Night was Made for Schadenfreude
By Mary Chino-Cherry
As the slop and slew of the Republican meltdown washes up on the shore
of cable TV and the blogosphere and thus threatens to infect the cut
feet of those who've trod, who've trod, who've trod over the terra politicus
for the last couple of decades, a new sport has hit the public radio
air-verse. Riding on the wingtip vortices of the snarkily serious-minded
Ira Glass vehicle This American Life floats in its protégé
and arch-nemesis, the snarkily evil-minded This American Schadenfreude.
The latter is a collection of satisfying and creative depictions of
the self-destructions of the self-satisfied, all in a long-format spoken-word
Hosted by, so far, Lewis Black; Belinda Carlisle; and Sarah Ferguson,
the Duchess of York, the program has featured, among other things, the
decline of Bill O'Reilly, the undoing of Rod Blagojevich, a special
titled “Executives Under the Congress-gun,” and ongoing
coverage of the indictment and incarceration of Bernard Madoff.
At issue here is not really the scandals as such but what the existence
of the show itself says about pent-up angst of a nation under the bum
of an oppressive and indifferent overclass that uses the gassy expulsions
of corporate-pwned media to delude and distract We, The People from
what's really going on.
The Left, long satirized as Frenchi-fied surrender-monkeys, rendered
ineffectual by years of political compromise to a militant Right and
rendered fat and logey by the sugary confections of K-Street sweetheart
lobbying deals, lampooned by its very own for a drug-addled-free-love
past, was pretty much dead by 1998, the year Bill Clinton got impeached.
It's easy enough to cast Clinton as the Cream-Puff-in-Chief heading
up the decline. Physically rotund and politically unprincipled, Slick
Willie oozed to fame by performing—famously blowing his horn on
The Arsenio Hall Show—acknowledging that the road to
the White House was really a slide down the popularity chute, right
into Lowest-Common-Denominator-ville. This wasn't any debate among Rhodes
Scholars; it was High School Musical but without the substance.
Clinton knew, also, that the surest way to win the Bubba vote was to
beach his political blubber on the planks of the Republican party platform:
balancing the budget, “reforming” welfare, championing free
trade. The upshot was that the Right was enraged. With their entire
policy ramp gone, they had nowhere to blow but further right, and they
aimed their harpoons at the only target available: Clinton the Man.
Between postulations about Black Helicopters and declarations of the
ATF as “jackbooted thugs,” the Right called into the hoots
and hollers for their back-up, domestic terrorists included, even after
the militiamen proved themselves so undisciplined that they blew up
a building full of innocent people in OKC.
Blocked out of the beltway, the Right called their armies with the
modern-day equivalent of a ram's horn: AM radio. They took to the phones
with push-polls and whisper campaigns and the overall dirty politics
developed by their martyred saint, Lee Atwater, and, having re-invaded
the houses of power by 1994, were well positioned to use the nuclear
option four years later: impeachment.
Slick Willie was unctuous enough to slide out from under conviction:
the American people love an aging philanderer with the same logic we
loved George W. Bush—I mean really! We could be that
guy! This told the inevitable turn, however; a snotty-nosed intellectual
like Al Gore wouldn't stand a chance against the Good-Ol'-Boy-in-Chief.
Simultaneously, the Right claimed a simulacrum of the moral high ground
when it rallied fundamentalist Christianity to its cause. In America,
where Labor seems like a historical footnote vaguely associated with
the mysterious disappearance of Jimmy Hoffa a long, long time ago, we
pretty much have only two things left to believe in: scripture and spreadsheets.
The Right has always claimed the fiscal power of the boardroom, and
now it claimed the spiritual power of the bible as well. By 2000, it
looked to a lot of otherwise reasonable people that, indeed, maybe the
Right really was, uh, not wrong.
The intervening eight years have become a well-remembered era of shame:
waterboarding, domestic spying, a bloody war built on lies, Wall Street
Gone Wild. With actual evidence, the complaints of the Left became more
than just the ravings of aging hippies having flashbacks. When we actually
saw in our web browsers that John Ashcroft really did
lay a sheet over the blind Lady Justice for being bare-breasted, it
started to become clear even to some of the slower among us that this
was an administration that didn't care for justice all that much, it
being bad for business and antithetical to ideological advancement.
And ironically, in retrospect, it turned out that Ashcroft was one of
the more reasonable ones: he was just offended by boobs; Alberto Gonzales
and David Addington and John Woo were offended by the countercultural
threat called the Constitution and the rule of law.
Meanwhile, all us reg'lar folks were getting laid off, downsized, our
jobs outsourced to places we didn't even know had names. Our industries
were literally scrapped, melted down, and sold back to us as Chinese
iPods, Plasma TVs, flaming laptops. Our cousins came back from Iraq
one-legged and TBIed, embittered and frightfully ready to return. Our
houses swelled and burst. Even David Letterman got a social conscience.
In such an atmosphere, it was almost certain that a few angry lefties
would take a bit of pleasure in the Right's recent retreat. And where
better for this to happen than on PRA, Public Radio of America, the
scrappy upstart network threatening the establishmentarian and weak-willed
hegemony of NPR and PRI.
To be sure, Carlisle's “Blago's Boys” puppet show was either
pure radical genius or pure idiocy for a radio show, but it made for
a great podcast in any event. Frank Oz voicing the embattled former
Illinois governor was a natural. Lewis Black's interpretation of W's
last year in office as a recreated cowboy King Lear gave the angry elite
a reason to tune in their desktop Tivolis. And Sarah Ferguson's recent
take on the flap between Laura Ingraham and Meghan McCain was understated
perfection. Set to the tune of Naughty by Nature's “OPP”
and titled “BBW,” it skewered the hard and stringy-hearted
Ingraham while at the same time liberating chunky chix everywhere let
their flesh flags fly. Especially notable is that the Duchess of York
was backed up on the track by Fergie from the Black Eyed Peas. Expect
a collection, Fergie² by the fall.
Too often, the Left has been portrayed as dreamy-eyed and effete.
Too often it has acted with a fawning sort of conciliation to the Right,
recognizing their right to say what they have to say, but seldom vociferously
countering its blather. Deep down, though, from the still-beating ideological
hearts of Woody Guthrie and the Wobblies, liberals have always harbored
a fiery streak of righteous indignation. This American Schadenfreude
gives angry lefites a venue to express that indignation at what's wrong
and what's unjust and what we seldom speak within the throes of our
corporate serfdom and laid-off sense of loss.
Bipartisanship be damned; it's time to get mean. And on our part,
at least, it's in stereo.