Archive for July 6th, 2006

Cultural Elite Blues

July 6, 2006

I used to subscribe to a ton of magazines. All the usual suspects: The Nation, The American Prospect, Mother Jones, Ms., and so forth. Reading about politics all the time eventually got depressing (and expensive!), so I let most of those subscriptions lapse. I still get Mother Jones, which usually has pretty interesting fare. But my very very favorite magazine (after Legal Affairs, which regrettably stopped publishing earlier this year) is The New Yorker. Which is odd, because The New Yorker is really hit or miss in terms of my interest in the topics. Sometimes I’ll leaf through a whole issue and not read one article. But two things keep me coming back: the sheer variety of topics, and the fact that when a New Yorker article is interesting, it’s also damn good, and long enough to really enlighten. I get so fascinated by New Yorker articles sometimes that my husband will ask me a question and I won’t even hear him.

This happened again just last night when I was reading the current issue. (Oh, I forgot to mention the other wonderful thing about The New Yorker – it’s a weekly magazine. By the time you get around to finishing one, there’s another one waiting for you to flip through). There was a really engrossing article inside about the Blue Collar Comedy Tour. I have seen the group advertised on Comedy Central as I fast-forward through the commercials of TiVoed Daily Show episodes. I might have been dimly aware that Jeff Foxworthy is among their number. But I really didn’t know much beyond that, excepting perhaps the self-knowledge I’ve developed over the years about my own sense of humor that this would decidedly not mesh with it.

I wish I could link to the article, but The New Yorker is pretty stingy with their online content and there’s not even an opening paragraph available. But basically, it was one of those wonderful meandering articles the magazine often publishes, covering the rise of Foxworthy and his compatriots, and focusing especially on their agent, one J.P. Williams, and his interactions with the industry, including details of deals with Comedy Central, which has picked up the group and showed their work to good ratings.

Not surprisingly, there was a lot of red-state, blue-state stuff in there too, and I finished the article feeling like I had learned something interesting that I hadn’t known about before, but also feeling irritated and bothered by the huge gulf that separates me from seemingly most of the rest of the country. Not just politically, but culturally (or are those the same thing?). I mean, I’m hardly unaware that the fact that I read The New Yorker at all makes me seem to fit a stereotype. But why is that? It’s a great magazine. Why aren’t other people interested in it too?

In particular, I bristle at the word “elite.” There’s no faster way to get under my skin, except perhaps to wave a flag in my face (wink, wink), than to accuse me of that. Especially because I know it has some truth to it, in a strange convoluted way. That’s the conundrum — I feel that this conflict is unnecessary, but I still have feelings that reflect my participation in it.

In that vein, then, the reason that the Blue Collar Comedy article really bothered me is that it said that Hollywood types are really uncomfortable with the content of the shows, have always been surprised at the reception they get, and only embraced them because their act makes money. Frankly, I relate to that, and I don’t relate to the Blue Collar guys. I don’t find jokes premised on the idea that married men are emasculated to be funny. I don’t understand the appeal of the phrase “Git R Done” (or even what it means, really). I don’t find bathroom humor at all amusing, whether it’s Adam Sandler or Larry the Cable Guy. (The one exception is the 1980s sitcom The Golden Girls, which had some amusing moments in that vein). Not to mention the racist and homophobic elements, whose unacceptability goes without saying. I wouldn’t deign to watch the Blue Collar Comedy Tour, and I don’t understand why anyone else would either.

In fact, the quote from the article that I read aloud to David and found laugh-out-loud funny was this one, from comedian Doug Stanhope: “Blue-collar comedy is about the poverty of imagination and the celebration of complacency. But it just goes to show that if you serve this country wet sh*t on a buckled paper plate, people will line up for it in droves.” I said to David, “that’s about the size of it.”

And it’s not just the Blue Collar Comedy guys, either. I have a distinct memory of my ex-boyfriend who I dated in law school telling me in some detail about the WWF event to which he had to take the residents of the group house where he worked. My eyes were wide with horror and disbelief that anyone would find this entertaining. But the venue was packed, and everybody just loved it. “Bread and circus,” I remember him saying. And I smiled knowingly, secure in my conviction that, well, I was too good for that kind of crap.

I guess I should just embrace the elite label since it apparently fits me so well. But there’s a way in which it is too oversimplified to be at all descriptive of my life or the lives of my friends and colleagues. And I suppose that what haunts me is the possibility that the redneck label also distorts more than it describes. On some level I know that this must be the case, but one thing’s for sure: the Blue Collar Comedy troupe has done little to enlighten the rest of us about what lies beneath the stereotype they’ve been so successful in perpetuating.