Wit and Wisdom
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By Marc Porter Zasada
Again tonight the Urban Man has trouble getting to sleep, so around 3am I creep barefoot to my home office, where I go looking for sarcasm. I don't know about you, but what with wars of uncertain purpose, representatives of uncertain virtue, and the weather itself going strangely awry, I find myself needing more and more sarcasm.
My office sits out in my backyard, where it's guarded by a dark swimming pool and a towering palm -- but of course, thanks to the Internet, I can easily tap into the great river of sarcasm which runs 24/7 beneath America.
Tonight, as I bathe in the blue glow of my laptop, I take my choice of wise guys, shock jocks, scatology, amateur one-liners and nasty recuts of Hollywood trailers. Eventually, of course, I get to Jon Stewart, who appears in a little video window sitting wry and cheerful at his faux news desk. He quotes George Bush saying, "We've been a remarkably stable administration," and then Stewart offers that famous look of innocent shock, the look which says, "You and I, dear Urban Man, we have common sense, don't we? You and I can see how out of joint the world has become."
Like all great comedians, Stewart is not just funny but comforting, implying as he does that common sense still exists, somewhere. Surely, along with the endorphins released by laughter, that's the reason we all crave sarcasm -- and it explains why parody has become an almost religious faith here in the blue states. Maybe it explains how that trivial experiment, Air America, often confuses sarcasm with commentary. Or how mere funnymen have come to represent popular wisdom.
Like all Americans, I too am protected by the Second Amendment, and tonight, I imagine myself going to some giddy sporting goods store and taking out a license to mock the aim of Dick Cheney, the shouts of Howard Dean, the breasts of Katherine Harris, the hat of Jack Abramoff, the enthusiasm of Tom Cruise, the marriages of Britney Spears, the syringes of Barry Bonds, the facelifts of Michael Jackson, or of course, anything French. I would pair up famous men on that poster for Brokeback Mountain. Or like the brilliant writers on South Park or Carlos Mencia, I would seek out ever new targets among unbeautiful women in public life, or anyone who ever managed to say anything sincere.
You see, I understand the important role of comedy in a free society. I understand how cleverness protects us from the excesses of corporate titans, pop stars, and political activists. In time, I too could learn to float like a butterfly and sting like a bee.
Still, like the bad kind of cholesterol, the Urban Man knows he has to limit his daily intake of sarcasm, or it will threaten my heart. Worse, I too may begin to confuse wit with wisdom, and start imagining that a really good joke could actually change the world.
I mean, I've read King Lear. I know that a fool may be the one person who can speak truth to a king, but he generally proves irrelevant to the tragedy as it finally unfolds.
I'm sure Michael Moore has learned that lesson by now.
And lately, like any addict, the Urban Man finds that even as I require more and more sarcasm, it seems to offer me less and less comfort. Maybe you read this one online: "What's the difference between the Vietnam War and the Iraq War? Answer: George W. Bush had a plan to get out of the Vietnam War."
By 4am I've had enough, and after I stream something from YouTube, I fall asleep on the little couch in my office. Come morning, I'm glad to see the sun lighting up the palm tree outside my door, and hear its leaves rattling in a sincere morning breeze.
Copyright -- 2006. All Rights Reserved.
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