Are You Not Entertained?
    --an essay by Some Guy--


I would say I’m sick of hearing the Republicans argue about whether or not Rush Limbaugh is the voice of the GOP, but I'm not, for a few reasons.  One, hearing them argue about this is hilarious.  Two, if it weren’t for this then I would have to try and write about economics, and I don’t know anything about economics.  And three, it raises important and fascinating questions about the future of American political discourse.

Obviously, this essay isn’t going to be about the relative merits of Rush Limbaugh, because he is self-evidently a giant tool.  His shit goes on forever, is sonically grating, and makes no sense.

...Of Salesmen!!
It must be the name.

He’s also not funny.  I’m not a habitual listener, but as far as I can tell, the meat of his comedy stylings is that whenever a Black guy gets too powerful he plays a song about how he’s Black, and whenever a woman gets too powerful he plays a song about how she’s a woman.

Sh’wild.  Sh’wild stuff.

Anyway, the interesting part is that RNC Chairman Michael Steele felt compelled to apologize for referring to Limbaugh as an “entertainer.”  Okay, I guess from Steele’s perspective, apologizing was the politically expedient thing to do, and I don’t care one way or the other about whether he should have.  What is interesting is that Limbaugh and his fans took umbrage at the term in the first place.  Evidently, they regard the label as mutually exclusive to someone’s being legitimately inspiring or insightful about the issues of the day — Limbaugh is, of course, neither of these things, but he and his fans are under the impression that he is, so the point remains.

By profession, Limbaugh is the host of a political talk show that alternates between him pontificating on his own and discussing issues with guests, all the while trying to be funny at the same time.  That is the exact same thing that, say, Bill Maher is on the left, and no-one, including Bill Maher, gets pissed if you call Bill Maher an entertainer.  I am a huge Bill Maher fan.  Maher's beliefs are closer to my own than are those of any actual politician (as far as I can tell), and what Maher has to say about any given issue usually satisfies and resonates with me more than does what any politician has to say.  And yet I don’t care if someone calls him an entertainer, because that’s what he is.  

What’s wrong with being an entertainer?  Shakespeare and Mozart were “entertainers,” for fuck’s sake.    

What would Rush’s fans prefer we call him?  A philosopher?  Okay, no problem.  Technically, I suppose, Rush Limbaugh is a philosopher.

Bear with me here.

He’s a shitty philosopher who is wrong about everything, but essentially he is someone who dispenses ideas and people pay him (through listening to the advertising run on the stations that broadcast him) to hear those ideas because they like them, and that’s it.  Words like “pundit” are just terms for subgenres of “philosopher,” like how “rapper” and “accordionist” are both types of “musician.”  People who do the same thing on the left are called “public intellectuals,” but we can’t use that term for Rush because… well, he’s an idiot.  But just being wrong about stuff doesn’t mean you’re not a philosopher.  Descartes thought he could prove the existence of God, and Plato thought poetry should be against the law.

As for the fact that Rush (thinks he) is being funny at the same time, why should that matter?  Nietzsche is funny sometimes.  Not always intentionally, but still.  If people want to borrow a term from Mel Brooks’s History of the World Part One and start referring to Limbaugh as a “stand-up philosopher,” that might be a compromise amenable to both his critics and his fans.

Just make sure you tell Rush it won’t actually require him to stand up, because I don’t think he can do that on his own for very long.

So, I don’t object on principle to the fact that a philosopher rather than a politician has become the most prominent voice in a major political party — just to the fact that the particular philosopher in question is retarded.  But then, so is the party in question, so I guess it was inevitable.  Anyway, there’s nothing inherently wrong with the dynamic.  If Bill Maher became the voice of the Democratic Party, I would love it.  Drugs would be legal, and every convention from now on would be at the Playboy Mansion.

I can certainly take issue with what Limbaugh says (and do, quite effectively), but I can’t really object to the nature of his occupation because it is essentially the same thing 1585 does:  I have an overarching political mission, and then in each individual piece I try to be as entertaining as possible within the confines of that specific point and how it advances the mission.

This is what Air America forgot to do, which is why it just ended up being the news but longer.

 I tried. Oh Lord, how I did try.
Hey kids, do you like the news, but wish it lasted five
hours with way more long silences and chair-scraping?

Boring is a fine line.  On paper, NPR seems like it would be boring too, but you know that good feeling NPR somehow gives you?  You know, as if you would like to be listening to it on a porch in slightly chilly weather while tickling your own arms?  Imagine NPR minus that feeling. 

On the whole, I think Liberals are funnier than Conservatives.  Certainly, most great comedians are liberal.  But there isn’t always necessarily something explicitly liberal about their jokes.  The tricky thing about explicitly liberal comedy is that it needs to evolve beyond:

  1. Play clip of Conservative being a dick.
  2. Say something to the effect of “Do you believe this guy?”
  3. Repeat.

One reason I stopped listening to Air America is that I couldn’t stand hearing the clips of the Conservatives they had to keep playing to set up every joke. 

The problem there is, Conservative means a distinct cultural thing that can exist without constantly just playing clips of Liberals and going “I disagree with this.”  To the extent that Liberal means a distinct cultural thing that can stand on its own, a station for that already exists, and it’s called NPR.

Partly, we are at a disadvantage because we don’t need to construct an extrapolitical cultural nexus to divert attention away from our actual policies, because our actual policies actually make sense.  But since when you focus on the actual laws the Republicans want to make, pretty much everybody is against them, they have had to develop this entirely separate definition of Conservative that has nothing directly to do with the business of governing.  Necessity is the mother of invention, and the political Right needed to invent Rush more than the political Left has ever needed to invent whatever the liberal distaff of Rush would be.

 Inner Sanctum, Heritage Foundation
“Let’s make it so you can’t sue doctors.  After all, the majority of people
are doctors, so this should be a popu—  ...They're NOT?!  OH FUCK,

Keith Olbermann is an official journalist and serious pundit, and Bill Maher and Jon Stewart are comedians.  But honestly, aside from the fact that Olbermann is less funny, I don’t see what the difference is.  There is no logical reason why if Keith Olbermann makes a point it counts as something you could cite in a serious discussion, but if Stewart or Maher makes the exact same point in a funny way it doesn’t.

It is as accurate to describe me as an “internet comedy writer” as it is to describe me as a “political pundit,” but this doesn’t inherently mean I am less qualified as a pundit.  The points I make are at least as good as the points any “real” news guy makes; it’s just that I am also funny.

Naturally, the unfunny media are terrified of this.  I saw a panel show on PBS last night, and they took the Rush flap as an impetus to go off about the lamentable state of what “passes for” political discourse in general, going off on Jon Stewart, etc., too.  But here’s the thing:  This show didn’t teach me any more about politics than The Daily Show or Real Time does, and it was boring as fuck.  Funny pundits (a thing for which “fundits” would be a horribly irritating term that people should absolutely not start using) can do the same thing regular pundits do, but plus other stuff, like how Superman is just as fast as the Flash but can also do a million other things whereas the Flash is only fast.

Yes, the Flash won the third time they raced, but you know why?  Because the brass at DC realized that if the only fucking thing the Flash can do, Superman can do better just as a hobby, then what the fuck is the point of the Flash?

You see?  I just made a valuable and insightful point about the current state of the discourse, but explained it via an analogy about Superman and the Flash.  Does Charles Gibson ever do that?  No.

 Hey, there's no need to play the race card. Get it? Race card? Huh? Oh, nevermind...
  The actual race was much cooler.

Within the liberal half of the country, the complaint about the web is that anybody can say anything.  When someone asserts claims, they are not fact-checked, and when someone posits a theory, it is not peer-reviewed.  As brilliant as The 1585 is, if a student cited us as a source in a paper, this would almost certainly be considered unacceptable (that is, if the instructor bothered to check out the source, rather than just making sure the citation was formatted correctly, which is actually pretty unlikely).  And you know what?  I’m not going to bitch about this.  I get it.  There has to be some method of keeping the students from consulting straight-up lunatics, and if that means throwing the baby of me out with the bathwater of snake handlers and 9/11 Truthers, fine.  I’m brilliant, and crazy people are crazy, but if the average college student were able to discern on their own that I am brilliant and that crazy people are crazy, there wouldn’t be a problem to begin with, so I guess they can’t be trusted to do so.

But eventually this dam is going to burst.  Someday soon there is going to be Some Guy with a Website who is self-evidently irrefutably brilliant, but is still just Some Guy with a Website.  What will people say then?  Sure, someone might offer him a book deal or an academic position, but suppose he doesn’t want one?  What if he just wants to be Some Guy with a Website — would that make him any less brilliant?

Something is going to have to give very soon, because the fact is, the web is simply the perfect medium for the transmission of wisdom and the ideal location of the marketplace of ideas.  You can get stuff out to people instantly, update it as things change, and go back and correct yourself if it turns out you were wrong about something.  If you’re a philosopher like me who doesn’t want to waste a bunch of time explaining background information before getting right down to analyzing an issue, you can just put some links to background info at the top of the page, or insert them as hypertext as key terms arise.  Others have, of course, made these points before.  But a point I have not yet heard anyone make is that — perhaps most importantly of all — the web not only allows, but encourages you to seek out work by people with whom you disagree, if only to take it apart.

If not for the internet, someone who wanted to argue point-by-point against a text by, say, Ann Coulter would have to actually buy one of her books, which a sane person would likely be unable to bring themselves to do, no matter how much they wanted to write a response.  But on the web, Philosopher A and Philosopher B, who each despise everything the other stands for, will not only read each other, but actually link to each other and increase each other’s readership, because it saves them the trouble of summarizing or endlessly quoting their opponent.  As a consequence of this, the followers of each will also read their opponent’s ideas, thereby vastly increasing the chances that the one who is actually right will end up with more followers.  And this the primary point of Freedom of Speech.  The internet is the very thing — the very thing — the Founders would have dreamt of, had they been able to, when they first hit upon that whole idea, and anyone who cannot see this probably doesn’t even tear up on the 4th of July.

People who bemoan the web as the ideal vehicle for the dissemination of retarded ideas are only looking at half the picture:  it is both the ideal vehicle for disseminating retarded ideas, and for combating them.  And you can even make it all funny.  The price you pay, of course, is that you are just Some Guy.   

Who was I peer reviewed by.  Whatever.  Who was Nietzsche peer reviewed by, motherfucker?

The standard complaint on the conservative side, as we all know, is that mainstream media have a liberal bias.  To many on the opposite bank, mainstream news appears to have a conservative bias.  In a way, everyone is right.  To someone who believes that Position X is self-evidently crazy, what it would make sense for the news to do in a story about Position X is criticize it — so when the news fails to do this, it looks like favoritism.  But what the viewer doesn’t notice is that the news also refrains from criticizing Position Y (i.e., the viewer’s own opinion).  So, when a station runs a story about gay marriage, the conservative viewer notices that they refrain from criticizing homosexuality and calls the show liberal, and the liberal viewer notices that they also refrain from pointing out that the religious animus against it is loony bullshit and calls the show conservative.  So what does the show do?  Basically show a bunch of footage of couples getting gay married and point out that people disagree about it, which is something you already knew.  But at least you didn’t change the channel.  That being out of the way, the news can then get back to its real agenda:  bias in favor of being completely retarded.      

 But just how popular *is* drinking Cola-Cola in bikinis? Find out at eleven...
“Good evening, we are responsible professional journalists.  And now, our top
story:  What happened last night on some retarded fucking reality show...”

Ideally, the news would act as the referee, and actually tell you, if not always who is right, at least who is lying.  If this ends up hurting one side more than the other, it’s that side’s own fault for lying — it’s not the job of the ref to call penalties equally, only accurately (as we point out in the FMT entry for “bias”).  People did eventually get sick of news that never actually tells you who’s right, but unfortunately, what this resulted in was the rise of the viewer-ego-stroking specialty networks like FOX News.  So people now have a choice of news that’s completely useless because it bends over backwards to reinforce the viewer’s prejudices and news that is completely useless because it bends over backwards to avoid saying anything with which anyone could possibly disagree, even in situations where there is an objective right answer.

The whole “liberal bias” meme was invented in the late ’60s, when the GOP had Spiro Agnew fly around reaming out reporters for having the gall to imply that Nixon was doing a bunch of stuff that Nixon was actually doing, just because they had proof.  And this made perfect sense to the majority of Americans because, while at any other period in our history it might have seemed specious, unfortunately at this particular juncture the alternative to believing it was accepting that they might have to live within ten miles of a Black family and that our boys in uniform had adopted the habit of lighting their cigarettes off flaming piles of South Asian babies.  And ever since, it's been kept alive by the Spotlight Fallacy:  the idea is already in your head, so when the news says something liberal you notice, and when it doesn't, you don't.   

Now, the problem with what the news would ideally do — not merely explain the issue and inform you that people disagree, but examine the social and philosophical roots of the disagreement, analyze whose rhetoric and evidence holds up better, and bust the people who have told lies in service of their position — is that it’s hard and would take a long time.  And there are only two circumstances under which any great number of people are going to sit through an explanation of an issue that is long, complicated, and challenges their worldview rather than reinforcing it:  The first is if they have no choice because they’re in school, and the second is if the explanation is also funny.

So yes, the lamenting old farts on PBS were right.  Funny political news is where society is headed.  But this isn’t because society is degenerating or being dumbed down; it’s because funny political news is actually the perfect system.

Crazy internet girl!
Internet = "inappropriate"
She knows how to news them...
TV = "professional"

The internet also uses sex appeal to court an audience,
which the real news never, ever does.

To speak frankly, I would hazard that a regular reader of this site has gained more insight into the psychological and sociological underpinnings of contemporary political discourse in the past two years than they would have in two years' worth of college courses on the same subjects, and infinitely more than would have been gained by simply regularly watching the news.  And they've been entertained in the process (and almost certainly would not have read the essays at all had they not been entertaining).  And I am just Some Guy who is smart and owns a computer.  Imagine what a network of people like me with resources at our back could do.

It doesn’t matter whether you call Rush Limbaugh an entertainer or a philosopher.  Same goes for Jon Stewart, or for us.  Whatever you call it, soon it’s going to be the only thing left.  And rightly so.  It is way harder to be funny and wrong at the same time than it is to be serious and wrong.  And it was batshit conservative talk radio that started it all.    

So weirdly enough, we owe Rush — kind of like how Hippies owe Nazis for inventing the Volkswagen.       

Heily the Hate Bug Slightly less annoying, I guess...
They didn’t have hearts on them in ’38, sunshine...

NOTE:  Some time after the posting of this essay, comic genius and national treasure Stephen Colbert began prominently featuring the term "fundit" in his opening credits.  I'm not saying he or a member of his staff got it from me, necessarily.  It is not so complex a pun that two different people couldn't have come up with it independently.  But I didn't get it from him either.  And hey!  You know, if we're all so good at coming up with puns, maybe we should call oursel—  no, wait, nevermind.

FURTHER NOTE:  Subsequent research has revealed that the earliest documented use of the term "fundit" in fact dates to December 9, 2004, when the term was added to by someone calling himself "Poop Face."  Which means that, unless someone finds an earlier use in print, Poop Face will one day be cited in the Oxford English Dictionary.  Congratulations, Poop Face.  Now you belong to the ages. 

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