The person I know with the best memory reminds me that in the past I've made fun of Lee Siegel's writing -- including once in a post with an update saying that the person I know with the best memory reminds me that in the past I've made fun of Lee Siegel's writing. So, I should be enjoying the poor critic's plight more than I'd realized.
Let's look at the old posts.
April 12, 2004:
"The marriage of comedy and politics is even more unhealthy than the marriage of church and state." So says Lee Siegel, TNR's TV critic. Too many metaphors: marriage and health. And unhealthy comedy is not going to kill anyone, whereas the diseases of the religion-state alliance have produced monumental evils throughout history.From February 7, 2005:
But I agree with Siegel that right now politics is ruining comedy, especially The Daily Show (as I said here). Jon Stewart gets so much good press--the NYT never misses an opportunity to praise him--so it's really almost shocking to read strong criticism like this:Stewart weighs down his jokes with a kind of Government 101 knowingness. He's not just funny about politics, you see, he's savvy about the way the system works, and he's going to help us through the maze. In Washington, "you have to cut through the partisan gridlock just to get to the bureaucratic logjam." Stop, you're killing me. But when it came to Richard Clarke and his controversial book, Stewart gave up even the pretense of being funny. ... Here was a slick, malleable, professional political advisor/operator, who had the choice of resigning in protest against an invasion of Iraq months before it took place, when such a protest might have had consequences, but chose instead to wait until his slighted ego burst at the seams--this Clarke, a true embodiment of human foible and folly, deserved to be manhandled by the spirit of laughter every bit as much as his accusations deserved to be defended by the spirit of truth. But like everybody else in public life, from politicians and pundits to performers and poets, Stewart wants to seem edifying and instructive. He wants to seem good.
Wanting to seem good is really bad for comedy. And, of course, picking a political side to be what is good is just bad for so many reasons. Siegel thinks Stewart is pandering to his audience, but I would think he's losing half of his audience. He's lost me. And (unlike Siegel) I was completely in love with him.
I'VE JUST GOT TO ADD: If I didn't independently agree with Siegel's opinion of The Daily Show, I would have been quite reluctant to trust him, because I think his instincts about comedy are a bit off, since he seems to have meant the following sentence to be taken seriously:Politics hates the naked unbridled ego that laughter sets free; it hates it with the intensity with which laughter heaps its furies on the naked unbridled ego that hides behind the highflown sentiments of politics.As Jon Stewart would say: Whaaaa?
Baby, you can't do my media criticism.Funnily enough, over at Klein's post, you can see that Sprezzatura said things like this:
Here's the free link to get to Lee Siegel's TNR essay about why football provides the perfect showcase for ads. Assuming you want to get to it. It reads like this:Last night, the brunt of the commercials during the first quarter were for cars, mostly SUVs and minivans. Even a very unexcited-looking Paul McCartney ("Thank you Super Bowl!" he kept shouting) sang, as the first of four songs in his halftime show, "Baby You Can Drive My Car." The interesting thing about a car is that it's a piece of property that you can inhabit while traversing, or entering, other people's property. That's what Brady's team was doing as it moved down the field. So what was happening in the stadium and what was occurring on the tube were mutual reinforcements of this illusion of sovereign motion.Well, first, that really is not the interesting thing about a car. But second, what laughably tedious writing! The weird thing is that it reminded me a lot of the great old George Carlin routine comparing football and baseball.
There's this awful suck-up named Ezra Klein--his "writing" is sweaty with panting obsequious ambition--who keeps distorting everything Siegel writes--the only way this no-talent can get him. And I ask myself: why is it the young guys who go after Siegel? Must be because he writes the way young guys should be writing: angry, independent, not afraid of offending powerful people. They on the other hand write like aging careerists: timid, ingratiating, careful not to offend people who are powerful. They hate him because they want to write like him but can't. Maybe if they'd let themselves go and write truthfully, they'd get Leon Wieseltier to notice them too.Ha! Lee Siegel is a ridiculously bad writer.