The Politics of '80s Comedy Revisited

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I missed Matt’s snarky comment about right-wing populism and ‘80s comedy:

Mass market comedy, as seen in Hollywood films, strikes me as a pretty good partner for post-Goldwater conservatism. Comedy, to be funny, usually requires the skewering of the powerful in some sense. But the mass culture marketing demands that your product not actually do much to challenge prevailing ideas in the world. It's a bit of a paradoxical situation, but it nicely mirrors the efforts of a political ideology designed to further entrench the privileges of the country's wealthy elite and its white Christian majority and somehow do so in the name of anti-elitism.

The idea that white, middle-class Christian Americans, simply by virtue of being part of our country's "white Christian majority," never have any legitimate grievances against the American political system has a long and distinguished pedigree on the left. Whether you believe it circles back to the original Fletch-vs.-Ghostbusters dichotomy that Reihan raised last week. If you think that the biggest problem in urban America in the early 1980s was corrupt cops in cahoots with Republican businessmen sticking it to the friendly drug dealers down at the beach, then you're likely to find the idea of right-wing populism as ridiculous as Matt does. On the other hand, if you think the biggest problem was an incompetent, well-meaning bureaucracy that couldn't deal with clear and present dangers to urban life, well, you're probably a Reagan Democrat and a Bill Murray fan.

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Ross Douthat is a former writer and editor at The Atlantic.

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