After Vice President Pence was booed
by the crowd and lectured to by the actors during a performance of "Hamilton," President Trump sent out a tweet
insisting that the theater be always a "safe and special place.”
Any impartial observer of the “safe spaces” language of recent times could see that the president was tweaking the noses of social justice types. But liberals were not amused, and they didn’t get his mockery, either. They saw it as an expression of anger and, as this journalist put it, “disgust.”
Conservatives, you see, can’t be funny.
It’s an old conviction dating back to the mid-century. Beatniks, hippies, Yippies, and other counter-culture groups in those days seized all the wit and irreverence and antic gestures for themselves. While conservatives droned on about God and country, the other side was writing "Soul on Ice," with scenes such as this rap in the prison yard:
“Baby,” he said, “they waking in fours and kicking in doors; dropping Reds and busting heads; drinking wine and committing crime, shooting and looting; high-siding and low-riding, setting fires and slashing tires; turning over cars and burning down bars; making Parker mad and making me glad; putting an end to the ‘go slow’ crap and putting sweet Watts on the map — my black ass is in Folsom this morning, but my black heart is in Watts!” Tears of joy were rolling from his eyes.
It was a cleansing, revolutionary laugh we all shared . . .
Cool. And so was "M*A*S*H" and "Laugh-In" and "The Smothers Brothers." At the famous 1967 march on the Pentagon, thousands of anti-War demonstrators held hands in front of the building, chanted sacred words of exorcism, and attempted to levitate it so that all military motives and demons would be swept away into the clouds. You can be sure that everyone involved, including the reporters on site, enjoyed every minute of the absurdity.
Meanwhile, in the popular culture, conservatism was increasingly cast as old men thumping Bibles on UHF channels.
The polarity has held steady, no matter how obvious the humor on the Right.
A few years ago, students at Bucknell University held an “affirmative action bake sale” in which they charged customers different prices for the same doughnuts. White man paid more than black women. The point was to satirize preferential admissions in higher education, just the kind of performance art that liberals love. But these were conservatives, and so their actions were taken literally. Conservatives can’t do irony! Administrators shut it down.
This has been an extraordinary advantage for the left. People favor politicians who make them smile, not a scold. From George Carlin and Norman Lear to Howard Stern, Whoopi Goldberg, Bill Maher, Jon Stewart, and Stephen Colbert, a brigade of humorists has ensured that liberals have all the amusement. In "M*A*S*H," the religious conservative doctor played by Robert Duval is a mirthless maniac and hypocrite, the hang-loose liberal doctors played by Eliot Gould and Donald Sutherland wry and groovy and tricky. Liberals would have that be true ever and always.
This is why Milo receives such scorn and calumny. He disrupts the set-up. In the clip quoted above on the Pence-Hamilton affair, Milo joins the liberal journalist in the discussion and answers, “Nobody realizes how funny Trump is.” Trump is just “flipping” liberal language on its head, he explains, whining just like hypersensitive college students do, and saying “’How do you like it, guys?’ It’s hilarious.”
That Trump may be taunting them, turning progressives into the butt of the joke, and that progressives don’t even get it — the prospect shakes up 50 years of one-sided raillery. And it’s not just that Trump isn’t the uncaring, humorless buffoon that "The View" says he is. Milo’s point here and in hundreds of other appearances is that the Left itself has lost its wit. Liberals have become so politically correct and literal minded, so allergic to anything that hints at a laugh at a treasured identity group’s expense, that they’re the ones who have no fun. Liberals have become obtuse.
When Milo titles a speech “10 Things I Hate about Mexico,” he’s doing the same thing. Liberal commentators jump on him because they think he really means it — he’s a “hater.” They should , instead, understand it in the way they did Jerry Rubin, founder of the Yippies, when he showed up to testify in Congress dressed as a bare-chested guerilla, toy M-16 rifle in hand.
Yes, Milo is outrageous and cruel — “Feminism is cancer” is one of his slogans — but only if you take him as 100 percent earnest, not as a mordant satirist in the Swiftian vein. He is gloating and preening, too, but it’s annoying only if you overlook the self-deprecation that echoes Oscar Wilde, whose lecture tour in America made a whole lot of tough men in the States laugh at his every word.
Liberal hilarity has dominated the airwaves for a half-century. The pert jests of Saturday Night Live overpower the smart arguments of rational choice theory. Entertaining street theater beats Republican solemnity every time. The Black Panthers and other counter-culture warriors played it perfectly. When Abbie Hoffman was on the witness stand in the trial of the Chicago Seven, he gave his residence as “Woodstock Nation,” which exists only “in my mind and the minds of my brothers and sisters.”
He stated that he was born “Psychologically” in 1960. When asked what happened between then and his actual birth date in 1936, he replied, “Nothing. I believe it is called an American education.” Liberals ate it up, while conservatives could only shake their heads in exasperation.
In a speech at Michigan State, a student asks Milo how young Republicans should respond to liberal animosity, and Milo says, “Oh, laugh. Laugh, laugh, laugh, laugh, laugh.”
He’s wearing heavy dark lipstick, a dark t-shirt, a gold chain, and a band of golden laurel leaves around his head, which certainly reinforces the farce. But there’s a serious point, too: “The sound that authoritarians and dictators hate the most is the sound of laughter, because it’s the sound of freedom.”
Liberals learned the lesson long ago. Conservatives may be catching up.
Mark Bauerlein is Professor of English at Emory University and Senior Editor at First Things Magazine. To read more of his reports — Click Here Now.
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