The Joke’s On Us
by

I did mention Elvis once in a column, and in the ’90s I pointed to one Donald Trump as the TV star you’d least likely want sitting next to you at a dinner party. And yet the likelihood, back then, of ever mentioning Roseanne Barr — it just didn’t compute; except that these days…

I haven’t, as of this writing, seen Roseanne’s new show, and may not rush to supply that cultural deficiency. Not that she’d likely notice, given the Himalayan ratings she and John Goodman have been reaping for… for what? For not breaking a metaphorical egg over the president’s head at every turn in the script?

The right, for a fact, has been celebrating the new show’s lack of animus toward a president whom moderate progressives don’t like, and real progressives want, at the very least, to impeach. Trump has personally telephoned the star, who supports him politically. He takes the show to be “about us.” Though, according to Sara Gilbert, playing Roseanne’s daughter, it’s “not about politics…. It’s really about what happens to a family when there’s a political divide, which is something that I think the entire country can relate to and something we need to talk about.”

Talk? What an idea! Talk, not shout loudly and indignantly?

Roseanne Barr heartily endorses Sara Gilbert’s assessment. On Good Morning America she said, “I think the idea that people can agree to disagree is kind of missing from everything. Conflict resolution and agreeing to disagree are important things that I like to talk about, and I haven’t seen much of that anywhere. That’s what we need to do as a country: figure out what we don’t like, talk to each other, and discuss how we’re going to get it changed or fixed.”

Well, I’ll be hornswoggled. I don’t recall mentioning Elvis on account of any cultural asseverations he was making. Shows how long he’s been dead, or “not dead,” depending on your metaphysics. Quite a few of us not quite ready for hospice recall an America with a better sense of humor than today’s. That wouldn’t be hard. Today’s America has no sense of humor, period.

Back in the early ’70s, Carroll O’Connor and crew, in All in the Family, could kid the pants off a country seriously divided by the standards of the time but ready to laugh about it. Today? Oh, brother. Archie Bunker’s heckling of “Meathead,” his depreciation of Edith’s non-corporate-executive abilities, and his own woy-king-class way of talking (shouting, really) would bring the alt right and the alt left, plus the #MeToos and a few Tea Partiers, to his doorstep, angry at the presumption of the show.

Yes, angry. Furious! OUTRAGED!!! That is what the new humorlessness makes us. We didn’t use to be humorless. We used to laugh. Shall I tell you why? It was because we had, in ye olden tyme, a sense of proportion; we agreed, basically, that we’re all, without exception, a little bit wacky, some of us more so than others. Imperfect — that was us; no smarter really than Archie, no more tolerant and forgiving than Meathead. And willing to admit it, with a grin, or friendly poke in the ribs.

What happened to honest, as differentiated from mocking, Jimmy Kimmel-style, laughter? I think a couple of things. Politics got so large and engrossing we set it in the middle of our affairs. Everything’s political now, and every political opponent deserves a punch in the jaw; or, c’mon, at least a shout of outrage.

So how’d that happen? I think the origin is in large part our slow abandonment of religious faith — the great human leveler, the guard against pride and self-satisfaction, and thus against hostility to folk as batty as ourselves. A society with suspicious eyes trained on others rather than on the Kingdom is by definition a jealous society, an angry society, with no time for Archie Bunker but plenty for the mockers and railers who followed him.

We needn’t expect Roseanne to heal our wounds. It’s good anyway to see those wounds noticed — and lamented. We’re way overdue for that, I kid you not.

William Murchison is writing a book on moral recovery.

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