May 23, 2013
Give Us This Day Our ‘Daily Show’
Posted on Nov 2, 2010
By Mr. Fish
In 1936, the Nazis organized a massive get-together in Nuremberg for malleable nincompoops and called the gathering Reichsparteitag der Ehre, or “Rally of Honor.” Watching clips from Glenn Beck’s “Restoring Honor Rally” held in Washington, D.C., in August, I was reminded of how, while growing up and flipping through channels, I would occasionally come across grainy footage of Adolf Hitler in Nuremberg and see the enthusiastic crowds applauding him and waving little flags, and I’d ponder what made these people so gullible to the nationalistic lunacy and bug-eyed, fascistic tribalism they were being inundated with. Is it really possible, I wondered, to imbibe fear and hatred with so much charisma that the end result of heeding its precepts will appear gleeful and positive and finally gratifying? How, I asked myself, could such a whopping organizational feat as a Nuremberg rally even come off, with the weeks of preparation and all those opportunities for second-guessing by so many people? How, with all those workers setting up chairs and hanging banners and angling lights and arranging flowers and loading film cameras and proofreading speeches, did nobody suddenly stop doing what he or she was doing and say, “Hey, wait a minute—this is absolutely bat-shit crazy!?”
Of course, as a political cartoonist, such grand gestures of vaulting ignorance, particularly when marked by all the mindless rage and gaudy, ostentatious celebration of a sporting event, can often make my job way too easy to be at all effective. When Glenn Beck, the headliner at the most recent, though by no means the last, honor rally (the same Glenn Beck who regularly warns his radio and television audiences of the lethal concoction that is Islamic God and Islamic country) stands up in front of the Lincoln Memorial and says that the United States has been wandering around in the dark for too long and that it is time—a civic duty, in fact!—for every American to return to a position of complete subservience to a famously intolerant Christian god who has a long history of murdering and torturing his critics both in and after life, the joke has already been made. The cartoon has already been drawn. In other words, when somebody takes a crap on the floor it doesn’t matter how good your thesaurus is, the actual stench of the shit will always trump any artistic description of it.
So, then, the question becomes obvious: How is it possible for people to so easily ignore, en masse, all the warning signs that typically come before manmade disasters, whether they’re disasters engineered by ego or über-ego or fiat or hubris or whatever? The rallies at Nuremberg, as I’ve indicated, are a classic example. Joseph McCarthy’s Wheeling Speech is another. George W. Bush’s post-9/11 speeches are another. The post-crucifixion, transcribed speeches of Jesus Christ are another. What is it, precisely, about the assemblage of a vast number of human heads that more often than not encourages a uniform stupidity rather than an accrued intelligence? Even the recent election of Barack Obama as president exemplifies a massive congruence of self-proclaimed liberal and progressive Americans suddenly blind by their own choice to the obvious fact that rather than electing a forward-thinking and radically compassionate and intelligent humanitarian—a living saint comparable in the press to Martin Luther King and Mahatma Gandhi and Jean-Luc Picard from “Star Trek: The Next Generation”—they were merely falling in line behind an establishment candidate no more likely to run afoul of the traditional values and deeply conservative principles of the Democratic Party than any ass hired to represent the brand.
(Look out your window and tell me that I’m wrong.)
And then there was “The Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear,” which took place Saturday on the Mall in Washington, D.C., and was hosted by everybody’s favorite TV stars, Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert. Did this humongous assemblage of, according to some estimates, a quarter of a million people encourage a uniform stupidity rather than an accrued intelligence? Or, rather, did this rally’s focus on joke-making exempt it from needing to adopt a hate-baiting, lynch mob mentality? If so, does such an exemption disqualify the gathering from just being Nuremberg-lite?
There’s a story about Oscar Wilde walking through a birthing ward in a London hospital in the late 1800s and saying to an inconsolable mother who had just given birth to a pair of stillborn twins, “Buck up and be jolly, my dear lady! Stillbirth is a sign that God has a sense of humor!” It is a quote that can simultaneously give one hope for the future of humankind while also demonstrating why we are almost certainly doomed as a species. On the one hand, as a sheer spectacle it is an inspiring example of one man’s ability to use humor in a real-life situation that the average onlooker would deem inhospitable to joke-making—the conceptual equivalent of striking a match underwater—and then, more important, it is somehow proof that reality itself, as it is defined by cold, hard fact, is never the sole determinant of truth in any given situation. That is to say that nothing, by mere virtue of its literal physicality, is wholly self-defining and nothing can happen in the world that cannot be skewed by interpretation and made into something else.
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