A few readers asked if I think the argument in Thursday’s newsletter goes the other way: should we also consider left-wing comedians extensions of left-wing media?
It’s a good question. On its face I think the answer is no, for the simple reason that the left has no media establishment comparable to the right’s. What it does have—a loose network of small (often nonprofit) publications and podcasts—cannot reasonably be described as carrying out any ruling ideology, because the left is not in power.
Obviously there are many left-wing comedians, many of whom are actively working to increase the left’s power. (Hi! Thanks for subscribing!) I’d wager that unlike most right-wing comedians, these people wouldn’t react to political analyses of their work by insisting their work has no politics. I’d go so far as to suggest they’d even freely admit the overlap between their political and artistic selves. But even if comedians on the right admitted this too, the differences between their respective projects would still make any comparison apples to oranges. The left simply is not working to maintain white supremacy. Of course, it’s important to interrogate the political ideas in any work of art. My argument is just that certain ideas exist within a sociopolitical context that warrants more than interrogation.
If we expand the question to encompass the center-left, the answer changes. Yeah, totally, there are loads of comedians working for the establishment. I think it’s fair to say (and have written before) that late night comedy shows generally serve as mouthpieces for their corporate overlords, e.g. for neoliberalism. Speaking VERY GENERALLY, a late night writer’s job is to spend all day consuming center-left media (MSNBC, CNN, the New York Times) and repackaging it as jokes. Their counterparts do more or less the same thing: consume a bunch of right-wing media (Fox, the Federalist, Ben Shapiro and Jordan Peterson and Sam Harris) and sit around regurgitating it into… worse jokes.
This process inevitably reproduces the ideology of its source material. That’s not necessarily a bad thing: it’s no coincidence that John Oliver reads ProPublica and has the best politics in late night. But it is sometimes a bad thing, because a lot of quote-unquote liberal media is quite conservative. And it’s why, on net, these shows rarely bring any new ideas to the table. Their entire existence is predicated on the protection of old ideas.
It may also be why you occasionally do see late night writers scoff at political analyses of their political satire, which in my experience only seems to happen when someone suggests it’s not so liberal after all. Perhaps the ultimate lesson here is that if live comedy paid a fair wage, you wouldn’t have to work for the man just to make a living in comedy.
Or maybe I’m wrong! What do you think?