I’ve struggled for years to answer this question. If you look at my views on paper, they probably align with the values and principles of socialism. But I’ve never been comfortable labeling myself as that.

I generally tend to think political -isms are a major source of divisiveness, partisan hackery, propaganda, and other political nonsense. When I phone banked for the Elizabeth Warren campaign, I can’t tell you the number of callers who yelled obscenities at me, calling her a socialist, a communist, a baby killer, and anti-American.

There are two competing schools of thought here. One, which is generally the thought centrists and the status quo in the Democratic Party, is that the term socialist is too loaded, divisive, and blocks legitimate efforts to enact the causes that people who call themselves socialists want to enact. On one level, I hate this, think it falls into the category of “you’re hurting your own cause” and the implicit racism and classism that mainstream Democrats espouse. I think it is often an excuse for liberal Democrats who give lip service to the working class to freely sacrifice their principles for their own personal advancement.

On the other hand, after working on mainstream presidential and senate campaigns, and seeing just how frustrating noncommittal a large swath of the country would be to causes advance by the left if they fall under the “socialist” label, I understand the merits to that argument.

The other school of thought is, in order to more forcefully advance leftist causes (there’s that -ism again), we need to destigmatize the term “socialist”, refuse to deny that label, and openly advocate for causes espoused by socialists. This is a longer term goal, and I get the lack of need to hide behind what you actually are under the guise of unity and pragmatism. The forces of white supremacy are circling the drain of America so fast that there needs to be a forceful opposition. At the same time, fighting against those forces requires immediate attention and practical sacrifices. Frankly, I don’t think there’s time in America left to worry about the long term gain by de-stigmatizing that label.

I also hate the idea of state-controlled morality, where every living person’s ethical values must be uniquely aligned, or the entire system falls apart. In addition to not finding that practical, I think it’s morally abhorrent, and I will never trust power structure in charge of morality. This means I can never be a communist. The fact that communists were directly involved in slaughtering half of my ancestors certainly doesn’t help.

My primary values are simple: I believe every human being has a right to be fed, sheltered, clothed, and safe. I think we, as a society, should aim to create a system of government that values these principles over adding more billionaires to the world. I believe the police are a tool of white supremacy, and we must work as a society to replace police forces altogether with organizations more focused on care. I feel workers have the right to unionize to advocate for themselves, and I believe employers should be punished for wage theft and abuse more than employees.

On paper, these values probably align me with the principles of contemporary  American socialism. So if you want to call me a socialist, that’s fine. I feel I can define my political identity however I’d like.

I guess I don’t call myself a socialist because I don’t feel the need to call myself a socialist. I don’t feel that the principles I believe in need that label. On a fundamental level I don’t really consider my beliefs “socialism.” I consider them empathy.

One of the main reasons I started this blog was to stop the cycle of doomscrolling on social media. I spent less than five minutes on Facebook today, and hoo boy, do I not regret this decision.

The news about Texas’s abortion law is devastating. To women, to people of color, to medical professionals, and to anyone who cares about basic human rights. Yet instead of coming up with solutions, those addicted to social media are fighting the exact same fight I’ve seen played out all my life: should we be madder at the Democrats for their inability to boldly stand up to the extremist forces behind the Republican party, or should we be mad at those progressives who sacrificed pragmatism for principles and didn’t vote for the centrist Democratic candidate for President.

First, the answer is quite simple. We should be mad at both. How we prioritize who to be mad at is a moot point. Both situations are frustrating. Mature adults can compartmentalize that both are a problem.

The bigger problem, though is what are we going to do now.

Are we going to do everything we can to primary in leftist Democrats who have the conviction to fight Republican extremists with the same fury they fight the left? Are we calling our representatives? Are we talking to our moderate relatives who can be pushed to the left? Are we giving whatever money we can to Planned Parenthood? Are we putting our bodies on the line? If you’re fighting on Facebook before doing any of this, might I recommend adjusting your priorities.

All those actions are more valuable uses of time and resources than fighting on Facebook. I understand that it feels overwhelming to fight the right wing, and that we’re powerless to stop it. This makes Facebook an easy place to vent. But fighting on social media is such a waste of time and energy and we all know it. It’s time to realize we’re not powerless. We just have to do the work.

I will sing the praises of Caddyshack until the end of time. It’s one of my all-time favorite comedy movies. I say that not thinking it’s a particularly laugh out loud comedy.

That strikes some people as odd, as Caddyshack‘s reputation is more based on its jokiness than its quality. When I talk up Caddyshack to friends in my age range, the general consensus is that it’s dad comedy, not nearly as funny as it was in 1980, sloppy, and overrated. I very rarely laugh when I rewatch Caddyshack. But I smile watching it more than nearly any other movie I’ve ever seen. I don’t think Caddyshack is a particularly funny movie. I think it’s a great movie.

I have two reasons for feeling this way, and two reasons alone: Chevy Chase and Rodney Dangerfield.

Chevy Chase

Chevy Chase, notoriously an asshole, has rarely held a job in his life for more than a couple of years (Community was actually the exception). He was the breakaway star of the first season and a half of Saturday Night Live, but with the exception of Foul Play, the 1978 movie that received mixed reviews, he had languished in the four years in between leaving SNL and Caddyshack. His turn in Caddyshack, however, may be his masterstroke.

The late 1970s/early 1980s was the beginning of the “snobs vs. slobs” era of comedies that has become a running trope ever since. It began with Animal House, a movie that’s often considered a rival to Caddyshack as the definitive comedy of its era. I’d argue that no performance or character embodied the class divide of its era better than Ty Webb.

Ty comes from the snobs. He was traumatized by that world. Most of Chase’s schtick as Ty is contexualized with the shadow of Vietnam:

Ty: I brought most of that stuff back from Vietnam.
Lacey: You were in the war?
Ty: Uh…no….Homo. Much better now though.

Whether or not Ty actually went to Vietnam is somewhat ambiguous here. But he’s likely joking; he was likely drafted in Vietnam. His behaviors (which are consistent with PTSD), resentment of the ruling class he was born into, and his general distrust of authority, were reactions America as a culture experienced in the wake of Vietnam. Chevy Chase’s usual subtle, physical silliness is tinged with sadness and mourning in Caddshack more than any other role he performed.

Rodney Dangerfield

By 1980s, Jews were allowed in most respectable country clubs in the countries. But it took until the late 1970s to accomplish this, and country clubs weren’t happy about it. In fact, there were many scandals, bombshell newspaper articles, lawsuits, and legislation aimed at allowing Jews in country clubs. The effects of this predujice were felt long after 1980, arguably continuing to this day.

My grandfather was a state politician in Massachusetts in the 70s. At the time, Jews were not allowed into the Brookline Country Club. My grandfather told me the story of forcing the club to allow Jews in by threatening to revoke their liquor license.

Suffice to say, even the clubs that had to let Jews in were not happy about it. There was a lot of pressures on Jews to behave in line with country club values. And Jews in country clubs felt this. Dangerfield’s Al Czervik recognized this tension in his very first line of significance in the movie to his Asian caddy “Wang”:

I hear this place is restricted, Wang, so don’t tell ’em you’re Jewish, okay?

This line sets the framework for what Czervik is facing. And every move he makes after that in the movie is designed to absolutely obliterate every expectation of what he is supposed to be.

The dining room scene in Caddyshack became one of the movies most iconic moments, and introduction of Dangerfield to the zeitgest of pop culture:

From a pure funny point of view, the jokes don’t really hold up. If you show that clip to anyone these days, it appears dated and schticky at hell. But for what they mean in the context of the story, a Jew in a country club openly trouncing every expectation, owning his boorish, out of place sensibilities and doubling down on them when facing a repressed, culture that resisted every level of inclusivity, it’s a rebellious move. A slob among the snobs. Impossible to deal with.

This all culminates in the climactic golf scene at the end. The gopher scene. The “hey everybody, we’re all getting laid” scene. But my favorite scene in the movie is the set up to the climax, when Webb and Czervik, both in with the snob camp, align themselves with the slobs once and for all:”

Judge Smails: Can I have a word with you? In private.
Ty: Sure thing, Judge.
Judge Smails: Your father and I prepped together, went to war together, played golf together. We built this Club, he and I! Let’s face it. Some people simply do not belong. Let’s not…cave in too easy. What do you say, Ty?
[Ty and Judge Smails laugh]
Ty: Let’s make it $40,000.
Czervik: Great!
Ty: My dad…never liked you.

This is class warfare through golf, gophers, girls, and general horseplay. It’s a defining generational statement of its era. And it shakes me to the bone every time I watch it. Even if I don’t laugh a lot.

You don’t spend a decade in the comedy community without picking up a few war stories and battle wounds. Comedians call non-comedians “civilians” sarcastically, but there is a similar theme: people outside this world don’t understand and will never understand what it’s like to be in this world.

I don’t make the comparison of comedians to soldiers lightly. In fact, it highlights the point I’m trying to drive home: comedian infighting and machinations are such low stakes, so meaningless in the grand scheme of things. It’s taught me something fairly depressing but useful: all the squabbling we traditionally associate with power players in society –  abusive machinations of power, ruthlessly crushing those who threaten your authority, picking fights over petty issues, and using it to advance your agenda – have nothing to do with the source of the power or the substance. The power itself is the drug in its own right.

I constantly think of Guy Branum‘s breathtaking analysis of the power brokers of comedy:

At the Comedy Cellar in Greenwich Village, there’s a table where the comics sit. It’s where they joke, debate, goof off, and ridicule their friends. As depicted on the FX series Louie, it’s the most fun place to be with the smartest, coolest comics in America. Every club has one, but the Comedy Cellar is the best club, and the table Louis C.K. sat at was the best table, occupied by the likes of Chris Rock, Jerry Seinfeld, and Marc Maron. That table is the most important force in comedy. There are rarely women or gay men at that table. There are never trans people….

We don’t need a female comic with provisional status at the table. We don’t need the table to find the trans comic who’s least offensive to them and kind of learn his name. It will still perpetuate a system that privileges and protects the perspective of straight cis men. The table is the problem. Burn the table down.

This may be the best analysis of the power structure in comedy. The infrastructure of comedy is built around being part of a closed system that’s difficult to gain entry. It doesn’t hold the alt-right and white supremacy accountable and spends excessive energy punishing or abusing those who question their inability to hold it accountable. It has nothing to do with being funny or joke writing. It has to do with power.

The problem with all of this is that you can’t burn the table down. If it’s not the Comedy Cellar table, it will be a green room, email thread, or hell, Discord server. Whatever future form comedy takes, there will still be an abuse of power.

It’s important to remember what this power struggle is about throughout it all: the ability to be successful in delivering dirty jokes and generic observations about Tinder and sandwiches.

I know this because I’ve seen it at all levels of comedy, not just the most successful level. In a decade of comedy, my life has been primarily in unpaid comedy shows at semi-prominent comedy theaters in New York and Los Angeles. Many people who ended up having enormously successful careers got their start at UCB, the PIT or iO West (RIP to all those theaters, btw). None ever achieved financial success at those theaters themselves.

I’ve been in several feuds in the comedy world. There are too many to get into now, with too many moving parts. Here’s a fun one from last year. When UCB NY closed its doors at the beginning of the pandemic, a Facebook group called the “UCB Bad Memory Box” started. Members of the New York UCB community came in to reflect upon the dirt they acquired during their years associated with the theater. To quote my friend, a seasoned veteran of the free comedy theater circuit and with his own share of dirt on several of those theaters, “nothing I’ve ever been involved in has been anywhere near the level of what I saw in that UCBNY group.”

I was in that group for all of three hours. I got kicked out of the group by a moderator, who messaged me accusing me of leaking posts outside the group to my sketch team. Never mind that that categorically wasn’t true. Never mind that this person had a reputation as a leaker themselves. This person was an admin of that Facebook group. And this person wanted to control the power of the people in it.

Not only did this person call out people for potentially leaking in their private Facebook group, they later retaliated against a member of the group in a separate thread, months later, with wildly inappropriate and manfuctured accusations of saying offensive things. This accusation and the incident they used to justify it had absolutely no basis in reality whatsoever, and it was more or less quickly dismissed by the comedy community at large.

I’m being intentionally vague here. If this seems petty and pathetic, you’re right. The important thing to remember here is that none of this Facebook group drama story has anything to do with comedy. It doesn’t even have anything to do with success in the comedy industry. It has to do with maintaining the power to be a moderator of a Facebook group full of comedians.

When this person saw their authority as moderator of the Facebook group being challenged (to be clear, it wasn’t), they tried to dish out real-world consequences in the comedy community.  All over a Facebook group sharing memories about a community of unpaid comedians at a comedy club in the basement of a comedy club under a supermarket in Chelsea. The stakes could not have been lower, yet the abuse of power maintained the same structure.

This incident, and countless others like it, have taught me that power in comedy is not defined by a seat at the table at a comedy club. It’s not about being able to control who posts what in a Facebook group. It’s not about a writing job or being passed at a comedy club, or getting in the good graces of a producer. It’s not even about capitalism’s power over comedy because really, no one who’s ever wanted success in a capitalist system would, in their right mind, go into comedy.

It’s about power, pure and simple. While there’s a lot of good that can be done with power, there’s arguably no morality to the pursuit of power in and of itself. It’s why although marginalized voices desperately need power, the people who tend to seek it, even in traditionally marginalized groups, tend to care very little about morality and more about maintaining the power they’ve already acquired. Power is the punchline, not the setup. This is a human thing that’s impossible to fix. At the very least, it’s possible to anticipate.

Every so often, I will take some notes on a movie I find significant and write out my thoughts on them here. Today, I’m tackling I Care A Lot.

Spoilers are a dumb requirement for internet conduct, so here’s a Spoiler Panda to tide you over.

spoiler panda

Continue Reading Movie Thoughts: <em>I Care A Lot</em> – The Problem of The Noble Grifter Trope

Recently, I was discussing the recent Joss Whedon revelations with my weekly writing group. While we were universally outraged at his behavior (but not exactly surprised), we differed on how much we could still appreciate, watch and consider his work a part of our lives. One friend said he will absolutely not watch any work of art made by anyone who was accused of bullying or abusive behavior, in addition to not supported art made blatantly by people committing heinous crimes. This included Hitchcock, David O. Russell, and Tarantino.

I made the point that everyone sets different standards for what they consider acceptable and that acceptability is a complex, nuanced issue. My friend rejected that notion, saying that there was no room for nuance until we reset our standards for acceptability.

I am completely on board with resetting the goalposts for what constitutes acceptable behavior in the entertainment industry. Yet, the concept of there being “no room for nuance” still haunts me. Taken out of that context and applied to how we communicate as a culture, I can see this permeate communication across the board. Social media has reduced our thinking (at least in my circles) to curt oversimplifications, clickbait-y headlines to articles no one actually reads, and an emphasis on being loud over being right.

None of this is new information to anyone who spends as much time on social media as I have over the past decade-plus. But no one has really thought of a solution.

One of my resolutions for 2021 was to spend less time on social media. I’ve more or less accomplished that goal. But good lord, I miss the healthy conversations that online communication could garner when it wasn’t overrun by trolls and edgelords.

So this blog, a relaunch of a blog with the same dumb name that I launched in 2007 and abandoned around 2010, attempts to return to the kind of long-form, detailed analysis of pop culture, politics, cultural ethics, and how all those areas relate. I aim to use this blog to replace my snarky Tweets and status updates, no matter how witty and “well-branded” they may be.

Feel free to fire away with thoughts, comments, disagreements, and any kind of non-toxic communication in replies to wherever this article is posted. I will attempt to foster a culture of nuance and detail while maintaining my passion for treating people humanely. I hope you do too.