'Fletch' and the politics of movie comedy
Ever read a piece of pop culture criticism and just go, “Whaaaa?!?!” That was my reaction to this review in Slate of the new special edition DVD of Fletch. Not because the reviewer thinks the 1985 Chevy Chase caper (pictured) isn’t funny (I disagree and think it’s one of the funniest things he ever did), but because of the review’s explanation for why it’s not funny: because it’s too liberal. Slate’s critic contends that Chase’s Irwin Fletcher is unfunny because he represents smug liberalism at its most elitist (this at a time when liberals were supposed to be wearing sackcloth and ashes because of Ronald Reagan’s recent re-election landslide) and goes on to contrast Fletch with Animal House, a movie that’s funny because the rebellious Deltas actually represent the conservatives, while the snobbish Omegas are really limousine liberals. Again: Whaaaa?!?!
Let’s work backwards, shall we? It takes a willfully obtuse misreading of Animal House to say that the preppy Omegas (including Neidermeyer, soon to be fragged by his own men in Vietnam, and Marmalard, soon to be a Nixon aide convicted of Watergate-related crimes) are not conservatives. They are; end of story. That doesn’t mean the Deltas are liberals; just ask the earnest folkie whose guitar Bluto smashes. Rather, the Deltas are anarchists, followers of Marx — Groucho, that is, who, in another legendary campus comedy (Horse Feathers), sang, “Whatever It Is, I’m Against It.”
addCredit(“Fletch: Everett Collection”)
Similarly, the Fletch character doesn’t belong to the left or theright; he’s an anarchist of sorts, too, following in the footsteps ofGroucho and Bugs Bunnyas a character who gets out of scrapes via his quick wit and whoinsults those more powerful than he is so deftly that they don’t evenrealize they’ve been dissed. That’s what makes for good comedy: pokingfun at people with power. (Lampooning people without power isn’t funny;it’s just mean, as Don Imus recently learned.) Because it skewers powerand authority, the best comedy often has a subversive element to it.Conversely, to the extent that conservatism is about maintaining thestatus quo and thwarting subversion (standing athwart history andyelling, “Stop!”, as William F. Buckley once defined it), it is notfunny.
What is funny, I suppose, is the desperate drive among today’sconservatives to appear hip and subversive — to identify with theDeltas instead of the Omegas, and to lay retroactive claim toparticular movies and rock songs.Today’s conservatives often complains about being left out of thepop-cultural conversation; to them, I say, there are two solutions.Either make your own movies and CDs and TV shows, and let the freemarket you champion so steadfastly make them popular, or else stoptrying to chase hipness altogether. After all, hipness is mercurial,relative, and ephemeral, while you guys deal in bedrock, unchangingvalues, right?