I've been thinking about what kind of people know enough about America to be worth listening to if you're just an average American. I'm saying it's Louis CK. He's our best comedian. He travels the road all year, and he speaks to every audience in America face to face. He knows how much he can assume about what Americans know, and where their moral limits are. You can't be funny if you don't know where the line is or how to push it. So right now, I'm saying that our sharpest comedians are truly the poets of American society. I think musicians and other recording artists are too isolated in their craft from their audiences and that the interaction of laughter is much more useful feedback than flashes of cigarette lighters or people saying 'ho'.
Louis CK is also wise to the ways of the interwebz and has captured many of his routines on YouTube. Here is one I've recently found very interesting.
Louis CK's Connecticut friend is having a very tough time explaining his discomfort with the use of the term 'nigger' to describe anyone, and as we laugh our way through the story we get to the end. It's not about the name calling, it's about falling asleep at a forklift. But if we used the term 'bastard', the whole joke would not be funny because Americans don't really care about who is a literal bastard or not. It's not about John Snow or the King in the North. The fact that Game of Throne's John Snow is a bastard is a very big deal - it is a fundamental essentialism that cannot be ignored in the mythical kingdom of Westeros. In the mythical kingdom of America, primogenitor and other birthrights are not at issue, but we are colorstruck.
Then again who do we mean 'we'?
The more I think about this routine, the more I appreciate Louis CK's powers of perception. It is perhaps the smartest way anyone could identify the discomfort of whitefolks around whitefolks in dealing with race. I say 'dealing with race' rather than 'dealing with racism' because while most folks would easily agree that it is racist to call someone a nigger, it's hardly actually racist. It would be more clearly racist to fire the sleeping forklift driver if white sleepers were not, but the black sleeper was not fired as the story is told. It's about the aggravation of the white Connecticut friend not being able to convey his sense of outrage at this act of 'racism', yet time after time, everybody else in the story only reacts to the act of sleeping, not the epithet.
This is instructional to the degree that it illustrates where we are. I say so because I also understand how Louis CK deals with other taboos. In another bit, he talks about how he is annoyed by people literally saying 'N-word' as it makes him think 'nigger' because the person saying 'N-word' is actually too much of a 'faggot' to say 'nigger'. That's brilliant too.
I came across thinking about Louis CK this morning as I was reading some autogenerated blurbs from a Twitter account I newly followed. The blurb started off.."Thanks for following me! Having witnessed the downward spiral of the USA for too many years, it is my hope that.." Then he goes on to talk about a 50 word solution. Such are the pains of trying to grow your Twitter following. But then I asked myself what exactly is spiraling downward in America and what kind of person has the proper perspective on all that? The answer that came forefront in my mind was the matter of self-regard that shortcuts the ambition of Americans from believing that they can participate in any noble aspect of society. It's a kind of navel-gazing that accepts the self as shit and the world as shit and the danger of giving a shit. In that, Louis CK's comedy, the stuff that really launched his popularity, embraces that shitty self-regard. Doing so with the contrast of what he must do to be a good father is what gives his comedy the biting tension. He's got something excellent there, an extraordinary balance of semi-porn mixed with a kind of brutal self-deprecation that informs his observations. He's a sinner. He makes no bones about the fact that he's a sinner and it allows him to tell stories that remind us of our own sins. And much of that is the whole slavish self-regard. In this routine's beginning he mocks with blistering accuracy the person who gives the non-apology for being in trouble. "Whoops", he says. Lies are perfectly magical. How can we liars tell children not to lie?
I have something of a theory about how America has changed for the better as a society relatively free of repression while at the same time embracing universally low expectations with heedless ferocity. We are the nation that has capitulated to the culture of weed smokers. That's why niggers are falling asleep on the forklifts. We're all niggers now. Who among us sleepers needs to be any better than that? Damn good question.