Of late, I've become somewhat obsessed with talk radio. I had a job earlier this year with the Census Bureau, which meant that I spent a lot of time riding around in my car. And because I got tired of listening to music, and because NPR doesn't begin to air news programs until three PM, I would often spend a good part of the early day listening to AM radio, a scary place that is populated chiefly by angry lunatics and condescending charlatans that know exactly which buttons to push to rile up their equally angry listeners, who are for the most part older white men who feel threatened and put upon. The kind of people who genuinely believe that there is at this time a plot to overthrow The American Way Of Life that they have become accustomed to. The kind of people who get angry when they dial an 800 number and are told by the automated voice at other end of the line to push one for English.
(There's a really good article about this very subject by David Foster Wallace available here )
These hosts vary from the purely stupid (Sean Hannity, who says things like "this is the Greatest Country In The World, and Obama has the nerve to call us arrogant?") to the absolutely unhinged (Mark Levin, who screeches like a banshee for hours on end) to the genuinely evil (Michael Savage, who makes no attempt to mask his hatred for gays and immigrants). So it was quite a shock to me that, after hating him for as long as I've known of his existence, I came to realize that Rush Limbaugh is actually the only talk radio host that I can stand to listen to for more than five minutes. Not that this is an endorsement of Limbaugh—he is a terrible, terrible person, and I am sure he will go to hell when he dies—but he is the least worst option. Levin and Hannity and Savage are all idiots, clearly, but they are first and foremost zealots: they all genuinely believe the hateful bullshit that they spew day after day after day. Limbaugh, though, is more of a showman. I'm sure he believes most of what he says, but I'm also sure that he's a smart enough guy to know that the really insane, out-there shit is just that: shit. He knows exactly what to say to piss off his enemies and to encourage his pathetic, hero-worshipping fans. Whether or not he actually believes it is beside the point. If Shit Really Went Down, Rush would find a way to survive, like a cockroach.Hannity and Glenn Beck and Levin, though, would be down in the Führerbunker to the bitter end, waiting for the doors to be kicked in so they could swallow their cyanide capsules in unison.
I'm getting off track. What I really wanted to bring up was how utterly humorless all of these guys are. When I say humorless, I don't mean they don't try to be funny, just that they all fail at it, and miserably. Their humor most often takes the form of bad puns or weak, childish wordplay. Michael Savage calls Michael Jackson “Michael Jackass”; Levin calls the Washington Post the “Washington Com-Post” (and it's not bad enough that this is not only not funny, but he repeats it constantly); on Limbaugh they play a song, supposedly sung (in a lispy, faggy screech) by Barney Frank, called “Banking Queen”, to the tune of ABBA's “Dancing Queen”. Because Barney Frank is GAY, get it? They also played Michael Jackson's “Beat It” intercut with soundbites from (I shit you not) Pee Wee Herman, a joke that is both really bad and about twenty years out of date.
In some ways, I find these awful jokes more insulting than the idiotic opinions being put out there by these morons. We all have differing political opinions, fine, but just about everyone knows when a joke is good and when it's not. Even if you don't agree with Jon Stewart or Stephen Colbert you should be able to laugh at something that's objectively funny. I've never seen or heard a single talk-radio host tell a joke of any kind that's even somewhat funny. They should take a long hard look at Janeane Garofalo, a comic who used to be pretty funny but who long ago got swallowed up in being bitter and self-congratulatory. It's just not funny if you're the only one laughing.