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America’s hideous laugh track

No television situation comedy is complete without the laugh track. That eruption of pre-recorded howls of approval that instruct the audience – even if that audience is an audience of one sitting at home in front of the television – how to react to what it has just seen.

Now we’ve seen how a bad joke works when there is no laugh track, after Roseanne Barr tweeted this inexplicable attack on Valarie Jarrett, the former aide to Barack Obama:

Muslim brotherhood & planet of the apes had a baby=vj

So for one news cycle, maybe two, a racist, xenophobic, conspiracy-consumed comedian nudges aside our racist, bigoted, megalomaniac president. A man whose glide path is eased by a different, but equally insidious, laugh track.

We’ve been watching the normalization of Trump for a couple of years now. First during his presidential campaign, and now through the 15 months of his presidency. From the outset, we knew what Trump was: A liar, a con man and a coward with no ethics. Yet in America, a country divided, there is a built-in audience for his Make America Great Again charade. A minority that struts like a majority, because it has a stamp of approval from the White House.

Roseanne Barr is done, her show cancelled. Her apologies are hollow. Last night, her barrage of tweets included retweets of Jarrett pictured side by side with an ape. Now the question being asked is: Given her history of irresponsible public comments, how did ABC even give Barr a public platform? An entertainment soapbox that quickly became the network’s top-rated show, one that even drew the praise of Trump, who said at one of his conservative-packed rallies that Roseanne was “about us.”

As always, Trump was lying. The “us” he was talking about is the blue-collar family portrayed in Roseanne. The “us” he was talking to is the blue-collar crowd that helped, along with the Russians, to get him elected. But Trump is not blue collar. He is a born-rich man with a dangerously overblown sense of entitlement, driven by impulses that can only be described as greed and immaturity.

For a couple of years now, at least, we’ve watched as the media gave Trump the benefit of what should have been obvious doubt. We kept hearing references to perhaps this Trump comment or that Trump photo op was a “pivot” to a more-presidential Trump. I experienced that myself in the outfit that once employed me, as stories and quotes from musicians and artists criticizing Trump were killed. One lower-level editor explained it to me: Those stories and quotes were killed because a higher-up editor “didn’t want to have that conversation.”

It is clear now, there will be no pivot. We are stuck with what we knew we were getting all along. Language and thoughts that had been hidden are now openly expressed. It is the new, shameful norm, endorsed by Trump.

And like it or not, now we’re forced to have that conversation.

Read that Roseanne Barr tweet once again:

Muslim brotherhood & planet of the apes had a baby=vj

Realizing that her career was in jeopardy, Barr apologized for her “bad joke.”

But in the wide world of comedy writing, where is the joke in that tweet?

Barr was expecting to hear the canned laughter. But now, at least by a majority of Americans who can distinguish right from wrong, she will be greeted by silence.

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Living a fantasy life can be a killer

Richard Martinez had an easy excuse if he had fallen into an absolute, sobbing despondency;  his 20-year-old son had been murdered in a shooting and stabbing spree last weekend in California. Instead, Martinez was a mix of appropriate emotion and room-silencing coherence as he spoke to a gathering of reporters. I have never heard the case for gun control stated so fiercely and eloquently:

“Why did Chris die? Chris died because of craven, irresponsible politicians and the NRA. They talk about gun rights. What about Chris’ right to live? When will this insanity stop? When will enough people say, ‘Stop this madness; we don’t have to live like this?’ Too many have died. We should say to ourselves: not one more.”

And when the cable news cameras move on to the next ratings-handy tragedy, National Rifle Association Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre will emerge from his dark world and continue to proclaim: “The best answer to a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.”

It’s an empty catch phrase. As are the words of lunatic Republican icon Joe “The Plumber” Wurzelbacher, who wrote in an open letter to the families of the shooting victims, “your dead kids don’t trump my Constitutional rights.”

So I guess we’ll all just have to bite the bullet. To underline the national paralysis brought on by our inaction, we only have to turn to this headline from the satirical web site The Onion:

“‘No Way To Prevent This,’ Says Only Nation Where This Regularly Happens.”

This most-recent giant tragedy (remembering that every day there are hundreds of small tragedies) reminds us that Americans live in in the midst of arrogant, self-absorbed fantasies. Not just the socially inept, woman-hating rich kid who went on the Santa Barbara killing spree. But all across this country, where technology and education allows us access to the truth, too many of groups choose to embrace dangerous nonsense.

Climate-change deniers. There’s a figure tossed around that 97 percent of scientists agree that humans are altering our planet in ways that endanger not just polar bears, but civilization. Now it seems that 97 percent estimate is incorrect. With the release last week of the more studies on what’s happening to the polar ice caps, glaciers and whatever indicator you care to measure, it’s now virtually impossible to find a reputable scientist who isn’t alarmed by the data. So where are the climate deniers getting their supporting facts from?

Critics of Cosmos. After each week of the acclaimed TV science series, The Flat-Brain Society issues a statement decrying some comment by astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson. Rushing to the defense of their literal interpretation of the Bible that the Earth is only 6,000 years old. Or refuting the contention that evolution is not just a theory, but an actual scientific process, like breathing. To combat science, common sense, and what lies plainly before anyone’s eyes, they quote the Bible. That’s all they have, a book of stories passed down from generations of unknown men wandering the desert for a few centuries.

The Supreme Court. In upholding the right of Michigan institutions to ban laws implementing affirmative action earlier this year, the Supreme Court majority flat-out said that racism no longer exists in the United States. And then the gods, who entertain themselves by watching our amusing displays of hypocrisy, promptly sent us the news-ready racists Cliven Bundy and Donald Sterling. Bundy, an Arizona rancher, quickly became a spokesman for anti-government goons, who seem to think a man can pay no heed to the law if he has enough guns. What a world that would be! The side with the most guns wins! It’s a Wild West fantasy. And we have to wonder what fantasy the other NBA team owners were living in as they ignored the previous, well-documented racist acts by Sterling, the owner of the LA Clippers.

Birthers and other conspiracies. There is a birth certificate. There is a notice in the 1961 Honolulu Advertiser and The Honolulu Star-Bulletin announcing the birth of baby Barack Hussein Obama. Why won’t the birthers go away? And who are these people who insist the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre never happened? Or 9/11 was an inside job? Or continue to chase Benghazi? Or still insist that the IRS supposedly targeted conservative groups for investigation, when the evidence clearly shows otherwise. The ill-informed cadre of fantasy players breast feeding these bogus babies does not care how hurtful those insane conspiracies are to the families of the victims, Or how much time and money is wasted by public officials when they could be addressing real issues.

How about giving us a scandal that’s not a fantasy? Ben Carson, regarded as a rising star in the Republican Party, actually welcomed news of the Veteran’s Administration scandal, a true scandal, where administrators were found to have falsified records that showed wounded soldiers were forced to endure excessively long waits before treatment. “I think what’s happening with the veterans is a gift from God,” Carson said, explaining that the VA revelations cast light on the dangers of socialized medicine. Anyone else want to live in a universe where God tortures wounded soldiers to make a political point?

The news media. Why don’t we fact check anymore? When someone says that raising the minimum wage will hurt the economy, why isn’t that statement immediately rebuked with studies by the majority of reputable economists who dispute that myth? Why is someone allowed to make the claim that American values are pro-gun, pro-life and anti-gay marriage, when polls show that most Americans think otherwise?

She’s not a doctor, but she could play one on TV. How is it that actors such as Alicia Silverstone and Jenny McCarthy can campaign against getting your child vaccinated, because they think those medicines will expose him or her to autism? They’re not doctors. And doctors don’t believe you should skip your kid’s vaccinations.

Maybe it’s the Internet that feeds these fantasies. I’m not so sure we’re too far past the days since the Cath0lic church would put a man to death for believing that the Earth revolved around the sun.

You may think it doesn’t matter that all of these folks are peddling fantasies. But Congressman John Boehner said something interesting yesterday: “I’m not qualified to debate the science over climate change.”

He’s not qualified. Yet he has control of how we’re dealing with the problem.

Climate change, gun violence, racism, the economy and health all need to be addressed in a serious manner. Because living in a fantasy world is actually a very dangerous place to be.

The Critical Mass

Stories that smell as bad as Charlie Sheen

Did you hear? The president released his birth certificate this morning. He was born in Hawaii!

If you were going to rate this story on a scale defined by celebrity craziness, starting with Bill Cosby representing a high degree of civil believability, then the birther debate was Charlie Sheen. We shouldn’t be surprised that so many people were paying attention to the nonsense. We are a nation of Entertainment Tonight while Rome burns. Other stories we’ve been obsessed with are also ridiculously easy to prove false, with just the slightest amount of research:

President Obama is a Muslim.

Gay marriage makes a mockery of the institution of marriage. No, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Liz Taylor, Lana Turner and Mickey Rooney (each married eight times) have taken care of that.

Teacher salaries have plunged Wisconsin into massive debt. Actually, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker earns $137,092 per year, lives in a home paid for by taxpayers and travels in  taxpayer-funded cars and airplanes. More significantly, even while looking at a $137 million hole in his budget, during his first two weeks in office this year Walker created $117 million in tax breaks for business donors to the Republican party.

Sometimes people I don’t know send e-mails from London, with horrible stories about how they’ve been robbed and they need money to get home, and can I please send money….

I also get emails from people I don’t know who tell me my penis is too small, and they can do something about it.

Regulation costs job-creating industries money. One year after the Gulf oil spill – caused by technology and management failure –  BP has estimated its total liability at $40.9 billion, and is likely to be responsible for billions more if BP officials are found criminally negligent in upcoming trials.

Iraq and Saddam Hussein has something to do with 9/11.

Iraq had weapons of mass destruction.

Americans are against the health care reform law. Polls show that Americans are all in favor of the main tenants that have been enacted thus far, including prohibiting insurance companies from dropping your coverage when you get sick, denying children insurance if they have pre-existing conditions, and allowing children to stay on their parents’ insurance plan until they turn 26.

Cutting taxes eliminates debt. This has never happened in the history of our country.

God created the Earth and man in six days. Why doesn’t The Bible mention dinosaurs? They’d be pretty hard to miss.

On the 150th anniversary of the start of the Civil War, let’s celebrate the heritage of the Confederacy! Um, which heritage is that? Slavery, armed insurrection against the United States, or 620,000 dead soldiers?

Health insurance reform means tax dollars can be used to pay for abortions; that’s why Planned Parenthood must be defunded, unless Arizona Senator Jon Kyl was lying when he said 90 percent of its services are abortion related. A two-part answer. No, using federal funds for abortion is against the law.  And yes, Kyl was lying. As for Planned Parenthood – when even Kyl now confesses only 3 percent of its services are abortion related –  as a pro-lifer, wouldn’t you rather women get contraception help than face an unwanted pregnancy?

Americans can’t get enough of the Royal Wedding. A CBS/Vanity Fair poll shows that four percent of Americans say they care about the event. That just about covers all of the cable news hosts who have gone to London this week.

Death panels!

9/11 was an inside job.

Yes, that’s a real photo of the Loch Ness Monster.

Obama was a lousy student and still got into Harvard. As is the case with Obama’s birth certificate, there is not one shred of evidence to support this conjecture. In fact, all of the evidence is on the other side of the argument, backed up by any time we see this brilliant fellow in action. The only reason you might doubt his academic credentials is because you’re thinking, “He couldn’t have gotten into Harvard, he’s a black man.” And if that’s what you’re thinking, you’re fool enough to believe this story….

Racism is dead.

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