The Tediousness of the Culturally Serious
The Serious Problem
The recent criticism by LGBTQ supporters of Dave Chappelle’s new Netflix stand-up special as well as criticism of Bill Maher’s jokes at the expense of the trans community highlights the “seriousness” of our cultural moment. This is not to defend either man’s position regarding this marginalized community, although there is far more nuance to Chappelle’s commentary than a simplistic Twitter feed will admit It is simply to note that according to the cultural gatekeepers ALL culture is to be serious. The cultural mavens may claim that humor is ok, but they seem never to identify anyone they think is funny.
First, let’s be clear. All the cultural gatekeepers are on the political, if not socialist left. There is no need to deny the obvious ideological orientation of these people. They are all so woke, they need never to ingest caffeine. Sorry, was I not being serious enough? This group of cultural critics thinks that all culture should serve the greater “progressive” good. It is frankly a Marxist orientation, that claims that furthering the class driven goals of social evolution is the highest end to all human activity. This is the result of a hyper-politicized social and cultural scene in which everything is political.
You see, culture is supposed to be serious and “relevant” (whatever that means). Every bit of our culture is supposed to uplift the downtrodden (via socialist policy only). All culture is supposed to address the concerns of minorities, women, and other marginalized communities. Never, never, never is popular culture ever to use these groups as fodder for a joke, or to criticize any aspect of their political positions. All culture is to be measured and evaluated by this serious standard. Entertainment alone is not enough; in fact, it is not even the main point.
The Source of Seriousness
The source of all this seriousness is the statist philosophy of the cultural elite. It takes only a cursory perusal of the cultural scene to realize that every “solution” that is offered and that must be offered via culture aggrandizes and increases the power of the state in our lives. Whether it be climate change, or trans rights or gender equality or the interests of people of color, the state sits at the center of the proposed solution. No other viewpoint can be tolerated.
It does not matter if these critics openly embrace their Marxist roots or not, nor if they even realize they are espousing a Marxist line. If it walks like a duck… Collective consciousness is the order of the day and culture had better reflect that or it’s cancel time. That is one of the core tenets of Marxism, that people of different classes think differently, that they have a different logical structure to their minds. With a small step sideways, you can substitute other groups for class, women, minorities, etc. It is what one wag called “displaced Marxism”. Never mind the utter fatuousness of this worldview.
This is what happens as an ever-growing state apparatus takes hold in a society. The stakes for control of that power structure grow ever higher and make every field of endeavor a battleground for this control. The statism inherent in modern culture is a culturally paternalistic as any other statist project; economic, medicine, law, you name it. The conservative pushback in the culture wars is equally statist, just not as effective since the left holds the commanding heights of culture. Make no mistake, if either side got the chance they would dictate with the power of governmental force what is acceptable culture and what is a "triggering aggression".
A Brief Defense of Serious
There is nothing inherently wrong with being serious about things. There is certainly nothing wrong with taking a stand with those pushed to the margins of society. Like anything else, moderation is the key. Any good impulse taken too far can become an impediment to genuine human relationships and human wellbeing. Unlike the uber-serious, I will let YOU decide what is the right amount of serious and frivolous in your life. I will also be so bold as to let you decide if a performer is crossing a line you do not want crossed. I will let you change the channel, turn off the device and find anyone you like to be unentertaining. This is the way it should be. We are all resilient enough to determine these things for ourselves. We do not need and there is every reason to oppose bringing our entertainment into the democratic process and using the coercive power of government to enforce a cultural orthodoxy. There is also every good decent reason to oppose the cultural cancellation of those with who we disagree.
Every good reason from every perspective. If you are a cultural Marxist, do you really want the state to be involved in the culture in this way? Do you want the next Republican administration to decide that we must all watch Hee Haw? (Don’t misunderstand, I love the music on HeeHaw, I can’t get enough of Roy Clark picking a guitar.) If you are a follower of Jesus, do you think that He does not love the MAGA hat crowd and desires to force us to all think and be entertained in the same way? Diversity of entertainment, like diversity of the economic and social marketplace protects all of society. Toleration must be our guiding star; you know like Jesus taught. The result of cultural intolerance is a cultural and likely a literal war of all against all.
The True Need for Frivolity
The true need for frivolity can be found in an old and mostly forgotten movie called Sullivan’s Travels. In this movie the protagonist, Sullivan is a movie director of frivolous comedies. He thinks this is not serious enough and goes on the road in search of deeper meaning. Through a series of frankly not very believable events, Sullivan ends up in a prison farm. He joins the other inmates for movie night, and they are showing one of his comic movies. He sits in utter amazement as these most marginalized of men laugh and laugh and for a brief time forget their troubles. He then realizes the desperate need for frivolity and humor. He realizes he was living a life of meaning all along by offering people respite from their troubles.
Yes, there is a time for seriousness but there is a time for rest as well; Sabbath anyone? The ability to purely and unseriously entertain is one of God’s gifts as well. We do not have to look far to see the need for respite. Our Lord Jesus understood as he said in Mark 6:31: “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.’ For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat.” This has been best translated as “come apart before you fall apart”. So, in the name of Jesus, seriously, lighten up.
Praise Be to God