With less than 100 days left between now and November 6, the Republican party has found itself forced to go to the prom with Mitt Romney (and maybe let him cop a feel.) While the conservative base seems to have come to terms with the situation, nowhere else has Election 2012 been more fun to watch than with the pundits over at Fox News.
I have always loved the Theatre of the Absurd. I love the surreal and illogical storylines of Beckett and Camus and the way Ionesco and Pinter’s characters play with words but fail to understand simple language and how they struggle communicating basic concepts to each other. The world of the absurd is confusing, bewildering, with individuals wandering through storylines, baffled by the world around them. It is a subtle, dark humor, but when it works, it’s hysterical.
Sadly, absurd theatre has never really garnered the sort of attention that draws in a mainstream crowd and much of the comedy produced today is broad comedy where spectacle is substitute for nuance – three men waking up with a hangover or a British man dressed up like an effeminate Austrian dandy, for example. Don’t get me wrong — broad comedy definitely has its place. Having suffered through more mediocre or heavy-handed productions of “Waiting for Godot” and “The Bald Soprano” than I care to count, a good fart joke is a welcome reprieve, but the laugh it produces isn’t nearly as satisfying as a well staged “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead.”
There is, however, a place where absurdity thrives. A cable network that embodies everything the great absurdist playwrights were about. This channel, nay, repertory theatre gives its audience a motley collection of characters at odds with a mad world, which utilize clichéd dialogue and parody reality 24 hours a day. I speak, of course, of the Fox News Channel.
Existing somewhere between classic Absurdist comedy and postmodern performance art, Fox News has managed to create their own unique reality. It’s a reality in which their political candidates are perpetual victims at the mercy of the liberal media, a reality in which white men with money (like say, oh, I dunno, Mitt Romney) are powerless against the tide of everyone else and, a reality where the underlying reasons of our current economic crisis have nothing to do with a polarization of income and wealth. Theirs is the existential quandary of the individual born with only himself, seeking knowledge of the world, but incapable of finding it due to mental or philosophical limitations.
You see, the brilliance of the Fox theatre experience is that every news story, every pundit and politician it props up, serves to illustrate Fox’s point that, philosophically speaking, perception is reality. “Fair and Balanced” reporting through the filter of Fox absurdity means that Obama really does want to kill your grandparents with universal healthcare and he will stop at nothing to replace democracy with socialism.
Fox’s lead performers approach their roles with the skill of a classically trained actor. Bill O’Reilly’s visceral monologues railing against the enemies to American freedom call to mind the character of Pozzo in the first act of Beckett’s “Waiting for Godot,” lording over all in his presence and beating his inferiors into submission. There was a time when the subtle nuance of Glenn Beck’s tender tears spoke to our fears of alienation in a rapidly changing world, and giving his bloated and paunchy frame a frail and sickly appearance; it was a powerful transformation to witness.
Of course, one cannot overlook Fox’s starlet and darling, former Alaskan Governor, Sarah Palin. In the spirit of Sarte, Camus, Ionesco and Pinter, Palin manages to deftly subvert logic and play joyfully in a world of nonsense. Her off the cuff, Dada-esque responses to simple questions like “What did you learn today?” prompt the viewer to contemplate the fundamental meaning of words. And, whether she’s confusing a poorly paraphrased version of a Longfellow poem for historical fact or allying America with North Korea, every aspect of her performance is an epistemological examination, giving the audience pause to wonder, “What is knowledge?” or “How do we know what we know?”
Many look at the hyperbolic rhetoric and dogmatic delivery of Fox’s content and see only a narrow-minded exaggeration and gross generalization of contemporary issues. Those that dismiss this type of performance and change the channel would do well to remember that it is this oversimplification that makes Fox News Channel so powerful. It is this simplistic approach that Fox reflects back to the world the faults that make us human.
What really brings spectacle to point is the way Fox news deftly embodies America’s faults. From hypocrisy (condemning government subsidized healthcare while endorsing a candidate whose grandson took advantage of government funded Alaskan health services, à la Palin) to racism (employing pundits who used race-baiting rhetoric on a regular basis à la Beck and Limbaugh), Fox holds up a mirror and invites us to look and weep at the warped and bent characters reflected back. It is an attempt to get at something deeper within America — our fears, inadequacies and, ultimately, the truth of the human condition.
French playwright Eugene Ionesco once wrote, “The universe seems to me infinitely strange and foreign. At such a moment I gaze upon it with a mixture of anguish and euphoria; separate from the universe, as though placed at a certain distance outside it; I look and see pictures, creatures that move in a kind of timeless time and spaceless space emitting sounds that are a kind of language I no longer understand or even register.”
There are those who will never truly understand absurdist drama and dismiss it as a fad of bygone years, but as long as organizations like Fox News continue to produce grotesque exaggerations of life, Theatre of the Absurd lives, keeping alive a poignantly tragic and wickedly funny tradition.
A different version of this article appeared in the iPinion Syndicate on June 12, 2011. I apologize for polishing up an older piece, but I’m in the middle of moving across the country [AGAIN] and don’t have a whole lot of time to write until after the 18th of August.