How Late Night Comedians Hurt America
One year ago the country suddenly changed its political course and in doing so began to follow a path, which marked the beginning of the entertainment industry’s obsession with one man. This man’s rise is what triggered the panicky keys to survival of a class rapidly dwindling in its influence. As a consequence, the prevailing means of entertainment no longer serve as an escape from the day to day struggle. They have degenerated into pitiful forms of consolation for their cultural and political defeat.
The time is half past eleven. It is the hour of leisure. And this is the sinister onset of propaganda crudely disguised as an exercise in comedy. Because even at midnight, late night comedians are hard at work debasing political discourse to advance a perverse view of the nation.
It’s this perversion that has hoodwinked millions of cursory news consumers into elevating late night comedians above journalists and sober analysis. They are consistently met with outsized praise for their allegedly bold commentary. Commentary so bold and so often parroted by their fellow media and entertainment compadres that one begins to wonder, how bold can it really be?
We must first consider what the late host is trying to do to the viewer. And that is to make the viewer laugh, to make them feel good. Now, which of the following is going to be more effective at keeping you tuned in? A piece of bold, conflicting information that will challenge your preconceptions — or — assuring you that the other side is so self-evidently wrong that only inbred neanderthals would not be able to understand and thus the only valid response is to laugh.
This arrogant, lazy snark isn’t just a feature of a late night comedian’s routine, it’s by design. The spectacle, the pre-recorded laughter signaling that it’s time to scoff, the condescension — these all manufacture the illusion that the viewer is part of an enlightened class and understands something that others just can’t. It activates a very primitive instinct of the human mind. Playing to the tribal fear of being part of the outgroup — the group that just doesn’t understand — perhaps, the group of gun toting, big rig driving, cousin-fucking rubes.
When you caricature the other side and hear a laugh track, it’s the political equivalent of junk food. It’s instantly gratifying to see your political opponents ridiculed with unbridled snark — a satisfaction that could not be derived by considering ideas. All of these factors compose an entertainment genre that is the most far reaching embodiment of confirmation bias and group think. The viewer sits enthralled in the dark, thinking finally I know the truth. No other attempt at manipulating the casual news consumer has been so effective, yet so devoid of substance. But to describe these late shows as an exercise in facile crowd-pleasing would be all too obvious. And it might be bearable if it stopped at the typical spin-jobs you expect to see on television, but the characteristics that set the late shows apart are laziness and cowardice.
Lazily demeaning ideas to the sound of a laugh track is easy. Genuinely trying to understand other people’s point of view is hard. The really tough part of giving ideas a fair hearing is how much work and how much consideration it takes to make sure you’re not misrepresenting or maligning another person’s perspective. But you see, to the late host, applause in front of a credulous audience is everything.
A prime manifestation of this practice would be when Host Bee instructed her audience to laugh at a young man attending the RNC for his “Nazi haircut.” A quick search would have revealed to Ms. Bee that he, in fact, had cancer. This brings a bigger issue to our attention. If they deliberately neglect to do basic research before smearing someone on national television, what other corners will they cut for a cheap gag?
One begins to wonder why late hosts have become especially unabashed in their disdain for people who think differently than them. But the picture becomes clear when you realize that for so long they had assured themselves of their stranglehold on a culture — a stranglehold beyond reproach. They plastered their audiences with assurances of ideological invincibility, and the house of cards came tumbling down on November 8th. Unable to cope with such a loss, they decide to spend their nights exacting revenge on the people who rejected their views.
The extent to which they’ve erected a culture around ostracizing people with differing perspectives predictably resulted in audiences becoming indignant when James Corden appeared too friendly with Sean Spicer or when Jimmy Fallon ruffled Trump’s hair. For the sin of not attacking their guests, both Corden and Fallon were bullied into backtracking. To viewers who’ve long been fed this villainized image of the other side, treating people who represent different perspectives with basic decency is a blow to all that is righteous and good. It humanizes what they think are self-evidently monsters. And if these figureheads are monsters, what does this say about those they represent?
Though they may not know it, what these late hosts have succeeded in is imbuing the targets of their scorn with resentment, and a more generalized distrust of media. It was perhaps the greatest gift bestowed upon the populist movement. The precise kind of vindictiveness they’ve resorted to can be seen plainly by looking at the case of a child innocently answering their questions. For assuming the goodwill of an adult, he was met with mocking comparisons to a homophobic preacher “in blonde, larval form” — all for the sin of holding a different view of the world.
A form of cowardice stains these politically-geared late night segments when the hosts act so smugly self assured of their positions, but then respond with confusion and mockery when the subjects of their crude campaigns respond. It is the political equivalent of the juvenile YouTube pranksters who do something blatantly inappropriate, then are taken back and cry, “it’s just a joke, bro” when they’re put on blast for their childish antics.
But the ability to hide behind the mask of comedy explains why these shows are so effective at concealing their political bent. Because if late hosts are just joking, their critics are uptight, unable to lighten up and take a joke. In doing so, the hosts craft for themselves an alternate reality. In this alternate reality, they can be political activists with an impenetrable force field of “comedy” that repels all valid criticisms.
The predictable defense of this late show sneering is that it must be waved away as mere entertainment or comedy; it’s harmless, lighten up — but this view of the world could not be any more naive. Is it really harmless when late hosts take talking points from government officials to propagandize on television? Is it really harmless for late hosts to preach idiocy and gullibility by telling viewers: they don’t need to consider ideas. They can be laughed away with a well written joke. By making people less critical, you make them more susceptible to deception that can be exploited by people more unscrupulous than they.
In one mind, you might be able to say that their deliberately inaccurate gag routines are “harmless.” But this just isn’t the case for the targets they demean, but more importantly the country — that is fed a toxically divisive portrait of their compatriots. It should be obvious that this makes for fertile soil that will inevitably be exploited by political forces eager to seize power through division.
But these are all details for a late night host, he will barrel on and tell millions of Americans we all must sneer — for the debate has already been won by himself and his laugh tracks.