comedy and tragedy


Erik Kain

Erik writes about video games at Forbes and politics at Mother Jones. He's the contributor of The League though he hasn't written much here lately. He can be found occasionally composing 140 character cultural analysis on Twitter.

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34 Responses

  1. Avatar Travis says:

    There’s another good corollary here: both drama and comedy have their place.

    Only a tiny lunatic fringe on the right would argue that we should liquidate public lands and turn our national parks over to Aramark and Walt Disney.

    Only a tiny lunatic fringe on the left would argue that we should expropriate Chevron, Exxon and ConocoPhillips to create a nationalized oil monopoly.Report

  2. Avatar BCChase says:

    Hmmm – I think I’ve seen a few too many unfunny comedies that rely on lazy fart and dick jokes to fully buy your metaphor. And I’m not sure the skill set at the top end is more refined, just different. There is definitely a trend in comedies to take themselves less seriously, and conservatives could probably learn something from that, but I don’t think the central points of the metaphor are great. If Carlos Menica and Dane Cook can get laughs, comedy can’t be THAT hard.Report

  3. Avatar North says:

    Good metaphor, for an on site example observe Freddie’s proposal for regulating personal trainers. That is one area that libertarians and convervatives seem to not get or be unwilling to accept. Most boosters of expanded government do so out of a genuine desire to improve things, not out of some malevolent need to put government into every corner.Report

    • Avatar E.D. Kain in reply to North says:

      Oh I agree! I think most liberals are acting out of a true desire to better the world and especially to make the world a more equitable place. But even the best laid plans….Report

  4. Avatar Royce says:

    What am I missing? Seems like you set up a false comparison. I think expanding government also includes in most, if not all cases, a specific plan for the action and the funding to accomplish the action. As for the limiting government, I agree strongly with your point about planning to make sure safety nets are managed appropriately in transistion.Report

    • Avatar E.D. Kain in reply to Royce says:

      My point, beneath the bad metaphor, is that it is much easier to expand government, which is borne out by the fact that this is exactly what happens year after year after year – whether it is entitlements, defense spending, or invasion into our personal lives.

      I’m still a believer in the potential to have smart government. I just think we’d get more out of it if it were less omnipresent. We might even fight fewer wars.Report

  5. Avatar mike farmer says:

    I appreciate E.D.’s diplomacy and willingness to be open-minded and tactful — however, I suffer from directness and rough-edges — statists are drama-queens controlling subjects by pulling heart-strings and anti-statists are the Marx Brothers creating art out of chaos. That’s my stance and I’m sticking to it.Report

  6. Avatar Travis says:

    The thing is, at some level there’s a disconnect between what people say and what people really want.

    Lots of people are willing to tell pollsters they want limited government in the abstract. “Cut my taxes, get rid of waste, fire those do-nothing bureaucrats,” et al.

    But when people are actually polled about specific things that the government does, almost all of them have broad levels of support.

    Case in point: California is in a honkin’ huge budget debacle. All sorts of ideas have been tossed around – some cuts will definitely happen, but the Republican minority has blocked any talk of even minor tax increases. So, the Governator proposes dramatic cuts, including the shutdown of about two-thirds of the state park system.

    The people of California promptly go apeshit and force Arnold to run away like a girly-man. Californians want their parks.

    The Republican Revolution of ’94 promised to abolish whole Cabinet departments yet turned into a farcical sex comedy, while the Republican dominance (and spineless Democrats) of the early 2000s brought us the largest expansion of federal power and intrusion since the New Deal, courtesy of DHS, TSA and the PATRIOT Act.

    Why aren’t conservatives hammering harder on the failures of the War on Drugs? That seems like a logical place where a lot of common ground can be found between the left and right – replacing prisons and federal SWAT teams with local community supervision and drug treatment programs. It’s obvious to anyone who studies it that the War on Drugs is an epic fail and still billions of taxpayer dollars and hundreds of thousands of lives are wasted each year.Report

    • Avatar Travis in reply to Travis says:

      And to be fair, the same can be said of the Democrats. Full control of the House, Senate and White House… it would be nice to see some reforms get done. Not holding my breath, though. The “lock ’em in a concrete box until they die” mentality pervades our society.Report

  7. Avatar Tim Kowal says:

    Incidentally, I think you’ve here answered the question posed by Dan Miller re why there is a dearth of conservative options on health care. A public option is easy when it involves heaping lots of government on the problem. It is much more difficult to find the limited option.Report

    • Avatar E.D. Kain in reply to Tim Kowal says:

      Very true. Throwing money (or government) at the problem is much easier. It’s very easy to come up with lots of Good Ideas and Good Policies modeled after other Really Good Systems Elsewhere, but much, much harder to find ways that the government can at once be limited and effective. Which to me is essential since government is simply not very effective until it comes to limiting other activity – like economic activity – and then it’s in fact very effective.Report

  8. Avatar Kyle says:

    Personally, I rather like the extended metaphor. Anywho, I think you’re right for the most part.

    It seems that anti-government conservatives/libertarians spend most of their intellectual energy finding examples of government gone bad and/or private sector success to support their general argument that government should be small/limited. They spend much less energy on Phase II thinking – so to speak – on how to actually structure any sort of actual movement in that direction.Report

  9. Avatar mike farmer says:

    “anti-government conservatives/libertarians”

    Really, I give up.Report

    • Avatar Kyle in reply to mike farmer says:

      sorry mike, I meant it in a more Heritage-Cato way not as a thoughtless grouping of non-liberals with no respect for the differences between conservatives and libertarians.Report

      • Avatar mike farmer in reply to Kyle says:

        No problem. I just hope everyone can realize that a person can be pro-government and still believe it should be limited. Even anarcho-capitalists would have to accept a minimal form of government when it comes to protection and courts, so I don’t see that controversy as being relevant among libertarians. Plus, I think it is intellectualy honest and important to accept the difference between libertarians and conservatives. To not see the difference is a type of avoidance. There are different types of libertarians and different types of conservatives, so I’m beginning to think it might be best to simply critique ideas and not labels, since we have so many versions now. This would make a good blog post.Report

  10. Avatar willybobo says:

    The problem with limited government is that we don’t have one. We could, but you can’t really get there from here. It’s like corporate IT systems…. all you can do is keep adding middleware to allow newer capabilities (newer needs and public demands) to interface with the legacy systems. If you’re willing to make the move to a whole new architecture, there are smaller, more elegant solutions to be had, and people who have experience with them. But given that we’re collectively terrified at the prospect of a Constitutional Convention, we’ll have to be satisfied by advocating for slightly better middleware that’s easier to integrate.Report

    • Avatar Jaybird in reply to willybobo says:

      I would be really, really interested in what a Constitution that reflected our country would actually have on it in the Bill of Rights.

      I suspect it would look nothing like the one we have.Report

    • Avatar Travis in reply to willybobo says:

      That sounds neat in the abstract, but what are these solutions, how would they work and who has experience with them?Report

      • Avatar willybobo in reply to Travis says:

        Well, that’s really why a convention would be needed. There are lots of examples of components of government that, compared to ours, are more limited and more effective. Choosing which ones would work for us, and in what combination, and with what contingencies plans, would require invention, design and deliberation, as the founding of our country did. You can’t buy it off a shelf. But it’d be pretty much impossible for us to enter into that process in good faith, with great and reasonable people.Report

        • Avatar Travis in reply to willybobo says:

          But do they do what people want from their government in the United States?

          I’m sure the Mexican version of the EPA is much more limited than the American version. But if you’ve ever visited Mexico City, you’ll understand why that’s a profoundly bad thing.

          “More limited” and “more effective” are difficult terms to reconcile. Can you give some examples of government components overseas which do both?Report

          • Avatar willybobo in reply to Travis says:

            Examples are going to reflect ideology of what effective and limited look like. I think Singapore’s health system, which I’ve experienced, is both more effective at producing good outcomes and more limited in the sense that the government spends only 1/4 of what the US government does relative to GDP. I think the Swedish penal system does more with less than we do while being much less politicized. South Korea spends less on education than we do yet produces better students.Report

            • Avatar Travis in reply to willybobo says:

              I’d definitely agree with you on the penal system issues.

              Singapore’s health system was mentioned elsewhere – the difficulty, I believe, is translating a system that works in an ultra-dense city-state into a system that works in the world’s third-largest country. Efficiencies that are possible when you only have 26 hospitals may not be as feasible when you have 5,700.

              That said, some of the things they do are definitely worth looking at.Report

  11. Avatar richard says:

    overused and may be trite but still the best: dying is easy ,comedy is hard. exhbit a. andrew dice clay. running a close second dane cook and yacov smirnoff.Report

  12. Avatar matoko_chan says:

    Slumdog Millionaire
    Tragicomedy or comedie noir, is the highest form, and the truest to life.
    What we now are absorbing like voyeurs is the tragicomic death throes of the GOP.
    Beck, Palin, Rush, Levin all grand guignol parodies……hilarious and mortally sad at the same time.Report

  13. Avatar matoko_chan says:

    The Bard would have had a great time with the sexual buffoonery of Sanford and Ensign, say.

  14. Avatar Kyle Cupp says:

    Hmm. This metaphor might help explain why the Republicans laughed at Ron Paul during the presidential debates.Report

  15. I actually like this metaphor pretty well, although maybe it gives too little credit to how hard it is to create truly great drama as well.

    Limiting government in a way that is merely deregulatory capture is pretty closely akin to your comedies that are filled with nothing but cheap laughs – fart jokes, physical comedy, that sort of thing. But the truly great comedies, the ones that are award-worthy, rely on so much more than that. Sure, fart jokes and cheap laughs can be part of them, but they are very, very far from their central element. They have a plot, maybe even a moral. When done right, a good comedy with a strong moral or plot can get its point across even better than the best dramas.

    Then again, the very best movies, period, usually do a good job of balancing comedy and drama. So think of that what you will.Report

    • Okay – maybe I was too harsh on my own metaphor yesterday. I was overwhelmed with a deep moodiness suddenly that didn’t leave for several hours.

      Great points about really quality comedies. And also about good dramas. Clint Eastwood’s movies are usually excellent dramas, and part of the reason is they’re so damn funny too. Million Dollar Baby was extremely depressing in the end, but I laughed through most of it. Comic relief is the term I’m looking for.


  16. Avatar richard says:

    “I would be really, really interested in what a Constitution that reflected our country would actually have on it in the Bill of R’ights.”

    well i have no idea but the charter on fundemanetal rights in the european union runs 372 pages.the health bill runs 1100 hundred pages and cap and trade runs over a thousand. i shudder too think what congress would come up with if they were to rewrite the bill of rights. whatever happened to the dictum “less is more”?Report