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“Does anybody remember laughter?”

February 5, 2010

Two months ago, I wrote about the ridiculous transformation that has occurred in the lives of we late-term Gen X-ers in regards to pop-culture access.  An awesome summary of this idea is exhibited on Werewolves and Lollipops by Patton Oswalt, one of the best comics around (making the LA scene, fighting crime with Brian Posehn). In that bit, he talks about his suburban DC youth, where the groundbreaking punk-rock of Fugazi, Minor Threat, and Bad Brains was completely unknown to him because of flaws in the cultural distribution system. There were a miniscule group of gatekeepers who determined which film/band/comedian/artist were worthy of publicity, and most of them pushed milquetoast crap like Gallagher. Outside of Late Night with David Letterman, MTV’s 120 Minutes or occasional moments on A&E’s An Evening at the Improv, anything remotely edgy was kept as far as possible from mainstream media outlets. Beginning with gutsy decisions by the premium cable networks as the previous century came to a close, coupled with an explosion of DIY online programming ( and, the big four networks have made a valiant effort to offer an entertaining experience to more discerning viewers. Despite my lack of interest in the whole “reality” trend, there has been more Great Television Shows in the last ten years than the entire pre-2000 TV era combined. Next time you are able to pull yourself away from the multiple DVDs of The Sopranos, The Wire, Peep Show, or Friday Night Lights that are stacked on your coffee table, obtain a couple seasons of sitcoms you liked as a kid, like Diff’rent Strokes, Three’s Company, Mama’s Family, or Roseanne – all of which were considered somewhat controversial in their era. You will be amazed at just how sloooow they are, and not slow like Parks and Recreation, where an awkward exchange is allowed to linger for maximum comedy/creepiness, but slow as in “Wow, this is so freaking boring.” Fifteen seconds will be devoted to a character entering a room, opening a newspaper and sitting there, with no comedic or narrative purpose whatsoever. The truly funny moments, like Mr. Drummond catching Willis smoking marijuana or the Conner parents disciplining Darlene, stood out like a lame cliche, surrounded by what now seems like clunky plot-devices and ho-hum dialogue that went nowhere. You remember laughing your arse off at age 12, but now, you watch and ask “What was the big deal?” The current generation of youth will never have to tolerate a world where their only media options are The Brady Bunch re-runs or infomercials. This, I have to say, scares the living shite out of me.

“Why is that? Aren’t you glad that teenagers of today get to spend their entire existence in a post-cultural-explosion world?” Nope. Guess again. While it is painful to reminisce about hours wasted watching Who’s The Boss? and Growing Pains, or to sit through the ever-popular “flashback” radio stations as they re-play the same annoying rubbish you had to stomach thousands of times, think about the great comedy spawned from this abyss. If we weren’t inundated with Christopher Cross, Chicago, and Toto during a time when the Ramones, the Dead Boys and the No-Wave scene were bubbling underground, we miss out on the greatness of Yacht Rock. How many episodes of The Simpsons or Family Guy depend upon the cheesiness of past pop culture for their very existence? I’d tell you, but I’m too busy watching The 138th Episode Spectacular while my “Starland Vocal Band” tattoo is being removed. Would Tenacious D songs make us laugh if they weren’t such dead-on apings of early-’80s pop-metal schmaltz? The aspiring comedic minds of tomorrow will lack the vocabulary of bad pop culture, because they have the option to choose something far more innovative and challenging. While we will always have the ham-fisted rom-com, the painfully over-dramatized “reality” program, and X-Factor/ Idol adult-contemporary pap, it has never been easier to avoid the bilge that aims for the lowest common denominator. So in 10 years, when Biff McEdgy submits a pilot to NBCBSyFy that takes the mickey out of The Real Jersey World Bachelor Shore[i], what audience will exist for this show? The people most likely to appreciate the satire would never have been forced to countenance these programs in the first place. On the other hand, would the fans of this TV genre find the jokes to be unfunny, if not offensive? (Of course, one could reasonably argue that most of these shows are already self-parodies.) Why do I ask? During a New Year’s Eve party at Paul the Geek’s place, I watched Alanis Morissette’s clever rendition of “My Humps”, which did not initially impress me because I had never heard the original song. Not until after I sat through Fergie’s cavity-drilling run-on sentence of corporate trademarks and bum references did I get the joke. And when societal destruction looms, there’s only one course of action: somebody call Sting!

[i] Although I’d totally watch a show called Jersey Shorr, especially if Pop was involved.

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