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I quite agree that skepticism begets cynicism, which begets, in turn, despair. I'm not sure that satire starts the whole thing off. Perhaps sarcasm or sardonicism (two things which have been noticed on this site) might do this. I'm a tad more hopeful about satire, especially as a useful blunt instrument in the back alleys of the shadowlands.

Something in this discussion about satire drove me to the Prince of the Satirists (not Dean Swift, but his pal), who wrote this in Book the Fourth of that wondrous fair tome, The Dunciad:

There, stripped, fair Rhetoric languished on the ground;
His blunted arms by Sophistry are borne,
And shameless Billingsgate her robes adorn.
...
There sunk Thalia, nerveless, cold and dead,
Had not her sister Satire held her head.

I should mention that Billingsgate was the London fishmarket where the shrill cries of the fishwives reminded everyone in the early 18th century of the dreck we get on TV.

Thalia is the Muse of Comedy. True comedy. Not the histrionic eat-your-booger stuff on HBO.

I have enjoyed parody and satire for a while, but I do so with a slightly guilty feeing. As I laugh at the clever and the snobbish, I wonder whether there is anything truly beautiful to appreciate. Satire breeds skepticism, which produces cynicism then despair. Where is the joy? Granted, I have no problem at mocking the "shadow lands" that are taken far too seriously, but one cannot wallow very long in filth without contracting spiritual e.coli.

My wife and I fully intend to don pith helmets and throw bread at one of the dinners of the PG Wodehouse society groupies. Haven't been able to make one yet....but it is an ambition!

When I grow up, I want to be just as dotty as Lord Emsworth, content merely to tend to the Empress.

P.S. I see you are a reader of P.G., and anyone familiar with his work can surely appreciate the coarseness of a Spode as easily as the whimsy of Psmith or Lord Emsworth, or the downright practicality of the Mulliners. A generation to which these are unknown....ah...now you've got me.

Haven't seen the flick or had the inclination. I'm not sure it is the "joylessness" that is gone...it is the sense of making fun of one's self...rather than others. Humor of the latter variety has taken a nastier and nastier turn of late. SNL hasn't been funny for a few years now. I think when the bite in the irony is always at someone else's expense...and that someone else is predictable, it loses the sense of surprise...and becomes predictably lame. We don't have to be genteel by any means....some of us even do appreciate the old Monty Python ridiculousness. And no, whimsical humor isn't the only sort out there...it's just that it's absence these days says something about the times.

Been there, done that. But moving on in the age of cable is a bit hard. A bad joke, a tired joke circulates in re-runs on cable....forever.

True enough. One can't get rid of bawdy without ridding oneself of Defoe, Shakespeare, Fielding and a host of necessary others. Even a lot of Dante's gags in the Inferno would be left out in the cold.

Parody of the self-important is always a good thing: I'm still waiting for a good one lampooning the over-weaning Mailer and Vidal. It's no good parodying the usual Oprah offerings, as the original is parody enough. Satire is, as you've pointed out, needlessly cruel when mucked at desperate people. I don't mind it lobbed at us (although I'm squeamish about fundy's always getting it on the chin -- that's like making fun of people who don't get the joke).

Guffawing at loose chickens is great. Borat should have stuck to that. Foibles are a gift, perhaps divine, so that we can be kings (as Lewis said), but only with paper crowns.

Yes, yes, yes. All true. I do not know which is worse; that there are people who still fit the stereotypes Cohen parodied, or that our culture finds such humor in them.

And yet, I have to admit that I loved the movie. It is not the sort of humor I would want all the time (and herein lies a problem; for many today this is their only type of humor). One of my favorite old movies is "It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World." There's nothing subtle about watching a screaming, over-the-top Ethel Merman battering anyone (but particularly Terry Thomas) within arm's length of her near-lethal oversized white purse; or their turning her upside-down to shake out the keys she has dropped down her ample bosum. It is broad, bawdy humor--played for the cheap laughs--but it never fails to put me on the floor in hysterics. And, I might add, it also scores some points along the way about the runaway materialism, greed and general pettiness of our culture even then.

I view Borat much the same way. In fairness to Cohen, I did not think he engaged unduly in redneck-baiting. The satire was spread across the board: from New Yorkers (the funniest bit being the uptight, grim, humorless NY feminists) to privileged South Carolina frat boys, to gays, to the hip-hop crowd, to our pornography, to Southern sophisticates, to self-important TV anchormen, to rodeo cowboys, to surburbia, to Pentacostals, to our obsession with Hollywood, etc.

I was more uncomfortable with Cohen's portrayal of "Khazakstan," actually Romania. His parody of us centered around the excesses of our culture, while his parody of them centered on their poverty. And that was needlessly cruel. I have seen such villages in remote areas of Bulgaria, Macedonia, Turkey, Georgia and Armenia. So I suppose we are in agreement on this. Our foibles provide ample material for humor; but our poverty or misfortune should be treated respectfully.

I also agree that we no longer know how to be joyful, which causes us to seek out these cheap laughs. And I appreciate the quote from Dr. Johnson. But I think, even he might have guffawed at the sight of a loose chicken in a NY subway car.

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