June 19, 2013
Mr. Fish in Conversation With Paul Krassner: The Politics of Being a Smartass
Posted on Oct 17, 2012
By Mr. Fish
Fish: Right, that’s the appeal of slapstick, I guess. Maybe it’s even the appeal of much of commedia dell’arte, stereotypes being much more closely related to our lower base functions [than our higher]. Still, what scares me is how society can sometimes misconstrue the ease of experiencing that primal sense of humor you mentioned as being the only genuine humor there is and, therefore, the only humor we should recognize. Way too often I hear pundits complaining that satire, like “The Daily Show” or The Onion or “South Park,” is not real humor because it parodies political grandstanding and hate speech and religious buffoonery, that sort of thing. In other words, I’m uncomfortable when the definition of humor excludes irony and critical thinking and dissent because it is assumed that people are way too stupid to get the joke. I hate the notion that laughter cannot be used as a teaching tool and that censorship is somehow preferable as a mode of communication.
Krassner: Exactly—with The Realist I would never label an article as either journalism or satire because I didn’t want to deprive the readers of the pleasure of discerning for themselves what was true and what was an extension of the truth.
Fish: I remember you saying that for years you received letters from people who thought that your famous piece about the Kennedy assassination was real investigative journalism.
Krassner: I still get them!
Fish: And that speaks to how absolutely bizarre reality can be in comparison to satire. The fact that you were able to write something that was so fantastic and so ludicrous and still have people confused about whether it was fiction or nonfiction, even 50 years later, is really telling about how the world works. It reminds me of an argument that I have with 9/11 conspiracy theorists all the time. I’m forever telling them to expand their rage and distrust of the government beyond what happened on September the 11th because if you’re looking for examples of how distrustful Washington is and how the president is a complete asshole [who is] able to commit unforgivable crimes against humanity and [who can] kill thousands of innocent people for purely political reasons, just look at his domestic policies against poor and underprivileged people living in the country right now. Look at his foreign policy, which is not secret and is published in The New York Times and Wall Street Journal every day. For fuck’s sake, beginning with the sanctions against Iraq, implemented by the first Bush in ‘91, straight through until now, we’re responsible for millions of deaths that could have been avoided. Then there’s Clinton’s bombing of the Sudanese pharmaceutical plant [in 1998] that destroyed the lives of millions of people. The point is, by sitting across the street from the White House in a windowless van with your night binoculars trained on shadows you see through the curtains you risk missing what is already happening in broad daylight, which is stuff that is way worse than what you’re trying to uncover.
Krassner: Right, like looking for dirt on Eva Braun.
Fish: [laughs] Exactly!
Krassner: But, yeah, getting back to your point about satire, it is much harder to create satire when the world, itself, is naturally satirical.
Fish: So then we have to ask the question of what jokes do. Do jokes spotlight what is already funny about the world or do jokes reinterpret the world and create something funny about it? Is it funny, for example, that lawyers are cheats and politicians are liars or is it unfunny that lawyers are cheats and politicians are liars and jokes help us deal with the misery of that reality? Does satire defang the monsters that we feel most threatened by or does satire give us sanctuary from those monsters the same way that being locked up in a prison cell protects us from the terror of having to keep up with a mortgage and maintain a lawn? Which came first, the chicken or the rubber chicken?
Krassner: I don’t know that there’s an answer to that.
Fish: Well, I do feel that satire has opened my eyes to certain things, but I’m not sure if it is my inner eye or my outer eye that was opened.
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