverman as attempting “to salvage a difficult night by delivering her neurotic monologue with her pants around her ankles.” One recent arrival was the now ubiquitous Zach Galifianakis, who’d performed for the first time at the Lounge just two weeks earlier; the young comedian was quoted as hoping to see a fusion between alternative and mainstream comedy.

“Anticomedy” was a term that got tossed around.

In anticomedy both comedian and audience implicitly acknowledge the traditional, tyrannical set-it-up/knock-it-down mechanics of a joke. Only now the joke’s punch line sabotages its setup, and this subversion ends up getting the laugh. The joke, again, is on the joke itself. Anticomedy often involves dramatic leaps of logic and can venture into unsettling territory. Forerunners include Andy Kaufman’s almost-performance-art pieces; David Letterman’s early, monkey-cam-loving, bowling-ball-off-a-building-tossing late-night years; the affectless stonerific one-liners of Steven Wright. You can consider This Is Spinal Tap as anticomedy.

Joke:

What’s worse than finding a worm in your apple?
Finding half a worm.

Antijoke:

What’s worse than finding a worm in your apple?
The Holocaust.

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Some people are giving Obama too much credit. And they’re not his supporters, or really anyone in the Democratic Party. To find anyone with heartfelt belief in Obama’s second term, who truly believe he will make monumental progress on any of his issues, you have to go to the far right. Yes, the right. It is only they who seem to most strongly believe that Obama will start doing great things now. I’m paraphrasing Thomas Frank, in an article for Harper’s:

To find someone who sincerely believes that Barack Obama is going to preside over his second term as a strong, determined progressive, you must make your way far to the right. There, the panicked consensus holds that he will remake the nation as dramatically as did Franklin Roosevelt and Lyndon Johnson. There, and only there, will you be told that Obama is preparing to tackle the unemployment problem by establishing a new Works Progress Administration of the kind I called for in this magazine’s pages back in December 2011. Of course, for the true believers who make this assertion […] the idea of a resurgent WPA is the ultimate slacker-coddling nightmare.

Granted, the far right’s assertion of Obama’s greatness is couched in hysteria and apprehension, as with the oncoming of a certain doom, but in so believing it they nonetheless hold the most productive vision of a second Obama term.

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On his way to discussing all of the potential possibilities of Barack Obama’s second term, Thomas Frank, writing for Harper’s, describes how the 2012 presidential election was so eminently…well…forgettable…

On the Republican primary candidates:

Do you even remember their names, reader? Let each roll off your tongue, and savor the receding memories. There was Newt Gingrich — the bitter, familiar one. Michele Bachmann — the confused, panicked one. Rick Perry — hair. Ron Paul — Constitution. Herman Cain — pizza. Rick Santorum — coal-mining grandfather, sweater-vest. Mitt Romney — hair, Olympics.

On the repetitious tendencies of history:

The battle now joined, the mighty rivals fought over the same swing states as last time, and the time before that, and the time before that. They rallied the same constituent groups. They slagged one another with the same stereotypes used in every election since 1968. They fielded the customary armies of strategists and fund-raisers and communications directors and doorbell ringers.

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deceptionre-1343938088-39Before Bond, there was a Brit named Dennis Wheatley. Wheatley, however, had a few things going for him that Bond didn’t. Paramount amongst these factors was the fact that he was, well, real. In her new book, D For Deception, Tina Rosenberg discribes the fascinating true story of novelist Dennis Wheatley, who during  World War II was called upon by the British government to undertake a mission – should he choose to accept it – that was probably not unlike missions undertaken by his characters, and fulfilled what to my mind seems like the absolute coolest opportunity – for the most unlikely person – in history (this is roughly akin to a stoner friend of mine who was offered a surprisingly well-paying job trimming pot plants at a legal dispensary in California – we had to scrape him off the ceiling).

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