Saturday, July 10, 2004

The Apostate

Dennis Miller has come a long way since his days at SNL. Today it wouldn’t be incorrect to say that he’s come full circle—or, for that matter, done the impossible by circling the square. Now Miller runs with a group of unappreciated, at least in their field, derided, and much scorned individuals: The Conservative Entertainers. Besides Miller, I’m unaware of any other comedian as conservative as him(Rickles notwithstanding). It is, to be sure, a truism that Hollywood Entertainers are congenitally liberal. But comedians tend to be equal opportunity satirist, attacking any and all public figures. In this, Miller wasn’t an exception.

Though after 9/11, and understandably so, Miller has purveyed a slightly edgier brand of humor, bordering, some have said, on crypto-racist. And when it seemed like satirists were again allowed to aim at politics, in general, and the Bush Administration, specifically, Miller didn’t follow suit. In fact, Miller was swept into the Administration’s gravitational force. On numerous occasions he was invited to meet the President and Vice President, offering his comedic thoughts on post 9/11 responsibilities—full throated and uncritical support of the Bush Administration.

The verve in his humor began to wilt under the sheer weight of gravity; he was in the Administration’s orbit.

Miller has always unabashedly cut through turgid, dim political rhetoric with a dour remark and smirk. Everyone was a target. Not out of disrespect, but because of respect, and some ironic sense of equal opportunity sarcasm. And, mostly, out of self-interest: first comic principle, go for the best laugh. With a wealth of comic material available today, Miller’s filter is too partisan and greatly limits his natural comic talent. That is not say that Miller’s liberal bashing isn’t sharp. It’s good; great even. But his Conservative bashing was even more brilliant. Miller doesn’t make the effort he’s usually know for making.

To be fair, The Daily Show tends towards liberal comedy, bashing Conservatives. But nowhere else will you find more irreverent liberal bashing, too.

The height of this self-restraint that Miller was begrudged to express, was during his very first show on CNBC were he proclaimed, astonishingly, that he wouldn’t criticize the President, at all. Not only has he kept dutifully to his word, he’s gone even further and towed the GOP party line. Forget about not criticizing Bush, he’s down right sentimental any time Bush’s name is uttered. Opportunities to clinically skewer any Conservative political figure, as a matter of form, of course, are constantly squandered. Still, though, Miller is tough not to enjoy when he lathers up a smooth patina of obscure political references and waxes the only way he can, and always has, linguistically flawless.

Yet Miller seems to be trapped inside an orbit he can’t escape. He also telegraphically conveys a muted self-imposition he’s applied to any dormant, seditious thoughts. You know he can’t believe what he’s saying. An almost strange wonderment crosses his face when he speaks the party line, as though the obvious punch-line, so closely standing on his tongue, is dragged back into this new self-censoring gravitational pull, somewhere between the pit of his stomach, what used to be his guts, down through his large intestine, all the way through his small intestine, down to where is ball used to reside.

To the extent that John Ashcroft is loathed by Democrats and Liberals alike, it should be fairly said of him that he is what he is. You know what you get with Ashcroft, and, at some level, he’s a Culture Warrior who has let it be known where he stands and for that some respect is deserved. Though, Miller appears to be captivated by the aura and power of the presidency, unable to think critically his way out of this golden cage. It’s difficult to know where he stands; but, if there is any sure indicator, it’s his eyes. They betray him every time.

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