The New Community

Like most fans, I tuned into season 4 of COMMUNITY with trepidation. The first line of the post-Dan Harmon season was appropriate: "Does something feel different?" It was important to me that they acknowledge Harmon's firing. The show had cultivated a relationship with its cult following, and if they wanted to put us at ease that the heart would be intact, they had to acknowledge it in even a brief, metatextual way.

But we're 5 episodes in now, and the feeling that this is not the same show, and never will be, is starting to creep over every laughless half hour. It's not that the show is bad, or even unfunny. It's just no longer a great show, one that I would be eager to show to strangers or recommend to my friends. In their right-headed move to retain their fanbase, they've simultaneously made it a show that's just for us.

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Civilian Casualties In Satire

I don't like the term "outrage." I think it's a way of reducing a side to mere impulsive, emotional outburst. While there's certainly a segment of that in any controversial flare-up, it's not the main phalanx of the argument, and it's certainly not the part we should be addressing. The term I wish people would refer to more is "criticism" - because that's a word that's worth addressing. It's sensible to ignore outrage, but you're not a full-fledged artist if you don't at least consider with criticism.

(For the record, I personally didn't find The Onion's derogatory tweet to be worth the size of its controversy. It was certainly a misstep, probably shouldn't have been done, and poorly crafted - but not major to me personally. But also! I hate that we have to qualify these posts with a note about our moderate position, as if people with the strongest opinions are somehow less credible. That's a shame! But if it's what I have to do to get my imagined devil's advocate take this opinion seriously, then I will do it.)

I like to believe that any communication is usually a net positive, but it seems like a small positive when we're having a debate about the pros and cons of attacking children, with specificity, vulgarity and over mass media. This controversy has a lot of angles to it:

1. Shock Jocks Suck, Especially When The Power Is All Wrong
Here's The Onion's joke: Let's say something we aren't supposed to say. Or, in even more basic terms: Here's something naughty. That titillation you feel will often lead to laughter, even if it's just the incredulous kind that makes audiences go "Oooh!" I rarely get psyched up for it, but hundreds of comedians have made careers off of it, as they should! There is a demand for it. But doing that at the expense of a 9 year old girl, with vulgarity, over mass media - that's a steep ethical price just to get some retweets, don't you think? If not, if there is no such thing as an ethical price to you because all humor is fangless and has no effect on culture - that's swell too, but it's unreasonable to expect that of everyone else. It will come with backlash that you will just have to own, whether that results in losing sponsors, mainstream opportunities, or a bunch of angry @ replies.

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Long Live 30 Rock

Because you never really know what you've got until it's gone.

30 Rock never occupied a revered spot or iconic designation the way other major comedies like The Office or Seinfeld did. That may change now, as critics and the bloggers look back on its 7 seasons favorably and wonder why we didn't celebrate it more while it was still on-going. We all enjoyed it a lot, it definitely had its following, but we took its lunacy for granted. It was a such a circus of a show, tightly loaded from end to end with silliness, that we didn't see the serious worth in it. Neither did the show itself. It was always characterized as a good time, but rarely "important."

I'll miss it as a unique comedic vessel. Without any hint of overarching drama or emotional cores, it was often the home of television's purest absurdity. It was a playground where nothing could be so serious that it didn't warrant parody including, and this is important, itself. A lot of comedy has the mission of making fun of "everything," but that often comes off as an elitist condescension. 30 Rock never felt like it was above the things it was skewering. It was honest and self-deprecating, so that when it would make fun of outrage or controversy, it wasn't looking down on it with disgust. We were in this big stupid muck of life and the media together. It was "Look at us!" not "Look at them!"

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Nuances of Offensive Humor

I've been a big Anthony Jeselnik fan since late 2009 after I saw him do a segment on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon. From time to time, I've had to kind of deconstruct that, because Jeselnik is the type of stand-up comedian whose stock-in-trade is offending people and grabbing taboos by the throat. It's never been that I've felt that taboos should be untouched, and that some topics are sacred. I've just always liked comedians that didn't have to play the offensive, that could get a thrill without pushing the big obvious button.

I've been compelled, on multiple occasions, to express my opinion on the cultural impact that all mass media entertainers have on the awareness, frame of reference, and understanding of the average person. Not that they have a responsibility to be careful with their power, although that would be great, but that they should be aware that they do have power and that if they use it to be an asshole, people (and sponsors) will respond accordingly. Responses, criticism and consequence are part of freedom of speech, too.

Offensive comedy has changed a lot about what pop culture deems to be funny and acceptable. That's fine, and it's a longstanding tradition evident in every comedian's reverence for Lenny Bruce. But these days, there's a certain kind of ugly laziness that comes in with offensive humor, where the only joke you need is, "I'm saying something I'm not supposed to!" with an ironic wink and shy giggle. When I was watching the Conan O'Brien documentary, Conan O'Brien Can't Stop, he runs into two kids before a show and, in an effort to make their hero laugh, one of the kids refers to being "jewed out" of some money. Conan gets them into his show on the condition that they stop saying that word.

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