June 8, 2005


No Jokes, Please, We're Liberal: If Fox News were truly fair and balanced, would it be as much fun to watch? While the right enjoys a laugh, media liberals have become the new conservatives: a stodgy, humorless Ivy League elite (MICHAEL WOLFF, Vanity Fair)

Why aren't liberals funny? And how come conservative columnist David Brooks, formerly a stylish, witty, sharp-eyed writer, got to be such a plodding, stuffed-shirt prig when he went to work for a liberal publication?

Brooks's book Bobos in Paradise is an example of an old-fashioned, way-we-live-now sociology—drawing the great social caricature—that is hardly practiced anymore (sociology, which used to be aligned with journalism, is now a quantitative discipline). His subject was middle-class identity and particularly, even though he's a conservative, liberal-middle-class identity. As an observer of manners, Brooks was a little hyperbolic, a little reductive, and clever to a fault.

But then he went to the New York Times op-ed page. The Times, temperamentally resistant to the hyperbolic, the reductive, the too clever, took Brooks's style away. Sociology without style is pomposity.

The complicated condition for liberals, or, anyway, for liberal wits and stylists, is that so much of the liberal media—the constricting liberal media—has defaulted to a kind of consensus Times-ness. Hence, in defensive mode, and in a careful estimation of our market opportunities, we are all—we well-employed, Ivy League–ish, culturally engaged, upper-middle-class chattering types in the mainstream news media—self-serious, earnest, striving, humorless, correct people, seeking to become ever more earnest, faultless, evenhanded. We're Hillary (or we're her base, and she's courting us by becoming as worthy and flat as we are).

Not to put too fine a point on it, but liberals, in their desperate quest to be taken seriously, are the new conservatives.

Conservative opinionists in the burgeoning right-wing media—from Fox to talk radio to Rupert Murdoch's Weekly Standard to the Wall Street Journal editorial page—are, on the other hand, often facile, funny, irreverent, eccentric, jaunty, pithy, as well as aggressive and wrongheaded (that improbable creature Ann Coulter is all those things), as well as operatic (Terri Schiavo was an opera). As well as, on occasion, inebriated. (The character note of a liberal these days is sobriety—no drinks, no carbs, no jokes. The conservatives run amok while the liberals are corporatized.)

Obviously, conservatives have reason to enjoy themselves, while liberals do not. But then, too, it may reasonably be the conservatives' sense of verbal sport, of going too far, of showing off, that's helped get them into their catbird seat. And, conversely, the liberals' dullness and depressiveness—"little constipated souls," in the recent description by Ben Bradlee, who is from the liberal media's jaunty age—that's contributed to their fate.

So why no oomph? No joy? No jokes?

You used to at least get an argument when you made the point that all comedy is conservative.

Posted by Orrin Judd at June 8, 2005 6:23 PM

"... precognition in my ears."

Most excellent Blondie reference, Orrin.

Posted by: JorgeCurioso at June 8, 2005 7:19 PM

A bit of a problem here with the description of sociology as a "quantitative discipline." Sociology is -- at best -- an introduction to the obvious.

Only in a half-educated society could sociology be taken seriously.

Now anthropology, that's another matter...


Posted by: David O'Connor at June 8, 2005 8:10 PM

Depends where you look. There's some funny stuff making fun of the Discovery Institute on the 'Net.

I know, fat target.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at June 8, 2005 8:52 PM

I'm not sure I buy the "all comedy is conservative" argument, but it seems undeniable that there's more good humor on the right/libertarian side of things these days, compared to the left/liberal side.

Perhaps it's just me, but it didn't seem like that 30 years ago. What happened? The left went from promoting "new" ideas and mocking old-fashioned dogma to having no new ideas but lots of dogma that is never supposed to be mocked. A sure way to kill your sense of humor is to take everything seriously and be perpetually outraged and defensive.

Posted by: PapayaSF at June 8, 2005 9:26 PM

Blame Rush.

Posted by: erp at June 8, 2005 9:44 PM


And proves the point that when liberals try to make fun they accidentally target themselves in the process.

Posted by: oj at June 8, 2005 9:44 PM


"I'm not sure I buy the "all comedy is conservative" argument, but it seems undeniable that there's more good humor on the right/libertarian side of things these days, compared to the left/liberal side.

Perhaps it's just me, but it didn't seem like that 30 years ago. What happened?"

Political correctness (which first really took off in the 1980s), kills comedy.

Posted by: Ed Driscoll at June 8, 2005 9:52 PM

Ed: You're right about political correctness, which is part of what I was alluding to. Another aspect is the standard lefty "the personal is political" earnestness, which means everything is taken seriously, and thus can't be taken in the spirit of fun needed for humor. (See Max Eastman's Enjoyment of Laughter for more on this.)

Posted by: PapayaSF at June 8, 2005 10:52 PM

maybe the left sensed its days in power were waning and desperation set in. hard to be funny when the walls of the temple are crashing down around you. the left can only enjoy dark ("gallows") humor now.

Posted by: cjm at June 8, 2005 11:25 PM

I don't know about you but I think Howard Dean's a riot.

Especially on the road.

Posted by: Barry Meislin at June 9, 2005 4:39 AM

What makes him funny, Barry, is that he thinks he's being serious and staesman-like, and can't understand why everyone is laughing at him. The deflation of a pompous ass is always good for bringing down the house. Just ask Groucho. (well, you can't actually ask him...)

Posted by: Mikey at June 9, 2005 8:50 AM