You know me, I dig Christopher Hitchens. He is one of the few humans on the planet whom I honestly and sincerely believe ought to be exempt from all criminal or civil sanctions, no matter what the crime, and allowed to live above the law. Even Roman Polanski, one of the greatest filmmakers of the last fifty years, the genius who directed Chinatown, The Pianist, and a personal favorite of mine, Death and the Maiden, ought to be brought back home to take his three-decades-overdue medicine, now that someone finally decided to arrest him. But not Hitchens, no. If Hitchens had drugged a 13 year-old girl and raped her, my only response would be, “Let him go. For his ways are not our ways.” Such is my esteem for the man.
Okay, so I’m exaggerating – a little.
The thing I love most about reading Hitchens is that he simply defies categorization. He’s an old school leftist, former Marxist intellectual who supported and still supports the war in Iraq, who wrote scathing criticisms of Bill Clinton and also obliterated Sarah Palin without breaking a sweat. He does and says whatever the fuck he wants and doesn’t worry about what anyone else will think. Even when I disagree with his specific point, I’ve gotta admire that boldness, that attitude that moxy – yeah, that’s the ticket.
Take this column he wrote in the October issue of The Atlantic. He whoops up on Al Franken, and two of my favorite people, Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, for – get this, now – now being funny enough. It’s a stinging read, but Hitchens all the way. God bless his non-existent immortal soul. Here’s a brief quote from the end of the essay:
I noticed that both in Senator Franken’s Lies and in the Stewart team’s America, reference was made to Joseph Welch’s famous challenge to Joseph McCarthy about whether there was any “decency” left at last. In other encounters with the same faction and its followers, I have found that this is one of the “quotes” or “moments” from recent American history that they can be reliably counted upon to know. Two things seem to be involved here: an almost nostalgic realization that at one time the hard-right wing believed the entertainment industry was an enemy; and a desire to prove that it still is. The “American” symbols all over the album-size volumes reviewed here brilliantly dispel/preempt any charge of being unpatriotic.
Some of the stupid right wing still does regard relatively innocuous mainstream-TV comedy as an enemy, which allows the “ironic” riposte that mainstream-TV comedy, and the mainstream-TV comedians who wax fat on it, are really not all that subversive after all. Here’s Franken’s own reassurance, from The Truth:
For Dad the rest of religion lay in the ethical teachings of Judaism and, to the extent he had absorbed them, of any other faith, Western, Eastern, or whatever. Again, not so different from our Founders. In their famous correspondence at the end of their lives, Adams and Jefferson wrote a lot about religion. When Adams concluded that his personal creed was “contained in four short words, ‘Be just and good’” Jefferson replied, “The result of our fifty or sixty years of religious reading, in the four words, ‘Be just and good,’ is that in which all our inquiries must end.”
One might, I suppose, keep this piece of schmaltz handy for the next Judeo-Christian prayer breakfast, but meanwhile, it awakens an appetite to see more of the flashing scalpel and a good deal less of the rubber hammer and the exploding cigar. Almost everything that I have quoted was printed or broadcast at a time when the Democrats were in opposition in both chambers and many state houses, excluded from the White House, and in a minority on the Supreme Court. The rebel humor on offer was rather lame even then.
Again, the full article is right here. Check it out. His main point is that the big-time satirists like Colbert and Stewart (and Frank, pre-Senate) are too soft, both in choosing and in attacking their targets. And you know, I can’t really argue with that. I love a good “George W. Bush was an idiot” joke as much as the next guy. I’ve told a few myself, and I’ll tell a few more before I’m done, because I am nothing if not a soft, undisciplined, lazy humorist. But should Stewart and Colbert and the rest decide to take Hitchens’s advice and sharpen their teeth a bit, you wouldn’t hear me complaining.